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Sex Tech Is Untapped: These 11 Players Are Trying To Change That

Sex tech is untapped business potential.

It doesn’t take an industry expert to observe that sex tech has huge business potential – the internet was basically made for porn

But in case Rule 34 isn’t enough to illustrate our timeless obsession with sex, here are 11 ways sex and tech are canoodling in electrifying ways. (For dramatic comparison, have a look at this 2010 Huffington Post piece ‘7 Ways Tech is Changing Sex‘. So much has happened since!)

1. Rubberit – a condom subscription service pays it forward

Rubberit isn’t the only condom subscription service out there. But it’s different because, for every condom bought, one is donated to women in Mexico with limited access to contraceptives and sex education. CEO May Alba believes women can and should take control of their sexual health and protection, having also lost a friend to AIDS.

Rubberit is now a part of 500 Startups’ Latin America Portfolio.

2. HappyPlayTime – lessons in female masturbation

Happy is a talking cartoon vagina who wants you to know that there is nothing wrong with a woman pleasuring herself.

Founder Tina Gong started HappyPlayTime to address the stigma attached to female masturbation, in an open and light-hearted manner.

The educational game illustrates the anatomy of the vagina, and even lets you practice with Happy.

3. Vibease – the first wearable smart vibrator

Vibease is a Singapore-based hardware + software startup that believes the world would be a better place when women have orgasms as much as men do.

Founder Dema Tio wanted his wife to experience pleasure while they were living apart, but saw that his options were slim – mostly porn, and mostly for men. So he quit his job of 10 years and began to learn about the female orgasm, and eventually Vibease was born.

Vibease is a wearable vibrator (hardware) that you hook up with the Vibease app (software), allowing your partner to get you off from miles away. The startup is Indiegogo-funded and is close to releasing its iPhone version. It was a finalist in TechCrunch’s Crunchies award (2013, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”), and also spoke at the 2014 NY Tech Meetup.

4. Spreadsheets – quantifying your bedroom activity

Spreadsheets follows the quantified self into the bedroom. Remember that time everyone was talking about the longest and shortest sex in America? Spreadsheet measured all of that.

Co-founders Danny Wax and Tyler Elick emphasize that they’re not in the business of telling people how they should have sex, but that they want to provide a thermometer.

Spreadsheets costs $1.99 – less than a condom.

5. Glance – watch the both of you get off, with Glass

Founder Sherif Maktabi wanted to make sex more awesome with Google Glass.  The most important thing Glass can do for its users is live streaming. Now you can see what your partner can see – just say “Okay, Glass, it’s time.”.

Other neat features of Glance include: replaying your stream for up to 5 hours after a session; and asking Glass to suggest new positions to try.

The app is free for a limited period of time. 

6. Pure – an app that cuts to the quickie

Pure is single-mindedly focused on getting you laid, as quickly and safely as possible.

Co-founder Roman Sidorenko argues that Pure is better than Tinder and Grindr for that purpose, because the process of figuring out what people are “looking for” is time-consuming. No chit-chat, no confusion, no time wasted.

7. Make Love Not Porn – the Etsy of sexy videos

CEO Cindy Gallop is a champion of ‘real world sex‘ – “that the sex we have in our everyday life is the hottest sex there is”. The value of MLNP is that “everybody wants to know what everybody else is really doing in bed and nobody does.”. (Watch Cindy’s MediaEvolution 2013 keynote speech in which she talks about re-designing sex – from 13:51.)

MLNP celebrates everyday sex by allowing users to put their videos up for rent ($5 per video, for three weeks), and keep 50% of the proceeds.

8. Offbeatr – crowfunding your kinkiest projects

Offbeatr is one more example of Rule 34 of the internet – for everything that exists, there is (or will be, or must be) a porn equivalent. Kickstarters included.

The platform is like GoGoFantasy, but more businesslike – ideas are voted on before they begin the funding process. Just a year ago, only 13 projects had been successfully funded. The number now stands at 46. My personal favorite – Digimon porn.

Co-founders Eric Lai and Ben Tao also made Extra Lunch Money. It’s similar to MLNP, but instead of renting you buy the content. (Side: check out their older project, Elm Avenue, a podcast where they interview porn folk.)

