Sextech x Erotic Intelligence: Love, Sex, & Human Connection

The following is the speech our Executive Director, Mal Harrison, gave at TOA Berlin on June 21st, 2018.

Take a minute and look around this room.

Who here are you drawn to? Who here do you think is hot or interesting or inviting? And who here am I drawn to? Is it you? You? And which one of you will I choose to take back to my secret lair and ravage tonight?

It’s a beautiful gift, the skill of scouring a room to perfect the art of selecting a mate for tonight, a weekend fling, or for life.

Eroticism is an infinite continuum of every moment, every experience, every emotion that makes up the essence of who you are and why you’re drawn to who-and what-you’re drawn to. And it’s not just about sex, either. Our eroticism extends to food, music, art, literature, and yes-even technology.

Imagine yourself as a cliff by the ocean. Every day, the waves and the weather work to shape your cliff. This is how our experiences shape our eroticism over the course of a lifetime. But we have something the cliffs don’t have-a brain.

I have spent the majority of my life researching desire, love, relationships, and sex. And of course, putting it all to test and practice!

Human beings are hardwired for connection, belonging, and to pair bond. But pair bonding, in the way humans behave and the brain is hardwired, doesn’t necessarily require or prescribe monogamy in terms of sexual exclusivity. In fact, monogamy is not a natural state, but rather a choice we make to make life less complicated.

Neuroscientists and anthropologists—more specifically Dr. Helen Fisher—have shown that we’ve evolved three different brain systems responsible for mating and reproduction: one, the sex drive; two, feelings of crazy intense wild romantic love; and three, feelings of profound cosmic attachment with a long-term partner. These three brain systems, combined with many other parts of the brain, orchestrate our sexual, romantic, and family lives. But they are situated way below the cortex, way below the limbic system, in the place where we generate and feel emotions.

They dwell in the most primitive parts of the brain, linked with craving, energy, focus, motivation, wanting and drive. In this instance, the drive to win life’s greatest prize: a mating partner. These systems evolved over 4.4 million years ago amongst our first ancestors, and technology is not going to change them, much less, sextech or sex robots.

But that’s not to say sextech isn’t awesome or not needed in our world! When most people think of sextech, they think of vibrators or VR porn. But let’s take a quick look at some of history’s best inventions in sex tech! Fire, most certainly had to be the first one, providing a warm ambiance for igniting sex. Then along comes vulcanized rubber, patented by Charles Goodyear in 1844, with the first rubber condom being produced in 1855, and mass production by the late 1850’s. Fast forward, and suddenly women have access to the birth control pill. Can you imagine the hysteria in society, at the thought of these brazen wild women screwing whomever they wanted with no consequences? We saw similar hysteria ensue years later, when porn went mainstream on the internet. I was at Yale Sex Week several years ago, where I witnessed anti-porn activist Gail Dines declare to an audience of students, that if their partners watch porn, it means they’re cheating on them. That must make me a serial cheater!

Sextech can be defined as any technology that advances our sexual and romantic experiences, and it’s estimated to be worth $30b by the year 2020.

This could be anything from a period tracker app like Clue, or the Elvie trainer, which I’m a huge fan of, because you wouldn’t run a marathon without training, so why give birth without training? It also includes dating apps, teledildonics (remote control toys that can be operated from anywhere in the world), haptic technology, VR expanding from mere porn to erotic playgrounds with hologram technology, VR extending into sex education and sex therapy, and as expected, more technologically advanced toys for singles and couples, such as Amorelie’s Moqqa Reef or Unbound’s new toy Bender. We’re seeing AI being integrated in toys that can measure and react to pulse rate and body temperature such as the OVibe. And then there’s another interesting development called ExoLover out of Australia, which bills itself as an ecosystem for global sexual interaction on the blockchain!

I lost my virginity to a guy I met on AOL Member directory! We sure have come a long way from literal back page magazine print adds (the printing press was technology after all) phone hook-up hotlines, chat rooms, and battery operated phallic toys. Now we can spend hours surfing endless categories of porn, swiping left and right, and presenting ourselves on a multitude of social media platforms, in some part- to attract a potential mate.

But as we spend our time creating stories for snapchat and instagram, updating statuses, swiping away on all the apps, are we going down a rabbit hole of social media consumption? And is it diminishing our erotic intelligence? It’s not that social media or technology is bad, but perhaps it’s possible that we’re not being conscious of how we consume it.

Amidst our collective loneliness and ennuie, we turn to our phones for that next hit of stimulation and engagement. We’ve now commodified ourselves into personal brands, thereby commodifying each other. And naturally, this commodification leads to a constant comparison loop. We may have thousands of digital connections, making it seem as if we’re more connected than anytime in human history, and yet, we’re lonelier than ever. Suicide and depression rates are soaring, and millennials, report higher rates of depression than any other generation before-and they’re now the biggest sector of the workforce.

Depression costs the U.S. economy more than $51 billion a year in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs, according to mental illness nonprofit Mental Health America.

