The intersection of sex and technology continues to arch many an eyebrow in the digital age. And yet, the area has never been so fertile as it has been over the last year.
"Technology has really made sex more pleasurable for many people," said Dr. Justin Garcia, a CTRD Postdoctoral Fellow at The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. "It also provides resources, tools or toys, or certain things that bring new excitement or spice to a couple's sex lives."
Yet, that may not come across in the media and pop culture, which Garcia says is inundated with negative stereotypes of a society that's become so technological that we're all just texting in bed instead of communicating in a more carnal fashion.
"There's actually not a lot of scientific literature stating the negatives of technology on our sex lives and relationships -- surprisingly," said Garcia.
Is sex getting too techy or is it that tech is getting sexier? Why not decided for yourself. Here's a handful of tools, toys and innovations from the crossroads of sex and technology over the last year that just might turn you on...to a whole new perspective.
Software developer Sinful Robot and Irvine-based Oculus, a hardware company developing a virtual reality headset, are teaming up to produce virtual reality sex. The Oculus Rift headset won't go on sale until early 2014, but that hasn’t stopping Sinful Robot from launching a company and putting out the word that they’re seeking to hire 3D character artists. Their goal is to create the world's first series of fully immersive erotic encounters.
Earlier this year, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (PPGNW) distributed 55,000 condoms around community colleges and universities. The condoms have QR codes that can be scanned by smartphones and then connected to the website WhereDidYouWearIt.com.
Here, users can upload their location, along with general details and anonymous reviews of their sexual experience. The site allows participants to rate their rolls in the hay on a scale from "things can only improve from here" to "ah-maz-ing -- rainbows exploded and mountains trembled."
Nathan Engebretson, PPGNW New Media Coordinator, reinforced in a press release that condoms are an essential tool in preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
"We hope the site promotes discussions within relationships about condoms and helps to remove perceived stigmas that some people may have about condom use," he said. "Where Did You Wear It attempts to create some fun around making responsible decisions."
Dissolvable Birth Control and HIV Protection
In the long-standing debate of whether size does or does not matter, you rarely, if ever, hear anyone say smaller is better. That is, until now.
A team of researchers from the University of Washington are working in the nano-scopic world to develop a soluble, nanostructured fabric that could be used by women for both contraception and HIV protection.
The scientists mixed FDA-approved polymers and HIV-fighting antiretroviral drugs into a syringe and then ejected the solution across an electrical field -- a process know as electrospinning. The spinning stretched into solution into thin, nanometer-sized fibers that were collected and turned into a stretchy fabric.
The electrospun fabric could be inserted vaginally or be used as a coating on products, such as a vaginal ring, capable of blocking sperm and releasing preventative drugs to protect against a variety of sexually transmitted infections. Researchers say they could even create a fabric that dissolves within minutes or over the course of a few days, providing women a more sustained protection similarly found with birth control pills.
Hands-Free, Wi-Fi Vibrator
Scanlime blogger Beth, who calls herself an improvisational engineer, has boldly created a hands-free vibrator. Using a sonar sensor and Arduino software, Beth created a haptic device with two parts: a transmitter that wirelessly links up with the vibrator on the receiving end.
"This toy serves as a kind of analog bridge between two remote spaces: the column of ultrasonically oscillating air in front of the remote, and whatever body part happens to be in contact with the vibrator," she writes. "Touch that invisible space above the remote, and the vibrator touches you."
In their paper "Robots, Men and Sex Tourism" for the journal Futures, Ian Yoeman and Michelle Mars envision a future where robotic prostitutes are the solution to the sex industry's most glaring problems, such as human trafficking, human degradation and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. According to the report, clients could have "guilt-free" sex with androids made from bacteria-resistant fiber that would be flushed for human fluids, therefore guaranteeing no transmission of STDs.
Using a hacked Kinect sensor and a pair of video glasses sandwiched together, a Japanese man not only created a virtual reality girlfriend, named Hatsune Miku and she came pre-made from a Japanese voice synthesizer called Vocaloid.
