Adult toys go hi-tech
Bluetooth technology is enabling a new range of remote-control sex toys that give fresh meaning to the long-distance love affair, writes Jamie Carter
HOW BLUE IS YOUR Bluetooth? Wearable technology is all the rage in the world of electronics, with touch-sensitive gadgets that measure your movements on everybody's wrist list.
But the miniaturisation of Bluetooth modules is set to give birth to a whole new genre of electronics that mainstream media has, for now, yet to discover: the technology-focused pleasure product, or sex-tech.
US-based OhMiBod last month announced blueMotion, a "wearable massager" that uses Bluetooth technology to connect to a smartphone. Once that's done, blueMotion's powerful motor can be controlled from afar via an app on a partner's phone. But blueMotion isn't just about remote control.
Set to go on sale in March for HK$1,000, blueMotion uses built-in smartphone technology including the accelerometer, touch screen, volume control, and even the microphone; it can record what its makers call "ambient sound" for up to a minute.
It's saucy stuff. "Users can enjoy the vibrations generated by a partner's voice, or their favourite beats when and wherever they want," says Suki Dunham, OhMiBod founder. The OhMiBod Remote app even allows users to create their own vibration patterns. The same company makes vibrating knickers, too.
But do we need sex-tech like this? "For some couples, the explosion of the digital age has resulted in a shift in intimacy, as many pay more attention to devices than their partners," says Dunham. "BlueMotion breaks down those virtual barriers by encouraging couples to interact both physically and emotionally using technology. They can experience the thrill of unlimited vibration patterns and total discretion whenever the mood arises."
It does have a feel of "because we can" rather than "at last we're able". If nothing else, it proves that there is now an app for everything.
But blueMotion isn't alone in the risqué genre. "There are a lot of brands introducing toys that can be controlled by a partner via smartphones or wireless remote control," says Vera Lui from Hong Kong-based Sally's Toy (sallystoy.com) adding that a lot of brands are now injecting new technology into their experience.
Most sex-tech is about making things easier to control and share in one place, but once you've hooked up such gadgets to a smartphone, the internet is waiting - and that means long-distance loving is possible. "Web connected sex toys are very similar to phone or cyber sex," says Lui.
"Long-distance couples can enjoy it as a substitute, but they will always long for their partners because making love is not just about physical pleasure, it is also a combination of kissing, talking, touching, smelling, sweating, breathing - I don't think a toy can do it all. But if a web-connected sex toy encourages couples to explore, I say go for it."
Web-connected vibrators like Vibease and Mojowijo (the latter attaches to a Nintendo Wii remote) offer the ultimate in remote control, and unsurprisingly gadgets like these are spawning a booming virtual sex business online; females sit in front of web cams and customers can use their keyboards at home to control the toys and use it on their virtual sex partner.
For those in long-distance relationships, sex-tech like this could be just the thing. "Any gadget that facilitates couples engaging more with each other more is positive," says Hayley Quinn, a dating expert hayleyquinn.com "These gadgets are great for adding a more physical dimension to long-distance relationships, but people may feel more aroused by a long Skype call," she adds. "These aren't the end destination, but a possible route to improved intimacy."
What all of these gadgets have in common is haptic or touch technology.
"You want technology to bring people together," says Kwame Ferreira of global innovation agency KwameCorp, whose concept of the Bond bracelet - when one wearer touches Bond the partner feels a vibration in their wrist - is more romantic than raunchy.
"We are trying to imitate and mimic touch," says Ferreira, who thinks social media as it exists has hit saturation point, particularly for couples. "We have enough of all that already, so we thought we'd explore touch, a new - but actually a very old - way of communicating."
On a similar theme comes the Good Night Lamp, a connected light that tells a partner - via a flash on their lamp - that you're available to talk or that you're going to sleep. This is ambient communication, and it's set to grow in scope in the coming years.
Bluetooth has recently become available as an ultra-low-power module - and that's changing everything. "Bluetooth 4.0 is crucial to most wearable devices," says Ferreira. "It allows the device to communicate with a phone, which is the brain that connects to the other person."
Without Bluetooth 4.0 the wearable world wouldn't be able to advance.
It's an advance that's generally welcomed - though it comes with the usual caveats. "Anything that makes you think about or focus on your partner in a positive way is going to be beneficial from a relationship perspective," says Nikki Green, a Hong Kong-based psychotherapist (healthierrelationships.com). "Having said that, there does seem to be a lot of rubbish out there vying for the long-distance lover's dollar."
Kissinger probably falls into that bracket. A silicone device that comes in pairs, as one partner kisses the, err, robot's lips it replicates those movements at the other end.
"You'd certainly get bored of Kissinger very quickly unless you had a robot fetish," says Green. "On a platonic level, something like the Good Night Lamp is a wonderfully symbolic way of knowing that there's somebody out there thinking of you."
But haptic gadgets also encourage an element of control. "In our stores, eight out of 10 male customers are sold when they hold the remote control in their hand and see what it can do," says Lui, who adds that some ask specifically for toys with remote controls.
Could that base desire reflect fear in a man of being replaced by a vibrator? "I guess it has something to do with power," says Lui. "It makes them feel that they are still in charge."
But Quinn thinks that the power play is nothing to worry about. "Almost anything can be misused, but these gadgets have been cleverly marketed to appeal to couples," says Quinn. "Anything we can do to normalise a healthy, active sex life between couples should be encouraged - particularly with female-friendly brands that don't have the stigma that conventional sex toys still carry."
"I can't see this plethora of long-distance love toys being harmful," says Green, "other than the possibility of the partner who tires of the whole thing the fastest being accused of not loving the other, because the toy was a symbol of that love."
To some the penchant for haptic technology and sex-tech might seem bizarre, but for those in long-distance relationships the prize is merely more connection. Is there any better use for technology than to make you feel close to the person you miss most?