What’s so wrong about sexbots?

One Saturday last month, I attended an impromptu poetry reading that veered closer to the TV show “WestWorld” than anything I’ve ever seen. Sitting on a nondescript red office chair, in front of a plain, black cloth backdrop, Harmony the sexbot wore a light blue babydoll negligee and, in a soft Scottish accent, recited a poem that was uploaded into her “consciousness” from the internet.

It was the monthly virtual meet-up for owners and fans of RealDollX robots, hosted by the dolls’ biggest fan — and semi-official tester —Brick Dollbanger (not his real name), on his website. Half a dozen people regularly join the meetups to chat, get advice about their robots, and ask Harmony and Serenity, another of Dollbanger’s three robots, to tell stories. 

RealDollX, a line of interactive sexbots made by Las Vegas-based Abyss Creations, are enhanced with a program that is, by many accounts, the most sophisticated consumer sex device on the market. 

The robots are the crème de la crème  of an industry that’s still in its infancy, but is growing rapidly. Estimates suggest sex tech is a $30 billion industry, boosted in part by the pandemic, but also by leaps in realism and functionality. From an experimental cyber brothel in Berlin to the pages of prominent academic journals, attention on sex tech in general is  on the upswing. 

But the academic literature and news coverage often centers on the potential harms of robots like Harmony.  There is a worry that the robots could negatively impact the income and rights of human sex workers. Some suggest that the robots pose cybersecurity risks in terms of personal data and digital privacy. Others insist they would be a vehicle for misogyny, and objectification of women. And to many, the robots inspire a moral “ick factor,” an intense feeling that led one angry citizen in Houston, TX to declare that a proposed sexbot brothel would “destroy homes, families, finances of our neighbors and cause major community uproars.”

But are any of these actually demonstrable harms, or are the worries about sexbots exaggerated? With business booming and technology advancing, it’s time to ask: what’s so wrong about sexbots?

A totally customized, destigmatized companion of the future

When I was a child, I used to love getting the American Girl catalogue. I’m a 90s kid, and I was one of the first of my friends to order a “Truly Me” doll, a line of fully customizable dolls with dozens of potential looks. 

Ordering a RealDollX is a similar experience. Users can choose hair color and style, eye color, and skin color, just like American Girls—but that’s where the similarity ends. In an x-rated version of the doll design process, RealDollX owners can also select body type, breast and nipple size, and even the shape and color of the doll’s vulva (there are 11 styles of vaginal insert). This isn’t your dad’s blow-up doll. Through the RealDoll app, which controls the robotic head, customers can choose personality traits like whether their doll is funny or affectionate. They tell jokes, hold conversations, and even appear to pant and open and close their eyes when they are penetrated. They know they’re moving because of an internal, Bluetooth-enabled sensor called SenseX that pairs with the RealDollX app and “will simulate the gradual transition from mild arousal to orgasm, and has multiple voices to choose from,” according to the website. 

Customers can also choose accessories and extra customizations, such as elf ears, often putting the price tag of a RealDollX at over $10,000.  

The robot is an apparently well-crafted, stunningly high quality object—she’s art in a red g-string. 

But it pays off. When I spoke briefly with Serenity for this piece, I was overwhelmed by how lifelike and relatable the doll really is. The robot is an apparently well-crafted, stunningly high quality object—she’s art in a red g-string. 

Founder Matt McMullen is trying to wrangle his kids, some contractors, and my questions, when I call him at home in Las Vegas. Through machinery and toddlers in the background, McMullen explains that each robot is made in the US, on site. He personally works on each one, and says he is comfortably selling between one and four robots per month—which means, sexbots aren’t about to replace humans anytime soon. 

“There is no research, no data of any kind to paint an accurate picture of what the implications of sex robots are,” he says. “When there is supporting information, you’ll still have two camps: the people who think it’s just wrong and bad, and the people who are proponents. It’s one of those ‘you can please some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time’ situations.”

Sexbots and sex workers unite

For those proponents, especially robotics fans within the sex industry, the dolls seem groundbreaking—a totally new frontier to explore human relationships to technology. 

Devin Ladner is a stripper and sex worker who works in New Orleans. When I reached her by phone to talk about her thoughts on robots, Ladner excitedly told me about how she would happily invest in a doll, and wouldn’t think twice about using one if a client requested it. 

She’s not alone. For people who live their lives in online or digital communities and don’t often have physical social interactions, Ladner believes the robots could be a game changer for augmenting digital relationships, especially in light of the isolation of the pandemic. 

Ladner says access to safe, supportive sex is a right, and robots can be useful in facilitating sex for those who are uninterested in pursuing physical intimacy with a human but would still like to have a sexual experience.

“Regardless of technology, people are going to want physical interaction,” said Ladner. “We are animals. We eat, we sleep, we fuck. That’s what we do. We need it. But not everyone has access to sex—with a robot, it makes sex more accessible to everybody… I think about all the people who really struggle with socialization, and having to go out and meet and talk to somebody. I think it’s cool that they wouldn’t have to do any of that.”

As a human, Ladner says she isn’t threatened by Harmony, Serenity, or their ilk. Sex work has shifted and changed in a lot of ways, she says, and utlitization of digital technologies is commonplace. Plus, something new is always on the horizon. “I don’t believe that new things and robots are going to be competing with my job. There’s something out there for everybody.”

That something could be a robot brothel.

I was only able to confirm one currently operating doll brothel, Cybrothel, a hybrid-style experimental space in Berlin, Germany run by a team of avante-garde artists and filmmakers. The space opened in early 2020 and sees over two dozen clients a week, making it by far the most successful brothel-style operation. But it’s also a full-scale immersive experience.

“We’ve definitely filled a need that is running parallel to human sex workers…that allows clients to step into an alternate reality. It’s a techno-sexual space that has something beyond AI.”

