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/

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