In 2015, Dr. Ian Pearson, British futurologist specializing in predicting social trends, published a report presenting predictions regarding mankind’s sex lives in the coming decades. In this report, “The Rise of the Robosexuals," Pearson predicted that by 2025, we’ll start seeing sex robots - primarily among the more affluent. By 2030, humans and robots will be having virtual sex. By 2035, most of us will be buying accessories for virtual sex.
It's been seven years and Pearson’s predictions are still far from being coming true. But he wasn’t completely wrong. Most of us aren’t having sex with robots and if we have bought any accessories recently, it’s likely a pair of “50 Shades of Grey” inspired handcuffs. But change is in the air: a huge sex-tech industry is blossoming and it will fundamentally change our sex lives.
“Sex-tech” is an umbrella term describing technology - based innovations designed to improve, innovate, shake up and enhance human sexuality. These technologies include porn consumption with VR glasses, sex dolls, a broad variety of Bluetooth supported accessories allowing for remote “sexual contact," sex machines, wearable technology and plethora of sexual health products designed to provide solutions for people with disabilities.
Sex educator and performance artist specializing in the sex-tech, Mia Magnet, explains that “sex technology often comes about by solving existing problems. People with disabilities sometimes have problems following accidents. Nothing is available to solve these problems and no one’s interested in addressing them. It’s not necessarily any kind of physical handicap. Someone invented a sponge mat as an alternative to changing the sheets each time after sex. Romantic sexual relations with robots or chatbots can offer solutions to the loneliness experienced by people unable to form relationships in the real world.”
But sex-tech isn’t just solutions to problems. There’s a whole world of leisure sex technology. Consumers who can have sex without the use of technology may wish to include technological innovations as enhancements to their sexual enjoyment. Sex-tech founders strive to make us rethink our sexuality, fully experience our own bodies and put an end to the shame and embarrassment.
These “sex-tech founders” are mainly women. While women are still sparse in leading roles in either business or technology, here women are absolutely the stars. For thousands of years, female sexuality has been obscured and is generally still controlled by men. Vibrators are old-school. Perhaps intentions were good, but they’re designed the way a man thought they should look, not really correlating with female pleasure-points.”
Keren Israeli, sex-tech start-up owner exclaims: “this is a fantastic industry of women fighting porn culture, fighting to reclaim their own pleasure. The industry is worth tens of billions, but investors are still afraid of getting their hands dirty.”
Why? Are they afraid of getting involved with sex?
“Porn gets billions in investment, so it’s not that they’re afraid of getting involved with sex. I think that no one dares get involved with female pleasure – the very base of this niche industry. Female American sex-tech entrepreneurs tell me that they’ve been forced to go to Europe to find investors and even there, they learned that they had to talk about well-being rather than about pleasure. That’s how you have to present it if you want people to listen. It’s even worse in Israel which is very conservative about sexual pleasure. I had a female investor yelling at me that saying that I was doing was an abomination. For now, I’ve closed the Israeli door.”
This closed door means that Israelis, interested in products enhancing their sex lives, have to bring them from overseas themselves – or be content with the meagre options available in the Levant.
“I’ve tried importing technological sex toys, but Israeli import duties rendered the venture unfeasible. I can’t charge $400 for a sex toy that costs $100. If people ask me for advice, I refer them to foreign websites. Even with mail and delivery charges, it’s still cheaper than buying in Israel. Most of the really good technologies, don’t get here anyway.”
Israel first expressed an interest in sex-tech in 2015, entering the industry in 2019. Israel now develops artificial intelligence (AI) to personalize pleasure, creating an algorithm correlating sex toys with users’ health and sexual preferences. "It’s like ASOS, but for sex toys.”
Why do you need that?
“There are millions of sex toys out there, but different people have different sexual needs and preferences," she says.
“Firstly, physical differences between people’s bodies. Some diabetics, for example, have limited mobility in their hands. There’s a sub-niche market providing sex toys for people with physical limitations. The average sex shop doesn’t offer solutions for people who aren’t average.
“Secondly, people are turned on by different things. One woman may enjoy clitoral stimulation, another may be more into the G-spot.”
Users answer a series of questions about their health and turn-ons, and then, based on their responses, the website generates a list offering suggestions of sex toys appropriate for them. Her brand, “Feminist Toys Media” currently operates on an American website offering magazine content about sexuality and new sex toys.
“It’s about pleasure. Regular sites offer porn with rather unpleasant pictures. Sex-tech sites such as mine offer a safer kind of space dealing with positive, egalitarian, mutual and inclusive sexuality. Anyone seeking information should feel comfortable on my website.”
Most users are aged 35-45 and despite the website’s name, the gender breakdown is 55% female and 45% male.
“My target market is American. Both Israel and America are sexually conservative, but America has a population of 350 million. Conservative Americans don’t go onto my website, but there are enough non-Conservatives for a critical market segment.”
