What is sex tech and why is it important?
With a global estimated value of $30 billion, SexTech is an emerging industry that demonstrates how technological advancements have reshaped the way we live and relate to ourselves and our partners.
We had the pleasure of speaking to Bryony Cole, Founder of the Future of Sex — a podcast that explores how technological advancements and cultural phenomenons will shape the future of sex. The podcast also explores what the often misunderstood SexTech industry has install for us regarding relationships, intimacy, and desire.
What is SexTech and what topics/industries does it cover?
SexTech is any technology designed to enhance sexuality. SexTech aims to create products and services that are designed around relationships. It brings new ideas of intimacy, pleasure, and desire to the human experience. This can be anything from Bluetooth connected vibrators to robot companions and to male sperm testing apps for your iPhone. SexTech extends to anything to do with sexuality, including education, health, crime, sexual violence reporting, and even gender identity.
What is your role and how did you become involved in the SexTech industry?
In 2015, I was working at a think-tank focused on the next 30 years of nightlife. I was exposed to a real gap in conversation regarding the broader business and tech world and the impact technology is having on intimacy. To help fill this knowledge gap, I launched Future of Sex, a podcast to bring ‘sextech’ into the public domain. I have used this podcast as a way to explore how the innovations we create, invest, and use are influencing our behaviour and human development.
Why is learning about the present and future of SexTech important? (should we be teaching this in SexEd at schools?)
Education is one of the most exciting developments in SextTech because there is so much potential. Most of us had a very average sex education that focused on anatomy rather than learning about empathy, arousal, touch — the more human elements of sex. The hallmarks of future SexTech education includes practical and feedback-enabled technology, gaming, touchscreens, and virtual reality that help us tap into these human elements.
Today’s school kids are growing up with what Erika Lust calls ‘porn in your pocket’ — a smartphone with unlimited access to the internet and free pornography. How can we provide better education about the consumption of pornorgraphy, differentiating real-world sex from what they may see on the screen? Today revenge porn and sexting are becoming, for better or worse, standard ways of relating. We should be teaching about how technology is impacting the way we see and express ourselves and what the implications of that are.
What challenges do you face educating people about SexTech?
When I started the Future of Sex podcast I remember my mum on the other end of the phone (after listening to one of the first episodes) saying: “What will we tell people? We don’t know how to explain this to our friends!” It was hard to keep going. I could feel her embarrassment and fear. It was out of love for me, of course. She was afraid I would put myself out there to be judged, to be misunderstood, and never recover from what other people think.
Where do you see the future of SexTech heading?
In an ideal future, I believe SexTech will increase our desire for deeper human connections, drive us to create stronger bonds, and re-learn how to cultivate intimacy that relies on our creativity, imagination, intuition, and all the other characteristics of the right-side of the brain that technology can’t recreate. That will be our point of difference in relationships, and the development of SexTech will help us cultivate this side of us, in effect, help us become more human. Technology is just the tool, we have got to stop relying on it as the answer to our needs, and rather see it as an additive or enhancement.
What are some common misconceptions about SexTech?
SexTech can be defined as any technology that seeks to enhance sexuality. This concept brings together two terms; sexuality and technology. Sexuality, not just sex, which is a common misconception. The umbrella of sexuality is vast, it incorporates health, education, entertainment, gender identity, crime, and violence. In the same way, technology has multiple categories, from Virtual Reality to AI and robotics, to apps and gaming. Innovations in technology will keep expanding the categories we can apply SexTech to.
Why do you think this topic is so taboo and how can we shatter these stereotypes?
Aside from the developments in products and services, the greatest part of the emerging SexTech industry is that it’s sparking a cultural conversation about sex. By framing the conversation of sex in “SexTech,” in technology, it becomes a lot more acceptable to debate and discuss sex.
With the growing numbers of sexual abuse surfacing this conversation becomes even more urgent. We all must be asking questions about the direction of technology and how we might use it as a positive force for our future. We can only do that if we remove the shame and stigma from the conversation and find positive ways for diverse groups of people to be involved.