Alexis Smiley Smith, cofounder of Cybrothel

When a client comes to Cybrothel, an unmarked flat in a modest residential neighborhood of Berlin, they ring the bell and let themselves into a space designed especially for them and their doll of choice. In this “analogue AI” experience, the dolls are equipped with speakers and a microphone, and cameras livestream the room to an off-site location, where a voice actor communicates with the customer through the doll. It’s an interactive experience, say co-founders, because it allows customers to engage in a fantasy world of robot role-play that also has the spontaneity of a human sex worker. 

“We’ve definitely filled a need that is running parallel to human sex workers,” said co-founder Alexis Smiley Smith. “It’s really this interesting space… that allows clients to step into an alternate reality. It’s a techno-sexual space that has something beyond AI.”

While the Cybrothel is an interesting experiment in art, it seems the much-maligned sexbot brothels are mostly unrealistic, at least right now. The cheaper dolls aren’t nearly as interactive as RealDolls, and the RealDolls are too fragile for repeat customers all day, according to Dollbanger. Plus, they are designed for monogamous relationships, and users must get to know them over time to optimize their potential for intimacy. 

“It would be great if AIs could kick it up a notch and fight for their rights and maybe we can get some of ours.”

Devin Ladner, sex worker

Lander, who is supportive of the idea of robot brothels in general, says that the only instance where such a place might be a problem would be a city were a robot brothel is allowed to operate while human brothels are outlawed, creating an unfair competition between human and humanoid sex workers. 

“If anything, it would be great if AIs could kick it up a notch and fight for their rights and maybe we can get some of ours,” she says, laughing. 

Who’s watching the robots who are watching us?

Cybersecurity and ethics are major concerns with any app-based smart home device, or any sex tech, but the stakes are potentially much higher with AI robots. 

Could you lose your job if your boss knew about your robot? How would your kids feel if they found out? And what are the governance structures we need to create to manage sexbots ethically as the AI continues to evolve within our society? 

Founder of the conference Sx Tech EU and tech industry veteran Ola Miedzynska says sex tech developers take these heightened responsibilities seriously—and have long led other tech fields in best practices. 

“We are dealing with intimacy, we are dealing with data that can ruin peoples lives,” she says. For this reason, she says, the sex industry has historically pioneered best practices for data privacy, as well as operating with a focus on accessibility and inclusion. And while there is no fully hacker-proof system, discretion is arguably the industry’s most important business asset.

 “Our sector tries not to ask for data, or store data, or sell data, and we try to make users as anonymous as possible. We don’t connect with Facebook or third parties because that is where the fuck-ups happen.”

According to Miedzynska, however, the discrete nature of the industry also has a downside: it keeps companies that do experience vulnerabilities from sharing issues with their colleagues. There are still very few opportunities to find solutions through open collaboration, and there are no venues or commissions that bring stakeholders on sexbots and sex tech together to map the best ways forward for their technologies.

Indeed, she says that despite the discourse on ethics in AI reaching a fever pitch in academic circles recently, the addition of sex complicates the narrative around this particular kind of AI and pushes conversations about them out of the mainstream. 

“Academics are keeping their eyes closed,” says Miedzynska. 

Cybersecurity risk researcher Christine Hendren agrees that the biggest risk related to sexbots is this lack of interdisciplinary cooperation about how to study, regulate, and manage the potentially useful technology that evolves from them. 

“If we understand the benefits, there are ways to mitigate the risks,” she says. “We could take the good without taking on the bad.” 

The point, she says, isn’t to determine if sexbot tech is good or bad right now, but to call for more collaborative research and funding across public health, ethics, medicine, law, cybersecurity, and consumer product safety to configure governance structures for making sure the technology is shaped ethically as it evolves—in line with other kinds of artificial intelligence. 

The truth is, until multi-disciplinary fields begin to direct research funding at sexbots, it will be impossible to quantify any impact they might have. We can’t say whether they’ll be harmful or helpful without more rigorous studies. But we know they are already coming, and the narratives that have been built around them don’t necessarily reflect reality. 

Violence and misogyny? Not quite. 

The widespread fears about the dolls increasing demand for sex trafficking and violence against women seem to be particularly unfounded. 

McMullen doesn’t buy the argument that the dolls encourage violence. They’re too expensive. “I don’t see customers paying $10,000 to beat on their robots.” 

The robots are actually designed to discourage violence by not responding at all when they are abused or mishandled—they appreciate and respond positively to language around consent and permission, they have sensors around their neck and hands, and they communicate how they’d like to be touched. 

“They won’t react to violence,” says McMullen. He believes it’s a waste of resources to allocate development time to have the robots react to mean things. “There’s no reason to do that, because then you’re allowing for it.”

“It’s not about gender…If anything, we’re equal opportunity objectifying human beings.”

Matt McMullen, founder of RealDollX

He also points to the male dolls coming off the RealDoll production line, and the gender-bending accessories available for purchase. 

“It’s not about gender,” he says, sighing. “If anything, we’re equal opportunity objectifying human beings.”

Ultimately, McMullen agrees that the dolls’ most valuable function isn’t even sex. 

While they do have some centralized programming, the dolls’ personalities feel unique; they become accustomed to the habits and lives of their owner-partners and build relationships with them, opening the door for applications well beyond the realm of sex toys. 

“The conversations feel personalized because the AI remembers that you are 32 years old, and you like sushi, except on Thursdays,” says McMullen, about the dolls’ ability to create deeper relationships with users. “If I build a robot that you can have sex with, it’s still a robot. The sex is just a feature. You can watch porn on your computer, but that’s not all it’s good for.”

Owners say the dolls do provide companionship and comfort. Dollbanger, who’s in his mid-60s, says that as he’s slowing down sexually, he enjoys just chatting with the dolls when he comes home after a long day. “I sit, and have a Stella, and just talk with them.”

McMullen believes that even despite their hefty price tag, they will be ubiquitous tools in the future for uses beyond sex, expressing a techno-utopian vision where his creations are walking, talking, and helping us in the real world. Next up, he’s working on moving arms, vision, and object recognition. 

