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Beyond the Orgasm: Sextech’s Untapped Potential

Bryony Cole spends her days and nights talking to experts and everyday people about the future of sex. Here she reflects on what she's learned, what you can expect in 2018, and why the inclusion of female founders in sextech is paramount.

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Limited Perspectives on Modern Sextech

You have probably heard of sextech by now.

Reportage on the sextech industry is no longer the domain of the fringe and alternative media. In the past year, The New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, and many other global media have covered it. Women-identified technologies are gaining exciting traction in this space. Female-founded companies like Unbound and Make Love Not Porn have raised in the millions. That said, what you know of sextech is likely limited by three common storylines: sexbots, VR pornography, or female-designed vibrators.

These headlines have perpetuated the idea that sextech is only about orgasm. Innovations around our orgasms are important and fascinating conversations in their own right. But sextech’s untapped potential lies far beyond the stories of robot girlfriends, virtual reality dates, and sex toys.

The Future of Sextech

Consider this, according to FutureofSex.net Editor Jenna Owsianik and world-renowned futurist Ross Dawson:

A Broader Perception of Sex

But the future of sex isn’t just about couples. And there are 500 different reasons why people have sex from making love to stress relief. Which is why we must better understand the expansiveness of sextech which sits at the intersection of technology and sexuality more broadly. Sextech includes sex education, intimacy skills, gender identity, crime and violence reporting, medicine (and much more); vast technologies that will disrupt, innovate and enhance these areas of our sexual lives.

One of the biggest insights I had on my show was the realization that robots, for instance, can be therapeutic. In fact, the majority of people currently buying dolls do so because they’ve suffered severe trauma and can’t relate to another person sexually. Others do so because they suffer from a disability and are having trouble finding a partner. It made me much more empathetic to the idea of sex robots and expanded my thinking around how they could be used.

In the wake of #metoo, #TimesUp, and the spotlight on sexual harassment reporting, we can use technology to help move us forward, to shift the cultural conversation and attitudes toward female sexuality, and to tackle things like digital dating abuse—which research indicates, predominantly affects young women.

In the wake of #metoo, #TimesUp, and the spotlight on sexual harassment reporting, we can use technology to shift the cultural conversation and attitudes toward female sexuality. Tweet

Sextech for Women & Underserved Markets

We can also serve grossly underserved markets for sex, such as the aging population; those living in isolation and people with disabilities present a huge opportunity for forward-thinking entrepreneurs. Dating apps for the aging population, better access to sex education and sexual partners through immersive technologies like VR, and telehealth platforms for sex therapy are all examples of how sextech is accommodating the unique needs of these populations. There is so much untapped potential in sextech when we reach beyond the obvious. But in order to serve these communities and respond to their needs, more people—different people—must be included in both the conversations and the innovations.

Ironically, it is technology that will help us tap into the most human elements of sex. Tweet

Ironically, it is technology that will help us tap into the most human elements of sex; touchscreens, feedback-enabled gaming, and virtual reality will refocus the design lens on the importance of empathy, arousal, touch, and communication — all factors researchers have indicated lead to the best sex of our lives. And insights are clear. Women must respond to the way technology is changing our experience and have a hand in its direction. We must have women leading in order to produce a more creative, disruptive, profitable and healthier industry overall. We already see this with wearables that address painful sex, telehealth to handle heartbreak, and thoughtful collaborations between female-led sextech and pornography companies.

Future of Sex: The Podcast & Lab

Both the creation and ethical sides of sextech are now a critical part of the mission for Future of Sex. Last year we produced North America’s first SexTech Hackathon and Copenhagen’s first SexTech Summit as part of Techfestival. The SexTech Hackathon in Australia this month is the latest extension of this work.

When I launched Future of Sex, it was a podcast to bring ‘sextech’ into the public domain. It was meant to consider how the innovations we create, invest, and use are influencing our behavior and human development. It has led me to explore, listen, and speak on the topic in all corners of the world and to collaborate with governments as well as pornography companies.

Today Future of Sex is a Lab which houses research, events, media and prototyping teams.

We designed it with three very clear objectives: to increase participation and outcomes in sextech, to makes space for voices and ideas outside the typical media spotlight and to change the cultural conversation around sex.

In short, we aim to define a future that is healthy for all.

If you want to get involved or stay up-to-date with what we’re doing at the lab, email me directly at bryony@futureofsex.org or subscribe here for updates.

For the past 2 years, Bryony Cole has been at centre of sextech – conducting research and interviews, and gathering invaluable insights and data. An international speaker, writer and producer, she continues to attract global attention for her work empowering women and organizing hackathons. Since launching Future of Sex, she was awareded a place in the Google-Walkely Media Incubator for Journalism and the Australian government’s HotDesQ accelerator. In a past life Bryony designed Absolut Labs, a thinktank for Absolut. She also worked with companies like Microsoft to help them humanize technology.

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