May 15, 2012

Technologasm?! The Rise of Teledildonics and Adult Haptic Devices

Enabling real-time, remote sex with unprecedented realism, if teledildonics are the future of cybersex, the future looks awesome.

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The term “teledildonics” is used to describe any sexual devices either controlled by or through a computer. Teledildonic devices remotely translate digital input into physical sensation with motorized devices that resemble traditional sex toys. This enables people to have real-time cybersex with a partner, and control the functions of each other’s toys. Folks can also sync certain toys with the action in a movie, or program preset function patterns for later enjoyment.

Think of it this way—Amelie, in Paris, can use software to manipulate a vibrator being used by Leticia, her lover in Rio de Janeiro. In real time. This all happens over the internet, and they can be combined with webcams, too. Suddenly that week-long business trip doesn’t seem so cold and lonely, huh?

Teledildonics, both as a concept and as a reality, has been around for quite a while. The term was first coined in 1975 by information technology pioneer Ted Nelson, and has been steadily growing in both raw exposure and technological finesse over the intervening years. Originally, the concept of teledildonics was meant to describe devices that were meant to be used for remote sex, including full-body suits that enabled wearers to engage in tactile, sexual stimulation from remote locations.

As time went on, the ambitious concept of virtual reality that thrived in the 80’s burned away in the face of technological limitations. Teledildonics would have to hibernate until the adult toy industry had expanded so that such a feat would be feasible in the mainstream market, reemerging in the mid-2000’s with a slew of imaginative (and occasionally ill-conceived) devices.

There are a multitude of teledildonic devices both on and retired from the market. Many utilize haptic or tactile feedback technology, much like when the rumble pack on a video game controller lets you know just how hard a mob has hit you by varying the strength of the vibration.

Here are a few entertaining highlights (links go to adult websites, click with caution):

  • 2004 saw the release of the Sinulator (now-defunct), a modestly-priced rabbit-style vibrator device with an interactive software interface that can be controlled by another person, remotely. There has also been an Interactive Fleshlight masturbation sleeve for men.
  • In 2007, a Japanese company called Segment Inc. released the romantically-named Virtual Hole and Virtual Stick teledildonic devices for men and women.
  • 2007 also witnessed the release of the now-defunct Talk2Me, a rabbit-style vibrator for women which translated audio input (from TV, iPod, or a lover’s voice) into vibration patterns. This formula has since been capitalized on, expanded and perfected by the designers at OhMiBod.
  • Xcite! Touch is an application that connects any two compatible toys over Second Life. The whole process requires multiple purchases and downloads, as well as a subscription fee. It translates the actions that a user’s avatar (or their partner’s avatar) makes with the in-game toy into vibration in the real toy.
  • Real Touch (link is NSFW), introduced in 2009, is perhaps the most impressive of the teledildonic devices for men. Scott Rinaldo, project director for Real Touch, describes the toy as the first device “to do all the work for the guys. ” The Real Touch contains a myriad of motors to perform stroking and squeezing motions to match live input or pre-programmed patterns, synchronized with the action in Real Touch’s exclusive adult videos. The device also heats and lubricates itself, and can probably cook bacon, too. Their next project? Distributing “a thousand dildos for the military wives.”
  • And now there’s Mojowijo, a set of paired vibrator attachments for the Wii remote control. The idea is that a couple would buy a pair of corresponding toy attachments for use with one another (toys are available for both male and female anatomy–pictured above). Using the Mojowijo software and a Bluetooth connection, the motions of one device are transformed into vibrations in the other. They are also Skype compatible, allowing for remote or long-distance play, complete with sound and video.
  • For coverage of even more attempts at teledildonics, please see sex educator and blogger Violet Blue’s exploration of the teledildonic market (link NSFW).

So now you know more than you ever thought you would about remote sex technology! But despite their inherent entertainment value, are teledildonic devices feasible in the mainstream market? As with so many sexual behaviors, it boils down to a matter of acculturated attitudes and personal tastes.

Jeffrey and Shaowen Bardzell, who conduct human-computer interaction (HCI) research here at Indiana University, eloquently describe the market potential of teledildonics and digitally-enabled designer toys, saying, “The answer is not technology for technology’s sake, but rather innovations in ways that people seek, experience, and express themselves as sexual beings. Teledildonics has no long-term future as a hilarious gadget; its future is only assured when it becomes a worthy part of a sexual experience ecosystem.”

Julia Heiman, the director here at the Kinsey Institute, similarly prophesized in 2006: “What is very likely to be present before 2016 would be a multi-sensual experience of virtual sex. There is a possibility of developing erotic materials that would allow you to create a partner of certain dimensions and qualities.”

Carol Queen, sex educator and director of The Center for Sex and Culture, disagrees, saying “I do find that a world full of people getting it on with, you know, perfect gizmos instead of each other has some sort of a post-Orwellian kind of sense to it. I don’t really think most people are going to want this.”

What do you think? Are teledildonic devices on the road to the “mainstream” marketplace, or doomed to wander the halls of techno-obscurity? Whether you’re opening up a tab for a sex toy website right now, or you’re too confused to even speak: the fact is that despite the slow dissemination of this innovation, the concept of teledildonics is too ripe with possibilities for us to abandon it now.

Me? I’m holding out for the holodeck.

Burke Denning is an MPH student at Indiana University, and is currently interning at the Kinsey Institute. Her studies are centered around the promotion of holistic sexual health and education that seeks to improve quality of life, and expands beyond the prevention and treatment of disease, dysfunction and unintended pregnancy. She is also a former adult retail (sex toy store) clerk, and lectures at IU on the topics of sex toy typology, safety, and regulation.