Sexuality embraces virtual relaity to question our relationship to the body.
Crédits photos : Ava Sol (Unsplash)
The VRDays conferences wanted to put the spotlight on SexTech. Although the subject is not often discussed, it does however question basic issues: our body, our gender, our couple, our attractions, our orientation. Much more than pleasure, SexTech is about discovering and understanding yourself.
SexTech has many facets that take the form of robots or pleasure dolls. Virtual reality is not left behind and goes far beyond watching pornographic videos with a VR headset on your head. The techno-sexual revolution has greater ambitions: discovering our own body and the body of others, understanding our desirs and fantasies, communicating with our partner; in the end, getting rid of this ambient taboo.
When virtual reality enters our intimacy
Why is sex so taboo? Why are we ashamed to come inside a sexshop? Why are we hesitant to go see a sexologist? It is difficult to find an answer to that question. A lot of people say it is because of all the religious heritages. But when this taboo is stuck inside a couple, the problem can become bigger. Some people hold back their desire for novelty out of fear of the perception of their partner. Other people don’t even know what they desire! How can communication about sexuality be improved?
SexTech mixes the word “sex” and “technology”. According to the Wikipedia page (which is a bit empty, symptomatic of this taboo and this lack of information on the subject), SexTech includes “technology and technology-driven ventures that are designed to enhance, innovate and disrupt human sexuality and/or the human sexual experience“. When we talk about SexTech, we think about meeting and health applications, but also virtual reality and more and more intelligence artificial combined with robotics.
Today, the ambition of start-ups operating in SexTech goes beyond the simple experience of pleasure. They seek interactivity, communication, understanding. Philipp Fussenegger and Alexis Smith created together Kokeshi: a silicone doll with artificial intelligence. It’s an interactive experience, where the client is in a private and safe environment, and can talk and discuss with Kokeshi who answer him. This doll helps have a conversation, explore our own identity and desires, without any judgement and stigma. Just like Kokeshi, SexTech is evolving towards tools that are not only used to practice, but also to learn, understand and communicate better.
Discover, learn and understand your body
The experts who came at VRDays all agree: technology allows to explore sexuality in a new way. For Sam Ward, Medical Director at BHCT, using technology breaks down barriers. Virtual reality, and all the immersive technologies, provide a safe environment. Without awkwardness or fear of judgement, users can freely speak about their desires and explore their sexuality. Several VR platforms allows to travel towards new horizons, like VRChat, where we can choose to embody a character with a different gender.Virtual reality is also a fabulous tool for couples, improving communication and dialogue in order to rediscover the passion that drives them.
SexTech allows to better understand the other and to better understand ourselves. We can discover new pleasures, try new sexual practices that we didn’t dare to do before, introduce topics with our partner. Philipp Fussenegger and Alexis Smith took the example of a couple who wants to invite a third person into their sexual life. The immersion in a paralell environment, with a third person (takin the form of an avatar, an hologram, a robot…), allows them to validate their desire and to ask themselves the right questions: are they going to feel jealousy? How do they include this third person in their sexual habits? Do they have to ask for the consent of their partner durin the act? In the same way, one single person can try understanding if he/she has new desires, is he/she is not sure of his/her sexual orientation, etc.
SexTech therefore goes far beyond sexual practice. Carine de Potter, co-founder of Moodify Asbl, is sure that technologies are an opportunity for education. “Virtual reality helps to be a better love, a better partner, a better person.” SexTech has this educational dimension. According to the sexologist and psychologist Cathline Smoos, we can learn about sexuality, break down beliefs, understand the body of the other gender. Virtual reality is used today in all the sectors to learn and have a better behaviour. Why not use it for sexuality also? To know how to put a condom on, to understand how female pleasure works, to be aware of essential concepts such as consent, to raise awarness on addiction. This is the ambition of Sexuality 2.0.
Sexuality 2.0 in an ever-changing world
With the COVID-19 crisis and the lockdown, SexTech became useful. This is what Justin Lehmiller, researcher and blogger. He explains that the lockdown was a period of sexual revolution, durin which people were looking for novelty in their sexual practices and tried technology more. Indeed, during the lockdown, many couples were apart, and it was also impossible to meet someone. People had to find new tools to explore the connection of physical bodies at distance. Virtual reality combined with immersion create this profund and intimate connection between two people. According to him, “the physical and digital have now merged with VR“.
Of course, and as is often the case, using technologie raises ethical issues. Especially when it enters the deepest intimacy of a person. How far can we go? When engaging in a subject as complex as SexTech, you have to ask yourself a few questions. Does engaging in a sexual practice with another person in the form of an avatar means that we are cheating on our partner? What about the legal age? Can we allow virtual sex acts with minors? SexTech will continue to be a hot topic, and is even of interest to the audiovisual industry, with the example of an episode of the well-knowned TV show Black Mirror which quite rightly questions the relation between the virtual and the real.