From the Zs to the Os: how tech shows up in the bedroom
Emma Chiu explores how technology and sex toys influence our behaviours and encourage us to always ‘press play’
Sex, tech, and rock and roll.
Has technology become the new drug? After all, 61% of internet users say they’re addicted – and perhaps most revealing is how it’s changing our bedroom behaviours. Seventy-one per cent of Americans admit to sleeping with their smartphones, and last year more than 36 million connected sex tech devices were in use, up from 19 million in 2019. This is due partly to lockdown as people are opting to ‘press play’ for pleasure.
From relationships and sexual awakenings to education and health improvements, staying digitally connected is becoming the modern-day sugar and spice in the bedroom.
They’re not toys, they’re serious business
Sex toys have upgraded to sex tech, taking us to new gratifying heights at the click of a button. These include modestly priced sex massagers by Smile Makers with four-speed and two-pulsation modes from US$60 (around £40). Then there’s The Cowgirl, which adds a whole new meaning to ‘saddling up’ with its ‘modern sex machine’ that can be controlled by a smartphone at US$1,500 (around £1,080). There’s a lot to gain from the sex tech market, which was valued at $3.8b in 2020 and is expected to rise to US$9b by 2025, according to a recent study by Juniper Research.
Tech has allowed devices to take on the ‘work’ and let users lie back and enjoy the ride by going hands-free, with products like Le Wand Point and Dame’s ‘hands-free, strap-free’ Eva vibrator. It’s even helping couples who are physically apart; We-Connect by We-Vibe enables you to connect through the brand’s vibrator and create intimacy despite the distance. There’s also a level of inclusivity here for people with limited use of their hands.
The most significant shift in sex tech is the number of female-led companies updating this historically male-dominated space for a wider range of experiences. Dame, Sustain and Unbound are just a few of the brands that have formed in recent years, who are evolving the look of sex toys from penis-shaped designs to those that go beyond gender binaries – Unbound’s Saucy is a flying saucer-style stimulator and Dame’s Eva II is egg-shaped with flexible wings.
It’s not just about sex and orgasms
The premise of sex tech is not just for sexual gratification and dollar signs; as Cara Delevingne puts it, ‘this isn’t just about pleasure and sex toys, and sex. This is about health.’ Delevingne stepped into the sex tech arena in November 2020 when she became co-owner and creative advisor of Lora DiCarlo – a robotics-led company with a mission to destigmatise sexual pleasure and reduce the orgasm gap.
Eva Goicochea, cofounder of modern sexual wellness brand Maude explains that the experience of running her company has ‘created more room to think about sex like personal care or beauty.’ She describes the cultural repositioning of sex away from being ‘commoditised or transactional’ and migrating into ‘holistically helping your sex life’ as people start to consider their sexual wellness as part of their overall health and happiness.
Tuning into ASMR
Devices aside, many are turning up the soundbar for some serious action. ASMR Amy on YouTube dials up audio sensations in her videos, which range from ear licking sounds to intense fabric scratching. While the physical sensation of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) may not be quite the same as an orgasm, it has been described as a ‘brain-gasm’, and can reportedly induce goosebumps, tingles and other physiological indices of pleasure. Amy’s channel, which launched in 2018 and has more than 85 million views (as of April 2021), is designed for ‘relaxation’ and ‘me-time’.
Emerging audio-focused wellness companies are merging mediation, masturbation, and more. Dubbed ‘the Headspace of sexual pleasure’ by Refinery29, Dipsea is an audio app founded by Gina Gutierrez and Faye Keegan producing short-form erotic stories for women. The founders explain that audio aids ‘mental framing’ for the reported 90% of women who require that to get turned on. Alongside Dipsea are Ferly, Quinn, and Kama. Even Demi Moore is tuning her vocals with an erotica podcast series on QCODE called Dirty Diana.
These audio guides are stimulating the imagination and driving mindful sex by integrating senses beyond touch to awaken parts of the body that may have otherwise remained dormant… until now. From steamy stories to guided practices that promote intimacy, these new-age types of audio content are the 21st century wellness resources liberating the libido and reframing sexual pleasures for the body and mind.
Getting intimate with virtual reality
The future of remote intimacy is being created by Raspberry Dream Labs, a company that’s rethinking cybersex experiences and forming a metaverse for meaningful connections – all through virtual reality. The idea is that users are able to feel haptic pulses on their bodies, mimicking the sense of being touched.
Should tech be in the bedroom?
Some aren’t so sure. ‘I think that tech is disrupting the bedroom in a negative way.’ These were Goicochea’s first words when I asked her about it. ‘Tech has become a reason why people are becoming less intimate,’ she explains.
But, love it or loathe it, tech in the bedroom is likely here to stay – judging by its growing influence in other intimate areas of our lives, from mental health to maternity – and is paving new avenues to sexual satisfaction and exploration. Be it for pleasure, self-care, education, liberation or health, all you have to do is ‘press play’.
Emma Chiu is the global director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. For the latest trends to watch in 2021, read The Future 100.