Indeed, comparison in the age of perfectionism is hard on the human spirit.

And then there’s the paradox of choice. Dating and hook-up apps have presented us with a seemingly infinite number of mate possibilities, whereas once upon a time, our options were limited to our location and community. The paradox of choice states that after between 5-9 options, our brains experience cognitive dissonance, thereby discouraging us from actually choosing anyone, or, being completely unhappy and unsure of the one we do choose. Add that to the angst of perfecting a social media presence, and we’re quite literally living in the age of narcissistic captivity—so obsessed with the image we put forth for others to see, it sometimes seems like we spend more time crafting the perfect instagram post than we do in self-reflection.

But I get it! The intent behind living in the age of narcissistic captivity isn’t all bad, nor all our fault. We all want to be loved. We all want to be desired! We’re hardwired that way, remember?

In a recent NY Magazine article by Allison Davis, where she writes about her experience meeting Henry the first male sexbot, she states, “Online dating already has me thinking of mating as something like shopping.”

Have we really reduced each other, and therefore ourselves, to barcodes?

So where does this leave us when sex robots with AI are mainstream and affordable? As with any new technology, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Quite likely, we’ll see a coming out party for the new sexual identity that is the digisexual or technosexual. Couples who want to experiment with threesomes but can’t stand the threat of a real person, might finally get to play around with a sexbot. Maybe there will be sexbot orgies, a real heavy metal party!

Makers claim the bots will reduce the incidence of STI’s as well as sex crimes and violence against women. Some claim the bots will revolutionize sex work. Indeed, there are already sex doll brothels in Barcelona, London, and Moscow. I’ve even heard one sex doll maker claim that the dolls have saved his marriage, because he wants sex more than his wife.

Perhaps the majority of women who f*ck men will finally be able to learn how to have orgasms from penetrative sex alone, because they will be able to undulate around, not just a toy to learn how to get themselves off, but the bot cock with an entire simulated body, so they can finally figure out angles and positions they need to make it happen. They won’t be worried about that pimple on their ass or if they shaved or catering to the male experience and ego. And if you don’t think we cater to the male ego, approximately 85% of hetero-women report they do not orgasm from penetrative sex alone, yet 99% of hetero-men I talk to say they make their partner cum every single time! Clearly the societal conditioning of women to keep quiet, not cause conflict, and make the man feel like Mr. Don Juan of the century has led to billions of faked orgasms and rife inequality when it comes to pleasure. Maybe guys seeing porn videos of the way women make themselves cum on a sexbot, will finally be the teaching porn we need to show that the jackhammer style we mostly see in porn these days, just isn’t gettin’ the job done! Some think this could be the pleasure equality revolution humanity needs to close the atrocious orgasm gap in the straights.

Or maybe, for some, it will further drive us into isolation. It is, after all, easier to hide behind screens and connect with a sex robot than to risk rejection, embarrassment, performance-anxiety, honest communication, or failure.

Sex robots are in the headlines every day because people love imagining new possibilities, novelty, and because, Westworld. But we’re a very long way off from robots with AI that can even remotely mirror Westworld.

The producers of these bots claim they will cure loneliness. But loneliness is not the absence of companionship. Loneliness is the absence of fulfillment and purpose in our lives. Sex robots won’t cure our loneliness, they will merely provide a momentary distraction from our loneliness.

A recent study published by in the British Medical Journal Sexual & Reproductive Health warns us that there is no empirical data to prove these claims, and that in fact, the bots could potentially worsen our loneliness, foster false intimacy which could cause immense emotional distress, and further unrealistic beauty standards along with the objectification of women.

Perhaps the reverse could happen though, with the objectification of men, since I could have a 10 inch cock on a sexbot, and the average male is 5.1 inches. It’s okay, I have itty bitty tittes, far smaller than the sexbots. I feel your pain.

And let’s touch on desire, which ties back to eroticism. The erotic equation is this: Attraction + Obstacles = Excitement. This is why affairs are so hot! It’s also why most people are adulterous.

With a robot, you have near certainty. Some makers claim they can program it to say no and require consent. But then it’s just a game, like when you ask Siri the same question six times before she tells you the answer you want. It’s not a real challenge, not a real dance.

One definition I use for eroticism is the interplay of arousal and desire with the daily challenges of living and loving. Challenges drive us. They are imperative to human development.

How can you want something which you already have? This is the conundrum of long term relationships. The thrill of the chase is over, all threats negated, we’re in our long term lovely-dovey contented space, and the fire dwindles-especially so if we don’t possess erotic intelligence. If we get bored with our partners long term, won’t we just get bored with a robot eventually? How many new tech toys do we buy because they’re the new cool thing, and then they wind up in a drawer or our closet, barely used anymore?

Desire requires mystery, the unknown, diving into the discomfort of potentially new provoking and sometimes devastating emotions.

To truly feel desired, requires another desiring conscious who can conceive me as a desirable being.