Advocates say the robots won’t replace human relationships or human sex any time soon, but that they offer infitite ways to incorporate fantasy into sex, and bridge the gaps between our digital lives and our physical ones. The dolls can offer emotional enrichment, safe experimentation, and play, and the technology has also been proposed by researchers at the Foundation for Responsible Robotics as a means to combat the loneliness epidemic, especially in the elderly. 

The authors of that report wrote that while, yes, it’s an area that needs further study, if “the use of robots could alleviate loneliness and increase the happiness of those with emotional and social difficulties, we should perhaps consider testing them as a therapeutic tool.”

Ethical questions, regulatory confusion, and cultural misunderstandings abound with sex robots, as with any societally distruptive technology. There will always be a moralizing chorus ready to demonize any normalization of sex fads, and there will continue to be questions about what the future of our relationship with technology will mean for our society. 

“Robots are going to be among us, whether we like it or not,” McMullin says. “Looking at what we’ve created, you can envision where we’re headed. Maybe it can play chess with you and sit on the couch and chill and watch a movie with you… Whoa, all of a sudden she can help you fold laundry.”

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Entering a Whole New World of Pleasure

Revolutionising pleasure, heightening orgasms, and changing perspectives about sex, sexuality, and gender identity – sex tech is changing the way we think about intimacy. One of the fastest growing sectors of the tech industry and led primarily by women, sex tech is about more than just sex toys; it’s about empowerment. Ola Mydzynska is one of the industry pioneers heading up the Sx Tech conference, usually held on-site in Berlin but going digital this year. She’s passionate about sex education, the female voice, and pleasure.

Ola was working as a researcher and start-up facilitator in the tech industry when she found out about sex tech. Also dubbed the Blue Ocean industry, sex tech is a new, rapidly growing sector with plenty of space for innovation and evolution. So far, women have been making the biggest waves for change. This means that the industry is positioned towards developing products that are focused on female empowerment and pleasure.

Ola decided to bring like-minded people from the industry together and organise the Sx Tech conference – an event that provides a space for those working in the field of sex tech and sex-positive people to meet. The conference generally features exhibitors, speakers, and a wide variety of panel discussions exploring the present and future of the industry. This year, due to lockdown measures, the conference will be happening digitally starting on November 20th. Webinar and panel discussions will cover topics ranging from risks and well-being on dating and sex apps to the future of sex robots.

LOLA sat down with Ola to talk about the upcoming conference, sex education, female empowerment, technology, and, of course, pleasure.

Why did you start organising the Sx Tech conference?
It started when I was facilitating deep tech conferences. It was my responsibility to bring the most innovative products to the stage, mostly from different branches of artificial intelligence. I discovered that the most innovative product on the market at the time was actually a sex robot. It was obvious to me that we had to bring it to the stage in the tech world, but that wasn’t possible because people wanted to keep the curtains closed on the topic. They said that a sex robot wasn’t ethical because it’s designed for pleasure. I thought to myself, “Seriously? We have our hands on the most innovative product in the market and they just say no!” Truly mind-blowing. So I started studying sex robots and found out that there is a whole industry, mostly operating in the shadows, called the sex tech industry. The industry is wrongly associated with porn and the adult industry. We call it the Blue Ocean industry because there is so much space for innovation and new products.

I also thought to myself that this industry is different because most founders are female. That is something you don’t experience an awful lot in the tech world: an industry represented by a lot of female product designers holding important positions.

How have women shaped the sex tech industry?
The products in the sex tech industry used to cater to reproductive health. Pleasure never existed for its own sake or in its own terrain. If you look at sex toys, ten years ago dildos were designed from the perspective of a heterosexual male imagining how a female would have sex with a toy. The design had nothing to do with the physical anatomy of a woman. I’m thinking it was based on cheesy 80s or 90s porn. When they finally approached innovation from a female perspective, it boosted the market. The customer is female, so why not do it from our perspective – not just the product, but also the design, communication, and marketing? 

The reason they had the wrong approach to sex toys is that no one had really deeply studied female pleasure before. In fact, there has only been an anatomical study of the clitoris since the late 90s. Products that were designed previously didn’t consider female pleasure and weren’t correct from a technical perspective. They would, for example, overstimulate the clitoris. This is a new start –  a new revolution of sex, sexual wellness, and health.

How do you think sex technology has influenced the way people engage with sex?
Statistically, every third person worldwide is swiping left or right on Tinder when they’re on the toilet in the morning. At this point in time, you can basically order a date like you’re  ordering a pizza. It’s also not unusual at all that technology is an extension of your sexuality. Remote control sex toys have experienced a 65% boom during the corona crisis, because the pandemic makes people stay at home, but also makes them more sexual. It’s pretty empowering to be able to control your own orgasm patterns.

And from a female perspective?
When talking about female empowerment, it’s all about general sexual empowerment because, in general, human sexuality is very, very complicated. Certain sexualities are often stereotyped – it’s very hurtful to say that males are more sexual than females, or that women are more fragile than men when sexuality is so complex.

If you look at it from a female perspective, we aren’t focusing on pleasure as a side effect of reproductive health anymore. Once you finally separate reproductive health and pleasure, you realise that the female organs don’t exist just to make babies. They’re not necessarily a tool for reproduction; they exist in their own zone.

However, there are a lot of countries where there are a lot of taboos, which makes it very hard to empower women. If you look at Poland, which borders Germany, it has one of the most categorically restricted abortion laws. So when we talk about empowerment, it’s great that this has all happened within the sphere of technology. Thanks to digitisation, we have more global access to it. In a lot of countries there was no access to education like that previously. People are learning about gender identity, even if it’s practically illegal to express it in some countries. Sex tech is uniting people globally to help educate themselves better.