So, Israelis are conservative, investors are reticent and you won’t find most of the good technology in sex shops on Tel Aviv’s Diesengof Street. In our midst, however, are Israelis who’ve incorporated sex technology into their lives and they’re telling all. How do you have sex with a robot? What can you do remotely? Why is watching porn with VR glasses so different? Can a vibrator also be an alarm clock?
“I was first exposed to sex-tech when I bought a pair of VR glasses which are not themselves a sex toy. I bought them for gaming, but I did know about the porn option,” Yoav, 45, single from Rehovot says.
How does porn with VR glasses?
“You put on the glasses and go to VR porn sites. There’s a whole database of categorized porn films.”
What’s the benefit? What’s wrong with regular porn?
“Apart from being immoral, there’s nothing wrong with regular porn. I watched regular porn for years. Then I discovered VR. When you watch VR porn, it’s immersive, you’re actually there. The experience is far more intensive. In regular porn, you’re an observer. With VR porn, you’re a participant. Also, everything around you disappears and you’re in a different reality. It’s always better than two-dimensional porn films. I sometimes find myself watching regular porn and it’s plainly less of a turn-on than VR. Much less fun.”
How has this affected your sex life? How do women react?
“I only tried out VR with one partner. She was hesitant at first, but eventually she like it. Watching together, you can imagine situations that couples might fantasize about – like group sex or sex with different partners. It’s really cool to let the woman watch VR while mirroring it onto a phone, and then imitating what happens in VR. For example, she’s watching a porn film with man who, in this alternative reality, goes down on her. I can imitate that and go down on her. If he penetrates, I penetrate. It’s not just a visual and auditory. It’s a complete physical experience.“
How much technology do you have to understand to operate this?
“VR does require a certain understanding of technology. You need to know how to find the right websites, download the right program and connect to the website. Technologically, it’s in its early stages. You need to learn how to use it. Although it’s not intuitive for everyone, it’s really not that complicated.”
Definitely not intuitive for everyone. For instance, 39-year-old Daniela from Tel Aviv, also tried to spice up her sex life with VR glasses. Tried being the operative word.
“I have a lot of sex toys, but no tech stuff. For two years now, I’ve been in a polyamorous relationship with a man who’s in an open marriage. He bought himself VR glasses for regular gaming. He wasn’t thinking about porn. He said to me: 'I’ll bring the VR glasses and we’ll play something.' I replied: 'If you bring the VR glasses, let’s play some grown-up games. I’m not interested in virtual street fights.'
How did it go?
"He brought the VR glasses for the weekend. We spent most of the time trying to work out how it works. It was one massive headache. Using a special laser remote control, you need to surf porn sites looking for films that support VR. Most of these films are for men, very few from the woman’s side. Finding a porn film where a man does stuff to you isn’t enough. It must be a film you like.
"Personally, I like BDSM, but the VR porn movies on offer I found rather dull: normal, clean, boring sex. Once we’d worked out the tech side of things, it took us some time to find a film even close to what was right for us. I put on the glasses, and he tried imitating the film in real time. I didn’t know that you could mirror the screen, so I had to describe what was going on in the film. So, there I was - wearing the glasses and giving instructions. The whole thing was awkward and embarrassing. I didn’t like it.
“The experience was unusual. It had some cool parts, like you could have sex with someone else, but it demanded so much effort that it just put us off. There must be tech solutions to all things we didn’t manage to do. It might have been better if we’d learnt the tech a bit better and if we’d been less horny. I think I’d like to try out the VR glasses on my own, finding my own porn films and making greater efforts on the tech front.”
She bought her first sex toys only a decade ago. “I used to be quite reserved and I avoided it. I started out with a vibrator. To be honest, it was a bit disappointing. I only recently found a great vibrator that changed my life, extending my orgasms. I also have whips, leashes, handcuffs, butt-plugs, nipple-pinchers, and costumes, but when it comes down to it, when I’m with a man, it's best when it’s just me and him – no extras. Sex toys are more for masturbation for me. I find it difficult to orgasm without them, but when I’m with a partner, they stay in the drawer. I’d love to try bondage with a remote app. It’s been around for years. I’ve just never done it.”
Shira, 42, from Ramat Gan has tried it.
“My kinky thing is sex toys. I’ve got a huge number of sex toys and I use them a lot – both with partners and on my own. I’m non-monogamic and each partner has his or her own toy. In 2016, I came across a company called 'Lovense,' specializing in technology for remote sex. My whole sex life has gotten to another level.”
How does it work?
“One partner has the toy and the other partner has the app. Some toys are synced so they interact. For example, the man can be sitting in London and the woman in New York. There’s a sleeve the man decks over his penis which mimics the sensation of a vagina. The woman has a vibrator. The more intense the woman’s use of the vibrator, the greater the friction felt by the man, and vice versa. But you don’t have to live in separate cities to enjoy remote sex-tech toys.
