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ChallengeLife and tech
Thursday [23.11.17]3 min read

Is tech the Playboy of the next generation?

When Playboy mogul Hugh Heffner passed away in September, argument regarding his legacy soon followed. One of the bigger claims regarding Heff’s life was his role in igniting the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s.

Playboy represented the West’s changing attitudes towards sex and the idea of relationships – essentially giving people access to a whole new celebratory perspective on the subject. Casual dating increased, divorce rates raised, marriage rates dropped, birth control became more popular, and sex was finally sexy.

Nearly 60 years later and a lot of these trends are now social norms. However as we become increasingly connected digitally and decreasingly connected physically, we may be on the cusp of a whole new revolution where our sex lives are defined by the technology we use.

Hooking up in the digital age

In 1960, the median age at first marriage for women was 20 and men was 23 years old. Today, the age is closer to 29 for women and 30 for men. It’s not fresh news that social media, dating apps and online dating platforms have contributed to this.

Just as the ‘Free Love’ generation pushed to achieve sexual liberation and define their own personal relationships, online dating has already started reshaping how we form our own relationships. Some research out of the UK and Austria recently discovered that the rise in online dating has allowed us to access networks of strangers that we would have never been able to access before, allowing us to make important and meaningful connections.

With the ability to basically connect with anybody from anywhere around the world, we are overwhelmed with choice. The whole process of online dating has been gamified and will only become more and more sophisticated. In the very near future, we may see machine learning / artificial intelligence-based matchmakers that will find the perfect match for you based on everything from your genome to your psychological profile.

Virtual dating

It’s all well and good finding a potential match on the other side of the country or globe, but unless you’re invested enough to hop on a plane in a move that could very well be the plotline for an episode of Catfish, chances are that spending time with your new love may be a bit difficult.

The growing capabilities of Virtual Reality (VR) mean that we could spend time in the same virtual space as somebody, without actually being there at all. And that’s not even the best part; imagine subbing out that boring café date and meeting someone on the moon instead? That’s a sure fire way to impress.

And if your moon date is a hit and you find yourselves sharing a rocket back to your house? Well tech can help you get physical too.

Sex tech

Companies such as Kiiroo make internet-connected sex toys for couples, referred to as teledildonics. These ‘smart’ vibrators and male ‘sex sleeves’ interact with each other via mobile and desktop applications and use a thing called haptic technology to replicate the sense of touch. It’s the same technology that makes your Xbox controller vibrate when you crash a car or get shot in Grand Theft Auto, however these guys use it for much more tender purposes. Basically, the toys record the sexual motions of each user and send the sensations to their partner.

In fact once you’re done, you can even have a cuddle using VR Haptic body suits that let you feel your partner’s entire body and connected pillows that transmit the sound of your heartbeats. So cute.

And if your date doesn’t work out, there’s always VR porn. Some of the world’s top adult entertainment websites are already producing pornographic experiences that require VR headsets, immersing the user in the scene. Alternatively, you could visit an online adult virtual world (AVW) such as Red Light Centre. AVW’s let you design customizable sexual fantasies and partners in a Sims-like fashion. As an avatar, you meet real people in real time and partake in whatever judgement-free virtual fantasies you desire. These sites have started to integrate VR and remote sex toys to make the experience as real as possible.

Our Sexual future

The 2017 future of sex report developed by FutureofSex.net predicts that by 2045, 1 in 10 young adults will have had sex with a humanoid robot. This is already being validated by current reports out of Japan that allege an increasing number of men prefer having ‘virtual lady friends’ over genuine ones. When you think about the idea of people desiring an object that is essentially created to adhere to their sexual needs, you can’t help but draw parallels to some of the criticisms attached to the Playboy era like the objectification of women.

Nonetheless, emerging technologies can potentially help us learn more about ourselves and how to connect with loved ones. Human loved ones that is. For example, simulated VR environments can be used to not only offer a solution for people with physical, emotional or geographical barriers, but can also offer a safe way of teaching young people about responsible sexual practice in a more practical way than an awkward PDHPE teacher with a text book and crudely drawn diagrams.

Earlier this year a YMCA centre in Montreal launched a VR project on consent called ‘Do you NO the limit?'. The program invited 16 - 24 year-olds to experience an interaction between a male and a female student, from the female perspective in a VR environment. There are similar programs in the works around the globe aimed at teaching people about safe sex practices, combatting STIs, and preventing unplanned pregnancies.

Furthermore, such virtual experiences could even be partnered with physical elements (or robots) for sex therapy purposes from treating sexual dysfunction to teaching people how to become better lovers to their partners.

So will tech bring on a new sexual revolution? It’s really up to us. Regardless of how you think about Playboy’s mixed legacy, it provided access to an alternate way of thinking about sex, and tech is similar. As Psychologist Dr Craig Malkin states for Huffpost: “Technology is only as healthy as our use of it. We can deepen our connections online, learning from, and even loving, people who live half a world away” or we can use tech to “withdraw and hide, seeking shelter from potential judgment and rejection, foreclosing the possibility of true intimacy.”

Could you get down with a droid? We took the question to the streets

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