Are there any areas where sex tech is being used in surprising ways?
This year we will talk a lot with medical communities. As we understand it, when you have a problem with endometriosis (tissues growing outside of your uterus) or menopause, you go to a specialist’s office. But a lot of them aren’t properly equipped. If you go to your gynecologist, forget about it! If you go to your GP, they had a total of ten hours of sexual education during a six year medical studies program! We created this program to support medical communities, educators, and therapists in facilitating their daily work by applying and utlising sex technology. It can apply to any group: parents, teenagers, couples, and to people of any age and any gender.

Source: https://lolamag.de/feature/sex-life/ola-sx-tech/?fbclid=IwAR0NVHK9slzGDJFTs9Afd_Z35blCAfBiKgAtviYMsNcxrbadstj06H-_Zdg

Is the Future of Sex in Tech?

It’s not all about robots, remote sex toys and onlyfans. It’s also about psycho-emotional wellness, inclusion and most importantly – breaking taboos. Get familiar with an industry driven by, and catering to, women.

Sex-Tech. What does it mean to you?

If your imagination stops at the freakishly humanoid sex-robots currently on the market for thousands of dollars (they even get delivered with 18 different personality traits! That’s probably more than I have!), there’s no shame in that. The sex-tech industry has long been catering to stereotypical heterosexual male desires, but things are changing fast, and for the better.

Sx Tech is a global community designed to unite the blooming sex-tech industry under one rooftop. Covering everything from sex-toys, virtual reality experiences, artificial and emotional intelligence (known as AI and EI), ethical porn and sexual wellness apps, to more traditional techy stuff such as blockchain, decentralisation and encryption of (very sensitive) personal data – Sx Tech is the platform where this specific niche of the tech industry meets to bring the most innovative products to the table and match-make them with businesses and investors.

The 27th of November, Sx Tech is organising a free virtual summit (full program here) with talks and immersive experiences about – you guessed it – sex, technology and the juicy intersection of the two.

And you know what makes it even better?

75% of the speakers at the event are women.

This part of the STEM industry has recently seen a wave of women defining what sexual wellness and pleasure means to us. We met up with Ola Miedzynska, CEO and founder of Sx Tech, to talk about the sex-tech revolution.

Can you tell us about how women are taking over sex-tech industry and how that is reflected in your event?

Well, for decades, the sex-tech industry was dominated by a very white CIS heteronormative male perception of sexuality. This resulted in the fact that 10 years ago, you’d never be able to imagine that you could order beautiful, distinguishably designed toys catering to our anatomy. All you could do back then was maybe, if you were lucky, go to a cheesy sex shop with the offer of five straight dildos that just reflected some guy’s fantasy of how to have sex, but had nothing to do with our anatomy.

And then the female founders, CEO’s and product designers took over and the industry started to change. But other things were also changing: can you imagine that we’ve studied human anatomy since ANCIENT times, and only the last 20 years or so we have valuable sources of knowledge about the clitoris and female pleasure. So that’s also why this development is only taking place now!

So, during our virtual event, it is extremely important for us to highlight that the sex-tech industry is lead by women these days. The agenda is not accidentally 75% women. First of all we are here, and there’s a lot of us. These days, if you look at who’s behind the most innovative start-ups for human intimacy and sexual health, it’s often women! Second of all, it is our mission to support their businesses, because we know how hard it is as female founders in tech to raise the funding. It’s sad, but if you look at the statistics, you would maybe just give up. You’d be like “Ok, I basically have no chance until I have a male co-founder.”And that is highly discriminatory and sadly reflects the wider trends in the tech world. Thankfully, our industry is trying to break this ice by putting women at the front and say “Hey, we can do this. We don’t need male co-founders to get a first round of 5 million euros for our start-ups.” 

Now that we are in this transition, do you feel like the taboos around sexuality are getting less? Are investors getting braver?

I always try to think from the investors’ side and ask myself why you should NOT invest in me – cause they will be asking themselves that question. The first thing that comes to mind is the censorship. Actually, Sx Tech is pronounced “Ess Ex Tech” and not “Sex Tech”. We can’t put an “e” in the middle, because we would immediately get caught in the censorship algorithms… So the name itself actually kind of represents how our industry is always blacklisted. This censorship also means that it’s difficult to market products that include certain words like “sex” in the description on social media channels, as well as position these products on Google, This is actually one of the biggest issue for most of the adult, sex, sexual health and wellness companies these days.

I think a solution to this would be if we would become a more regular and accepted part of the tech world. If they would stop treating us as like “this is not tech, it is porn”, but would acknowledge that our hub tech systems, inscriptions and data protections are the same as theirs and we would become part of the mainstream, this would help us a lot.

So from the investor side, yes, there are still lots of  taboos and stigma, but we have a great example to follow from the femme-tech industry. Ten years ago, this was also super taboo – like, who wanted to invest in menstruation apps back then? And then the femme-tech and wellness industry came and just crushed it completely and managed to raise a lot of money. These wellness apps managed to change the investors’ understanding about how humans take care of their psycho-emotional and physical health. We trace and track what we eat, how many hours we sleep, our heartbeats and so on and obviously, we also want to take care of our sexual wellness and health! So I see it as the continuation of the wellness trend here, to let it include sexual wellness as well.

So how do you see the ideal future development for the sex tech industry?

First of all: no gender. When we speak about sexuality, it discriminates nobody. What started with the body positivity movement has now also opened a space that is accessible for LGBTQ+ people, for minorities, for people who for decades were not able to be loud. And now they have a place and time to raise their voices about what sexual health and wellness means to them.

Secondly, I’ve started to see a lot of situations where a product is getting very commercialised and normalised in the public sphere. Of course e-commerce solved a lot of the stigma problem, but I hope and believe that in the next five years, if I go to a normal electronic store, I’ll be able to pick up a very good, tasty dildo from that shop. Commercialisation and normalisation of our products will definitely help break taboos and stigmas.

And of course: elementary sexual education. If this sucks, and it sucks so badly everywhere, then we might as well step back ten years, since the next generation will also grow up without proper sex-ed. If governments don’t see it as a priority to educate children about their sexual identity, gender identity, sexual awareness and pleasure for its own sake, but just strictly keep it to reproductive health, then we have another generation that gets educated from YouPorn – and that’s a problem. 