“I took my girlfriend to a museum. The toy was inserted inside her and I had the app. I operated it whenever I wanted. In the middle of the museum, as she’s looking at art, she had to control herself.”
How tech-savvy do you have to be for this?
“You don’t really. Everyone has a smartphone, and the remote equipment is very affordable. You just buy a vibrator that works with the app, download the app and chose the vibration level. The interfacing is very simple. It’s all in English, but it’s as easy as going onto Facebook. There’s nothing frightening about it at all."
A lot of people are indeed unafraid. Shira recalls that for New Year’s Eve, Lovense hosted a 26-hour-long virtual orgy. Each participant was at home with their own toy. The company arranged the settings so that thousands of people all over the world would simultaneously get the same vibrations.
A kind of group masturbation?
“Yes, it’s a kinky thing that unites us all. I was at home with the toy inside me. I carried on my life as normal, washing the dishes, folding laundry - and every now and then I’d get a vibration from someone in the orgy. The orgy went on for the whole day, so I wasn’t there for the whole party, but the part I did attend was amazing."
Technology also facilitates self-pleasure. “There’s a kind of little egg that women insert into their vagina that’s synced with background music. I’ll go to a club with the egg inside me and the egg, using the algorithm, responding to the music’s rhythm and base, moves around inside me. It’s crazy. At kinkier parties, you can make the egg move around at higher intensity. When there’s live music playing, I put it at a different setting!
“There’s also a vibrator that’s an alarm clock. You set the time, insert the vibrator and go to sleep. In the morning, instead of an annoying phone alarm, at the allotted time the vibrator starts working. It’s genius. I’m not a morning person, but this is a really good wake-up call.”
How does this affect your life? What would your life be like without sex-tech?
“It be would a sad life,” Shira says, laughing. “It’s something extra. It’s not a necessity. I’d be okay without it. It would be a bit of a downer if I couldn’t keep up intimacy with partners who live far away.”
How do partners respond to these accessories?
“It’s kinky. It’s not like I pull out all the toys the first time we sleep together. At some stage, however, they’ll definitely come out.
“I used to have more partners who were against it. Over the years, I’ve learnt to screen my partners. Anyone wanting 'vanilla' sex – not going to happen. I’ve no interest. Most people are up for toys. But yes, in the past a lot of people weren’t into it."
Why do you think some people aren’t into it?
“I think it’s lack of self-confidence. It’s usually straight men. They feel it threatens their masculinity, replacing them. They have a social patriarchal code engrained in their minds. If they’re not the one making you orgasm, then OMG. Fortunately, I’ve learnt to sift them out. I’ve hardly come across this recently. I’ve not time for that.“
Back to Yoav: VR glasses aren’t enough for him. He recently bought a sex machine.
In laymen’s terms, what does a sex machine do?
“It moves back and forth at selected speed settings. It comes with two attachable dildos and a power button. For a further fee, you can get more add-ons. I also have a dildo for anal penetration and an imitation female sex organ.”
How did you start with this?
“I like sex machines in porn. I surfed the net looking at different types of sex machines. I looked into what kind of machines were out there, read scores of reviews, chose one and bought it. When the machine arrived, it looked like a heavy, industrial lump of metal- as if I’d bought a huge screw driver. In hindsight, I understand that the machine’s appearance reflects what it can do. You need a lot of power for anal sex. A lower powered engine wouldn’t be able to do it. I’m very happy with the machine. It’s durable. It’s never broken down. I love having it.“
Some may say that technology just makes the sex cold and alienated
“If a couple bring a dildo into bed with them, does that make the sex cold? Sex technology just provides aides allowing people to take the sexual experience into more complex and layered dimensions. They don’t replace the need for human experience. There’s something cold about masturbation anyway - with or without toys. But if the same technology can be used to improve a couple’s sex life, that’s not cold. It’s just one more way of pleasuring the person you love.”
Who knows about the machine?
“Only my partner. She’s very positive about it, and she’s tried it out herself a few times. I don’t know anyone who has technological sex. I don’t know why.”
"Most people are still afraid of technology, and sex-tech isn’t readily available in Israel. But there’s another reason: it doesn’t come cheap. A sex machine costs 2,500 NIS ($745) – before delivery charges from Hong Kong. VR glasses will set you back 1400 NIS ($415), and subscription to VR supported porn websites cost a few hundred shekels each month. And there’s the cost of Yoav’s sex toy collection (he bought his first vibrator at 17 'as a gift for my girlfriend.'"
Aren’t all these sex aides expensive?
“Expensive is an individual thing. An iPhone is expensive, and you could probably get by with some other device. Sex-tech equipment is definitely expensive for most people, including myself, but at the end of the day, if sex is central to your life and you have a very high libido - it’s worth the money. It gives me enjoyment and pleasure. People pay a lot more for things they enjoy. No one goes to an expensive restaurant because they need to eat, do they? They go to enjoy the food.”