Capable of overlaying virtual objects in the real world, the video glasses allowed turquoise-haired Miku to tag along with her new found companion. What did the lovely couple do on their hot date? Well, Miku mainly just bounced around looking perky and wide-eyed while her gentleman suitor patted her on the head.
If you want to chaperone the awkward couple on their date, you can watch the cringe-inducing, ear-splitting footage in this video.
While Hatsune Miku's skimpy, tutu-like skirt and thigh-high stockings might turn some people on, you make the call: Are avatar girlfriends (or boyfriends) sexy or just another sad notch in the techie belt of loneliness?
While there are many ways to stoke the fires of a long distance relationship, none are so tangible as the "Kissenger." Well, during the course of my research, I've come across a few so-called teledildonic devices that would certainly qualify as "more tangible," but for the sake of keeping things safe for work, at least the Kissenger is not just a peck on the cheek.
Short for Kiss Messenger, the device allows couples to lock lips via the Internet. If you can get past its name without thinking of Henry Kissinger, or the fact that it looks like Mr. Potato Head, I sincerely applaud you. Once those monumental hurdles are overcome, you can trade spit with the pair of oversized, motion-sensitive silicone lips adorning the small head-shaped device, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Couples just have to link up the devices to their computers via USB cables for the make-out session to begin. Sensors triggered in each device allow couples to feel a sense of corresponding exchange.
If you don't want to smooch a potato, how about puckering up for this kissable, interactive poster?
"I'm a big fan of pop idols, and I have posters of them in my room," Keio University researcher Keidai Ogawa explained in a promo video. "It bugged me that the posters didn't move at all. We built this system because we thought, if a poster could move to match people's movements, that would be interactive and fun."
Ogawa added: "This system is very simple. There's an ultrasound sensor here, to detect how far away your head is. As you approach the sensor, the picture changes. When you get closer, the picture becomes a kissing face, and when you move away, it becomes a blushing face."
As the researchers plan to develop an iPad application, they're also interested in incorporating more features to arouse your senses. The scent of shampoo from a person's hair, a lemon-flavored film on the screen lips or a kisser who whispers "I love you" are all being considered.
When it comes to shattering the taboo of sex, look no further than the Kinsey Institute. Since being founded in 1947 by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the Bloomington-based sex, gender and reproduction research institute has been steadfast in it's mission to advance sexual health and knowledge worldwide.
Technology allows people to engage in participatory observation and lets people become scientists, said Garcia. "They can report what they see and what they're doing in a new way," he said.
So it's no surprise that, by the end of the year, the institute is launching Kinsey Reporter, a "global mobile platform for the reporting, visualization, and analysis of anonymous data about sexual and other intimate behaviors." The free smartphone app will allow users to anonymously share detailed data on everything from the sexual preferences and recent intimate experiences to fetishes and public displays of affection witnessed at the bus stop. Data is then sent securely to a central database where it's aggregated and shared openly at KinseyReporter.org.
Therefore, feel free to check your inhibitions at the door and give them all the juicy details. You know, in the name of research.
Teledildonics and interactive kissing devices may be able to spice up long distance relationships, but what about when you need a good ole' fashioned hug from that person who lives on the other side of the globe? Well, open your arms to the Hugvie Robot.
Invented by Japanese robot designer Hiroshi Ishiguro, the Hugvie is a plush, tadpole-shaped figure that can make all those long distance phone calls a little more personable. A pocket inside the robot lets you insert your smartphone when you call your loved one. A device inside Hugvie converts your beloved's voice into vibrations you can feel while cuddling.
In yet another attempt to annihilate the body pillow industry, a subsequent gadget inside the robot mimics the pulse of a heartbeat, turning Hugvie into the ultimate non-human snuggler.
According to the press release, the robot's "vibrations can be customized to allow for softer or stronger pulses as they respond to the volume and strength of the voice on the other end of the line." If you're in need of Hugvie's warm embrace, it's available at Vstone.
ANALYSIS: Find Out What Your Dreams Sound Like