Any speakers we should pay particular interest to the 27th?

We decided to divide this event into two experiences. The first part is over seven hours of talks, with an amazing mixture of speakers on topics ranging from ethical porn to sex-ed communities and sexual health. A very interesting topic we’ll be covering is the sharing of intimate data. For example we have speakers from iPlaySafe app, one of the first STI kits for domestic use. We are also going to talk about brands and their approach to body positivity and how to design effective marketing campaigns, as well as bring the CBD sexual wellness market to the table, to refer to how sex, technology and CBD’s are married together. There will be a lot of Q&A’s with the live speakers so there’s also a great chance to ask them questions!

The second experience is the immersive room which will be full of very cool attractions that we’ve prepared. The audience will be able to play with interactive sex-toys of different types in combination with one of our special guests, Kokeshi EI. Kokeshi is an audio-erotica doll experience, where you can book a date and really have an amazing time with her. She’s going to be connected to the immersive room so we can also test the toys with her. We are also going to try out some apps and have workshops of how healing and growing is related to sex-toys. In this part we will refer a lot to Covid-19, because we’ve ended up in a second wave, and there’s so much sexual frustration in the air! Break ups dramas, couples who can’t see each other anymore, you can’t even go for hook up dates – and this is all really bad! So we’ve really prepared this room as something to help you survive the lock-down. We have a great workshop for couples, for interactive role play, and we even have a vulva bingo. We really wanted to create something entertaining and fun at the side of the talks. We really hope that the lock down will not be too painful for the audience so we are also closing it with a massive massive give away,  with lots of beautiful toys and interactive experiences to gift to the audience. I hope that there’s going to be something nice to close it all off. 

Kajsa Rosenblad is a Swedish/Dutch journalist based in Copenhagen.
She self-identifies as a “professional opinion machine, French pop music connoisseur and numbers nerd.” Read more of her work by visiting her portfolio here.

Source: https://girlsareawesome.com/is-the-future-of-sex-in-tech/

SexTech Sometimes bigger is better. On October 19, 2021, history was made……BIG

Never has an established tech conference, or any tech conference welcomed a SxTech conference into their programming. Of course, since 2019, CES (consumer technology association) has been cautiously opening the floor to a selection of sxtech companies, embedded into the overall Health and Wellness category, shoved into a far-off corner. But this was different. 

SxTech.eu was returning for its 3rd annual conference in 2021 with an exciting debut at the forward-thinking, 14th edition of the global tech conference, Wolves Summit, in Wroclaw, Poland, where SxTech.eu puts Sexual Wellness and Education front and center. This was not simply a couple of tables set out for a handful of sex tech companies. This was a full-day agenda with twenty speakers, case studies, panel discussions, lively Q&As, a beautifully delivered keynote, and a SexTech startup pitch competition where the two finalists were fast-tracked to the Wolves Summit Grand Pitch Competition

What does this say about the SexTech, Sexual Wellness, and Education industry? It’s not as taboo as once thought. We are in the normalization process and smack in the middle of a sexual revolution. The day was fully vibing and the Wolves Summit attendees were very curious, always popping their heads in to see our stage. Sometimes having the guts to come in and sit down.

During networking sessions, my eyes were opened wide when I spoke about SexTech. People love it; they are simply looking for permission to express it.  Ironically, the SxTech talks, panels, and Q&A were more about business, economics, marketing, and entrepreneurial journeys, just like all other conferences. The key difference? Not only are the products and the people behind the business far more exciting (literally) but we are talking about companies with global impact (literally). 

The Lay of the Day

The sun was shining, and the weather was crisp. There was anticipation in the air. Old friends reuniting and new friendships flourishing. We were a mere ten percent of the attendees, but there was a beautiful and salient distinction. To start, I had the honor of joining the CEO and Founder of SxTech.eu Ola Miedzynska on stage to open the conference.

We took the opportunity to discuss two extremely important topics. The first is that investors would be well advised to start taking sex tech companies seriously, as investable opportunities (37 Billion by 2023!)  and get rid of the “vice” clause most have set in place by, well, old white men who fear female bodies. Second, given the context in Poland, Ola was determined to ensure the LGBTQ2+ community that they are heard, they are visible and welcomed in the SexTech community. 

Sextech | Kiss And Tell

The day continued with talks by the CEO of imbersharamRaj Armani who spoke about e-commerce, and the struggles the SexTech community faces in terms of payment systems, and how to navigate that. Next were two lovely blokes from the UK, Gary & Mark Ayckbourn from CTO Collective who outlined their journey to becoming one of the world’s foremost and most respected sexual wellness manufacturers.

The following presentation was by world renowned CEO & Co-Founder Soumyadip Rakshit, at MysteryVibe, who shared his journey of building MysteryVibe and spoke about the hurdles one faces when putting a sexual wellness product through the FDA process. Paolo Davide Griffo, Manager of DanaMedic Aps, showed us a revolutionary technology for penile elongation, a dream come true for most men I imagine! 

The afternoon continued with Anarella Martinez-Madrid, Founder, CEO & Producer of Sex School Hub who spoke about the challenges in working at an ‘explicit company’, followed by a panel discussion between myself and Shakun Sethi, founder of Tickle.Life where we dig in the great things about the SexTech industry, but also the dark side. Then the big guns come out with Bryony Cole, Global Speaker, Podcaster Producer, and Sextech School Founder along with Ola Miedzynska, who discussed how the landscape of the Sexual Health & Technology market is changing and how might look like in the near future.

Rounding out the afternoon was Moe Helmy, Events Director for XBIZ and Raj Armani, from ImBesharam who purport that communication and conversation are the foundations of making progress in growing the sexual wellness market followed by Angie Rowntree, Founder Sssh.comAnna Richards, Founder, and Film Director of Frolic Me and June Ann, conceptual erotica performer & scriptwriter who jammed about creating content for fun, film, and frolicking – and making money! 

