What would a sex toy that anticipates your every whim be like?
For more than a decade, I’ve been writing about, reviewing, and helping to develop sex toys. Over and over again, people give me the same idea for the future of sex tech.
To put it simply, they imagine a sex toy that takes all of the work out of self pleasure, a device that—via some combination of robotics, biodata, and machine learning— monitors your body to assess your level of arousal, and adapts its behavior accordingly. It would guarantee the ultimate orgasm every time.
It’s easy to understand why this idea is so alluring; why a crowdfunding campaign advertising itself as “the first artificially intelligent vibrator” attracted the attention of The View, why the press eats up white papers that claim to map out a path toward smarter sex toys, why I’ve wound up in so many design meetings where someone tells me about their great new plan for a vibrator that will figure out exactly what you like. Sexual pleasure is notoriously tricky. It can be difficult enough to assess what feels good, or how we want to be pleasured; to then put those desires into words and communicate them to a partner can feel formidable, if not outright impossible.
A device that can cut through all of that, relying on the secret language of the body to determine our sexual desires for us, promises to bring us to the heights of pleasure without ever asking us to lift a finger (both literally and figuratively). It’s a device that promises to unlock our sexual potential without requiring us to unscramble the confusing and sometimes conflicting messages our body provides our brain about what we do and don’t want during sex. Of course it sounds appealing—particularly to anyone looking to profit off other people’s sexual pleasure.
But I don’t think we’d actually be that enamored with this fantasy if it ever came true. Like so many of our erotic imaginings, this idea is likely the hottest when it remains a possibility rather than a reality.
Despite the hunch that our biodata can be decoded to tell a detailed story about our arousal patterns and desires, research suggests that the relationship between our physical signs of arousal and our brain’s perception of pleasure isn’t as straightforward as we might like to think. A penis may swell, or a vagina may lubricate, without our brains feeling the least bit aroused; even orgasm isn’t guaranteed to be an experience that registers as purely pleasurable. If there’s no direct connection between what our body is doing and how our brains feel, it’s hard to imagine that a sex toy might be able to figure out what we really want purely based on our physical response.
And most importantly, as appealing as an effortless orgasm might sound, I’m doubtful that it would truly be exciting. Sexuality, and sexual pleasure, are about more than merely arriving at an explosive endpoint. They’re a lifelong journey of self understanding and self exploration, and the struggle for knowledge is as important as the ultimate destination.
A sex toy that promises to effortlessly guide us to peaks of erotic enjoyment may seem like the epitome of erotic experience. But in reality, it’d be more like a cheap trick that cheats us out of some of the very best parts of sex.
The best sex toys integrate right into the sex we’re already engaging in, enhancing our pleasure without making themselves the main attraction. When I envision the future of sex toys, I see products that are effortless to charge (or never need charging at all), easy to clean, ergonomic, and affordable. All we really need are simple products that do more by doing less.
Excerpted from the book Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species.