9. Comingle – incubating open source sex toys 

Co-founder Andrew Quitmeyer calls Comingle the “Adafruit of sex toys”. The open source sex toy repository is intended not just to pioneer the next generation of sex toys, but to inspire people to create and iterate their own.

For a glimpse of what a next-gen sex toy could look like – Quitmeyer and his peer Firaz Peer built the Electric Eel, a digital condom that zaps your shaft in a pleasurably shocking way. (Check out other next-gen condoms with the Gates Foundation stamp of approval.)

Comingle is currently in its initial phase of research and development.

10. Site 3 Sexy Hardware Hackathon – welcoming teledildonics virgins

Lesser known is this sex toy hackathon happening this month in Ontario, brought to you by the Site 3 coLaboratory.

11. Arse Elektronica – an orgy of sex, tech, politics, art, and philosophy

Arse Elektronica is an annual festival celebrating the intersection of sex and tech.

Organized by the Austrian arts and philosophy collective monochrom, Arse Elektronica’s emphasis isn’t hacking and innovation, but performance art and socio-political discourse surrounding sex + tech.

For a better sense of Arse Elektronika’s experimental and subversive spirit, watch this video.

Despite all this, adult content is largely left high and dry by the tech scene.

1. Venture capital and banks aren’t interested.

Most sex tech startups are either funded privately, or by angel investors, because they were turned away by VC firms. And VC firms aren’t the only ones who won’t touch adult content with a ten foot pole. Cindy Gallop laments that banks, too, wouldn’t let her open a business account for a venture with “porn” in its name.

2. Payment processing companies give them headaches.

On top of that, payment proccessing companies are charged more for transactions with adult content businesses, because Visa and Mastercard consider adult content “high risk”. For this reason, PayPal no longer works with adult content companies. And this is a big roadblock for sex tech businesses, since a seamless payment system matters to online consumers.

3. Big Tech isn’t very interested, either.

Kickstarter rejected Dema Tio’s Vibease campaign because it doesn’t accept projects with “pornographic material”. Apple’s App Store gave HappyPlayTime the same boot early this year, when Apple didn’t allow HPT to launch its app on iTunes, despite founder Tina Gong’s appeal. Apple insisted that the app contained pornographic material, even though Happy is a cartoon, abstract representation of the human vulva.

Sex tech isn’t just about pleasure, it’s also about social justice.

Projects like Gallop’s Make Love Not Porn doesn’t just let users rent and make money from homemade sex videos. It’s also democratizing adult entertainment by celebrating (rather than fetishizing) a diversity of bodies, sexualities, and gender identities. It embraces the humor, awkwardness, and messiness that make sex intimate.

And women-centered startups like Rubberit and HappyPlayTime are making sex education accessible to women in groundbreaking, even life-saving ways. In an age where female masturbation is still a taboo conversation; where purity balls are still a thing and contraceptives are still prohibited in many places, sex tech makes a difference for women’s sexual health.

The good news is, sex tech is becoming more mainstream.

We’re coming close, having warmed up to the idea of finding our dates through OKCupid or Match.com – we used to be far more reluctant to admit we used them. We’ve accepted that an algorithm could give us better dating options that would’ve ordinarily passed us by. Dating apps are now available for every imaginable niche community – Christians, lesbian and gay folk, salad lovers, married people, farmers, goths, Ivy league graduates, and yes, Trekkies. In fact, web series “Local Attraction” by Connor Hines satirizes this perfectly while showing us that the dating app is the new normal.

Predictably, with a little more time, we’ll get comfortable with the presence of technology in the bedroom as well. More importantly, technology will help many of us get comfortable in the bedroom. Some parting words from sex-inspired entrepreneurs:

One day, nobody should ever have to feel ashamed or embarrassed ever again of having a naked photograph or a sex tape of themselves posted on the Internet, because it’s simply just a natural human part of who we all are. – Cindy Gallop, CEO, MLNP

Nobody wins when there is so much shame or guilt around the topic. And having an open dialogue about sexuality, even in tech, would be beneficial for everything. – Tina Gong, CEO, HappyPlayTime

Melissa Tsang

Melissa Tsang is a writer and speaker on the social impact of ecommerce and technology. She's also a bit of an impulse shopper. (A bit.)

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