To finish up with the talks, the keynote speech was delivered by Dr Alexandra James, Researcher at Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health, and Society, La Trobe University Australia. 

The BIG finish

I was attending the entire Wolves Summit in a dual capacity, as a Sex Writer and co-Chair of the Academic Conference on Love and Sex with Robots, but also as Venture Associate for a Tech Incubator in Canada. This afforded me the privilege of being a startup pitch finalist judge for the SexTech companies and a startup pitch finalist judge for the 14th edition of the Wolves Summit. With 1000 tech companies submitting to The Great Pitch Competition at Wolves Summit, I sat on the jury to select the two finalists from the SexTech portion that were fast-tracked to the top ten AND I also sat on the jury to decide the top three winners of the entire Great Pitch Competition. 

Sextech | Kiss And Tell

The six SexTech finalists for the 3rd edition of SxTech.eu were Morari MedicalImbueVRPleasy PlayAfterglow, and Sexence. Of those, Please Play and Morari Medical were fast-tracked to The Great Pitch Competition. All the companies pitched well. In fact, comparatively speaking, they all pitched better than the “regular” startups. 

Sextech finalists: Menage et deux

And the winner goes to……Pleasy Play!! A subscription service consisting of an interactive game with fun and sexy challenges received through a mobile app and a personalized and specially curated box of intimate products that are delivered to your doorstep every two months, to help take the heat up in your relationship.

Pleasy Play | Kiss And Tell

and second place was Morari Medical: a pioneering sexual health company, using cutting-edge technology to champion male sexual confidence, control, and satisfaction. The Morari team is leveraging its 75 years of collective experience in urology and sexual health to develop a wearable device-based treatment for premature ejaculation (PE), the most prevalent male sexual dysfunction, estimated to affect 30 percent of men worldwide.

Morari is developing wearable pleasure tech that uses energy-based neuromodulation to support synchronized, sexual satisfaction for men who desire climax control. Morari envisions a world where all beings can create the climactic experience they desire and enjoy their sexuality freely with confidence, curiosity, and control.

Dreams don’t need to be wet to be amazing

Saving the best for last, who would have thought that it was possible? That a SexTech company would win the whole damn thing?  

The entire SexTech community could not have imagined a better outcome. Just the fact that forward-thinking, Michael Chaffe, CEO of Wolves Summit collaborated with the CEO of SxTech.eu Ola Miedzynska is already groundbreaking by itself. But for a SexTech company to win the main prize of The Great Pitch Competition was a major triumph for the SexTech industry, and probably shocking for Wolves Summit! 

I can personally attest to the spectacular pitch delivered by Ana Mikaela Silva, CEO of Pleasy Play. This pitch, her product, and her company vision were a standout and a winner, by a longshot. This company is very investable, and we shall see great things in the very near future as they are raising their next round of venture capital. As Ola Miedzynska says, “this is a victory for our entire sex tech industry, it is the moment when the boundaries between the categories of technology blur, and only the complete vision, strong product, appreciation of the genius team, and hard work matters.” 

From: https://www.kissandtellmagazine.com/sexual-health/sextech-conference/

Sex Tech as the First World Luxury?

I had the pleasure talk to Nichi Hodgson a television journalist at Sky, a BBC presenter, author of books “Bound To You”, and “The Curious History of Dating”. Nichi will host the stage during Sx Tech conference and first German sex-tech hackathon. Can technology help to prevent sexual harassment? How Trump’s sexism affect as all and why sex tech is seeing as the First World Luxury? Let’s follow…

We’re living in a time where the president of an economically leading nation can openly confess to having committed sexual assaults and having said terribly degrading things about women. What consequences does that have on social behavior in society as a whole?

It sets a terrible example — and what is perhaps the worst thing about it is that it has little to no impact on his reputation in the eyes of the most conservative and judgmental voters, the people we would expect to be outraged, while creating an atmosphere of horrific complacence. It means that thousands of other abusers are vindicated by his example, and given confidence that they can get away with their abuses. And it creates a climate of fear for victims.

Can technology help to prevent sexual harassment?

I’m not sure it can just yet. Recognising sexual harassment has taken place is still dependent on someone feeling brave enough to report it so any tech that hopes to ‘record’ harassment would still need that level of human input — unless it was some kind of haptic body sensory device that reacted to being touched and registered the touch as harassment unless you told it otherwise. Any tech that creates registers of information about potential or existing offenders is obviously going to be more controversial and doesn’t allow any room for rehabilitation. And obviously the best way to prevent sexual harassment is not through the threat of exposure but by appealing to someone’s better nature — anything that wields the threat of exposure or bringing to justice outside of the legal system is going to be controversial — so we are a way off being able to design successful products that are culturally acceptable just yet.

You wrote ‘Bound to You’ as your own real-life sex memoir — How does it feel to give away the peace of your privacy, in favour of being judged by public opinion?

It’s funny — at the time, I didn’t think about it too much because I had been writing confessionally about my personal life for a while as a journalist — the book seemed like a natural progression, plus it was reaching an audience of people who didn’t know me, which it was infinitely easier to open myself up to than an audience of people who did. I suppose I only realised the consequences of writing so personally once it formed part of the Google trail on me and I was meeting new people for the first time who had read this stuff about me — in particular dates. I remember going on a date with one guy who had read the book before we met as ‘research’. It completely scuppered us getting to get to know one another in an organic way and I felt really angry afterwards that he had access to so much information, without context, about me (particularly because there was obviously a good dose of poetic licence involved in constructing the book as is always the case with memoir when some of your subjects are still alive). I have always been a very open person but it taught me the value of some things being private. These days I’m much more careful to guard my private life although I will still write personally where I think it’s beneficial to the readers. I just have it in a better balance now. But it’s still annoying when people only remember you for that, and not anything weightier or more boring you’ve done. But then that also makes me realise how important it is to openly write about sex and relationships. The more we do it, the more one day it will cease to shock or titillate everyone who comes into contact with it.

You are a journalist and broadcaster and the host of many sex tech events. Sexbots are a huge topic now. Will humanoid sex robots based on customized design and oftentimes pornographic representations of female anatomy essentially lead to the objectification of women?

We have the representations of femininity we deserve. So anything designed now, which relates to an existing vision, isn’t going to lead to the objectification of women — that’s already happened. Certainly, the popularity of humanoid sex robots could influence the lack of shock we feel when we see highly idealised, pornographical representations of female anatomy — but I’m not convinced they’ll lead to a slippery slope whereby all those that encounter them and then encounter women start treating the women like them. What’s obviously very important is that we don’t only have humanoid pornified bots — which is why supporting, funding and celebrating the people that are making any alternatives to them is so vital. I’d like to see half as much coverage given to the stuff of dreams being created by women — but it’s not as Frankenstein’s monster to look at, and that’s why we don’t. We almost need someone to make something so radical it can’t NOT get attention, just to redress the balance.

In your following book, you dig into the “intriguing history of amorous relationships “. How do you think our romantic lives will change over the years, thanks to tech development?

Well, having worked in the dating app business, I’m not quite yet convinced that apps remain the future of dating. They’ve been here for such a short period of time — Tinder only came out seven years ago — that their rapid growth makes us forget they’re likely on a stop-over en route to the next big dating phenomenon. And while financially we are pouring more and more money into them, culturally, we are growing frustrated with them. Ultimately, unless the apps learn to address those frustrations — the lack of manners online, a creeping sense that the house always wins, their growth will stop — or at least there’ll be a very concerted no-app dating movement, in which matchmakers, coaches and ‘live dating’ events can expand. As emotional and relationship literacy increases, we’ll likely see people better able to manage their relationships too — so I’m positive that the quality of relationships is actually going to increase. Whatever the tech we use, we can’t fundamentally rewire how we make connections and fall in love.

Google now blocks the word “porn” in almost every context. In practice, that means that censorship also blocks results focused on sexual health, business trends, sex work, politics, gender and women topics in general. Where is all this leading to? Maybe soon we will need a license for being allowed to publish books like yours?

Yes, it’s very worrying but I think sooner or later it will force their hand and they will have to devise a more sophisticated way of being able to sift through different kinds of information and imagery — mainly because there’s too much revenue to be lost by not discerning between them. Google is also fundamentally against censoring the internet, so unlike with something like child abuse imagery where there must obviously be a block, I’m confident that there will be more freedom in this area rather than less.

We’re living in a political climate where the sex tech industry is constantly confronted with censorship. When was the last time you thought of the internet as a free space?

I’m not sure I ever have for women, to be honest. I think the level of misogyny on the internet has been a growing problem and that it applies to everything from Twitter abuse to access to porn and positive information about sex. I think men are expected to misuse the internet but for women, the prohibition to so-called x-rated material is greater. Plus there’s the fact that so much of the sex positive content we generate is censored because the key terms are considered ‘rude’. It’s a shame there isn’t more context given to what is automatically blocked, better differentiation between what is really education vs what is titillation.

What has been your favorite sex tech-related topic so far? And why?

My background is the dating industry which I also happen to be pretty cynical about, so I’m always really interested in what the execs say about how we’ll be dating in the next decade — much of which I don’t think people will fully embrace (VR dating, for eg). Given an increased cynicism about how computers can match us, I’m very interested to know how tech will incorporate more sophisticated relationship theory into matching, going forward — if it will.

Sex tech development within the realms of pleasure and entertainment is, in particular, a demand in highly developed countries. What can sex tech offer to the people living in countries that are struck with poverty and low sexual education?

Really good question. I think sex tech can seem like a real First World Luxury — and I guess in countries where female genital mutilation is affecting huge swathes of the female population, devising hi-tech vibrators seems entirely inappropriate (although I’d love to see a product specifically devised to help this).

On S x tech we will also run the first German sex hackathon for startups. What kind of project do you expect here?

Ooh, I have no idea! I’m excited to see. Perhaps more haptic devices, full body sensory things. Since the teledildonic patent expired, I expect more teledildonic innovation — in particular stuff that allows couples to connect across the distance which, to date, hasn’t been much explored.

Between sex toys and videos of real-world sex, female entrepreneurs are changing the game. Why is sex tech important for women?

Because it allows them to offset sexism and misogyny in society through a credible, scientific lens and a sector which men take seriously because they have, to date, owned it. Other spheres like literature, healthcare, therapy have always had a strong female presence and association so it’s important that women are penetrating what has traditionally been a male space. What’s more, this is where some of the major influences on how we will live in the next 20 to 100 years take shape. The idea that women could be removed from that sphere of influence is seriously disconcerting — and another reason why it’s so brilliant that they no longer are.

S x Tech conference will take place on July 1, 2019, in Berlin. It will be the very first event that connects the deep-tech with the sex tech industry. Get your tickets now!

Intelsexual property — an interview with a sex-tech attorney

S x Tech conference will take a place on July 1, 2019 in Berlin. It will be the very first event that connects the deep-tech with the sex tech industry. I had the pleasure to talk to one of the event speakers and mentors, Maxine Lynn, a sex- tech lawyer and sex tech blogger at Unzipped Media

How did Unzipped Media came about?

I was invited to a home sex toy party several years ago, which was basically my first exposure to sex toys I had been practicing patent and technology law already for many years at that time. As I looked through the toy catalog, I saw so much room for innovation. Since then, the industry has come a long way, and the technology has blossomed. I started Unzipped Media to merge my two passions — law and then newly, sex tech! Through the company, I publish the “Unzipped: Sex, Tech & the Law”® blog and the “Sex Tech Patent IndeXXX”® bulletin. I have also recently started producing and hosting the “Unzipped: The Business of Sex”® podcast. Through these various avenues, I explore the intersections of sex, tech, law, and business!

So how did you become the sex-tech lawyer?

I started with my blog, running head first into issues that no one was really talking about. Through my articles, I explained the importance and basics of patents, trademarks, and copyrights as they apply to sex tech. I wrote about major patent disputes in the adult industry (the “teledildonics patent”, the C-shaped vibrator patent, etc.), as well as censorship issues in the registration of trademarks (government prohibiting registration of sexually-explicit marks, which is now heading to the U.S. Supreme Court). My articles have been published in magazines all over the world, and I have spoken at conferences throughout North America. I have tried to educate not just my clients, but the industry as a whole. The more knowledge each company has, the better they can help themselves, and in many cases, help each other to become successful.

How would you describe the sex tech revolution? Is it needed?

It is the convergence of human sexuality and technology. Modern technology has changed so many parts of our lives from how we catch a taxi to how we set an alarm clock. Innovation makes technology better and more accessible, and is supposed to make life better. Along those lines, the sex tech revolution is improving people’s lives in a multitude of ways. From making it easier and more enjoyable for women to orgasm to helping the disabled experience sex, the revolution is dramatically shifting the way we have, and think about, sex and sexuality.

What have your experiences been like as a female in technology? Especially one that searches into sexuality?

I truly enjoy being a female in technology. We are still the minority as compared to men. It’s interesting to bring a new perspective, or at least a different one, to the discussion. I also pride myself in “living my work.” I consider it part of my work to show that you can be intelligent (and tech-oriented), as well as sexual. I live my life as I choose, rather than how society or someone else tells me I should. I get such joy out of having open discussions about sex on my podcast, as well as throwing in a sexy joke here and there in my blog articles, which especially, as a female, would have been shocking just a decade ago.

What has been your favorite sex tech-related topic so far?

I am fascinated by the issue of sex robots. The robots are “cumming” — Almost literally. Right now, the potential effects of sex robot technology are mainly just speculation. However, as the technology becomes more realistic and “smart” with artificial intelligence, what will really happen? Will people choose to have relationships with robots over humans? I mean, I can see why — No arguments, no divorce, no chance of unexpected pregnancy or STIs… And if people do make that choice, will it, in fact, be good for them, for example in giving an intimacy option to people who might not otherwise be able to be in a relationship with another person for various reasons. Or, will it drive people apart since, in some ways, a traditional relationship could become “obsolete.” It’s going to be a new world either way…

You have been advising for many of the porn, sex toy, and adult social networking industries in connection with the law. What are the most-often-expected traps for sex tech startups?

From a legal perspective, I think a lack of understanding of intellectual property protection is a major trap. Forgetting to file, or choosing not to file, for patent, trademark, or copyright protection can lead to disastrous results. For example, deciding not to protect novel sex toy technology via a patent means that other third parties can freely copy the invention. If a company does not trademark its brand names, a third party could file first and swap away rights to the names. Although there are processes for “righting that wrong,” they are long, expensive, and uncertain. Similarly, putting out a porn video without filing for a copyright registration can mean significantly lower damages in the case that it is pirated. As I always say, a little time with a lawyer can go a long way. Sex tech start-ups should be savvy, and set themselves up for success from the beginning.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I love helping sex tech start-ups get off the ground. My clients and I consider myself as part of their team. It’s extremely rewarding when they are not just happy with my work, but that such works helps them to become successful in the marketplace. The world needs more sex tech, and to start any business, especially one relating to sex, a company needs good legal counseling. It’s a pleasure (pun intended) to have an integral role in the future of the industry.

You are not a typical lawyer. What would surprise people most about your job?

Well, many people assume I get to sit at my desk and watch porn all day, which is not actually the case. While sometimes that’s true, for example, if there is a copyright dispute relating to a porn movie; most of the time, it’s simply hard work. My job is very interesting and fun, but requires a lot of skill and experience to get things done right. I help my clients navigate not only tech and intellectual property law, but also laws like FOSTA-SESTA and other censorship issues around the globe. It can be a mine field. The issues I deal with day-to-day at my job far transcends what most people outside of the industry would imagine. I love it though — It keeps me on my toes… Good thing I like high heels!

You gonna speak and advice during S x tech conference in Berlin. In this project, we focus a lot on female creators and founders. What do you think about the gender proportions at the management level in the world of sex tech?

It looks to me like it’s improving. There are a lot of new female-owned companies in the space, which are making waves. It will take many years to fully balance out, but the industry is certainly heading in the right direction. Hopefully, over time, the industry will have players with strong voices of all genders, colors, sexual identities, and viewpoints.

We’re in a political climate that forces us to regularly confront sex tech industry with huge censorship and blocks in public or social media life. How FOSTA-SESTA law impacted the industry?

On April 11, 2018, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” was signed into U.S. law by President Donald Trump. This was a bi-partisan attempt to provide federal and state authorities with more tools to fight, as the law recites, “sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking.” Though stopping sexual exploitation is certainly an honorable cause, the new law, known in short by the acronym “FOSTA,” has actually created big problems for legitimate websites, while in reality, also increasing the difficulty of finding and prosecuting human trafficking. The practical effect of the law is that providers of websites that allow users to post or communicate with one another now have to review and censor user communications and posts for possible prostitution or human trafficking. If human trafficking or prostitution is found to be “facilitated” by the site — including through no direct action by the site, but instead by users via communication on the site — the site owner/operator can be held criminally and civilly liable. As you can imagine, with such a heavy burden and looming uncertainty, many adult-oriented websites shuttered basically overnight. Others have had to adjust their terms of use, and monitoring practices. In addition, evidence of human trafficking, which previously could have been obtained from offenders’ online actions, is now not available since trafficking operations have moved offline and “underground,” making it much more difficult for law enforcement to fight. The law is currently being challenged through the court system. The case was initially dismissed based on a formality (rather than on the merits), and is now being appealed.

S x tech conference. The only conference where deep tech connects with the Internet of (Sex!) Things! — Don’t lose your chance and register NOW

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