The other thing I find interesting about the robots is that they are fully customizable. One maker has over 50 nipple types to choose from (hello, paradox of choice!) hair, eyes, texture … everything you can think of! But how do you really truly know what you want, until you’ve had what you don’t want? That’s the process of finely tuning what—and who—works for you.

And isn’t the fun, the beauty, the excitement of undressing another for the first time, a glorious moment of discovery? Followed by configuring all the likes and dislikes, calculating if you can tolerate or not tolerate … a second romp?

In that moment of being naked for the first time, it’s an experience of being accepted, being seen, being desired. Even if you’re not going to fall in love and run away into the sunset together, that moment is an instant of validation, affirmation, and feeling alive.

Beyond the sex and the orgasms these robots will provide, we forget that the purpose of human relationships—even just hook ups—is to propel us to evolve. Sex and human interaction is a vehicle for personal growth. Sure, AI can be programmed to attempt that to a certain degree, but where it stands now, nowhere near the way another human can provoke us, push our buttons, drive us crazy, and get under our skin. No way near the way a single human interaction can teach us what we don’t want.

Millennials aren’t hooking-up as much as their older counter parts because they don’t want to get the feels and they’re focused on their careers. (P.S. I’m one of the oldest millennials there is, and I am definitely not in that camp!) But in avoiding the exploration of relationships, we forget that human relationships are an imperative compass to exploring who we are; we diminish our capacity to finely tune the art of selecting and winning a mate, one who is provocatively compatible, who propels us to be even better humans than we could be alone, bestowing upon us the most meaningful purposeful experience life has to offer.


So where do we go from here? As we usher in this new age of sex technology, it’s imperative we cultivate erotic intelligence. I define erotic intelligence as having five main elements: body attunement, self-awareness on steroids, creative imagination, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence.

Sextech thus far has enabled much higher capabilities of body attunement, and my hope is that technology will continue to develop to help us better understand our physiological responses. Research done by Jim Pfause and Nicole Prouse in Toronto, showed that the majority of women would self-report that specific images did not arouse them, but their body temperatures, pulse rate, and genitals told researchers otherwise. We have thousands of years of oppression to overcome, in order to truly stand in our sexual identity and prowess, and sextech can definitely help us with that.

Then there’s self-awareness. It’s not something you wake up with. It’s something that’s constantly being tuned in the present moment with every little interaction and experience. I have a hormone horoscope app that explains every day of my cycle, what my appetite and energy levels will be like, what my sex drive will be like, and my spending habits. There’s even a day where it tells me not to be concerned by my wondering eye, it’s just my body trying to get pregnant. And it suggests foods to eat, depending on where I am in my cycle, to help offset some of the imbalances in mood, energy, and function the female influx of hormones can cause.

Creative imagination is a big one. Can you see the same place, person, job, experience, with a new set of eyes? And I want to touch on porn while we’re here. If not for online porn, some of us wouldn’t have been exposed to new fetishes and proclivities. But if we’re not conscious of how we use porn, it can kill our erotic imagination. We’ve seen what eating McDonald’s and fast food has done to our health. But once upon a time, food technology-fast food and TV dinners were the future! Then we saw an obesity and diabetes epidemic. Now there’s a return to slow cooking and farm to table. We got excited over new technology until we realized it was hurting us, and we back peddled. In the same way, we need to make sure we’re not spoon feeding our erotic imaginations the equivalent of McDonald’s. I watch porn all the time, but it’s important to masturbate to your own home cooked meal of what you think is hot. Be conscious of the porn you consume, the way we are conscious of the food we consume.

Social intelligence is decreasing because we are buried behind screens all day. Not only are we losing the art of conversation, but we’re diminishing our ability to pick up on subtle cues, body language, and the ability to pre-empt the needs of another. Is it any wonder we need affirmative consent these days?!

Emotional intelligence is imperative to living a happy fulfilling life. How do you handle rejection, shame, fear, embarrassing moments, guilt, ego, joy, love, connection, failure? What do you say to your partner when you lose an erection, don’t orgasm, or queef during sex? How you handle imperfections in others is a strong sign of how you might view the imperfections in yourself.

The brave new world I dream of, is one where we are not living in a dystopian world of sexbots, but a brave new world where humans are courageous. Mastering the art of selection and finding an awesome relationship, requires the experience of heartbreak and rejection, the same way every founder and entrepreneur in this room understands that failure is a necessary component to success. Deep connection requires vulnerability. Having hope requires struggle, and being fulfilled requires the courage to live our truth. I often say that erotic intelligence is the ability to hold two simultaneous truths. In a world where we all want the quick easy way out, we blindly forget that feeling alive requires us to feel both afraid and brave at once. To love and be loved requires imperfection. Remember those 3 brain systems which evolved in our first ancestors over 4.4 million years ago? They aren’t going anywhere.

The new warriors of humanity will no longer the strongest, biggest, alpha aggressively beating its chest. The new warriors of humanity will be those with the super powers of social and emotional intelligence.

My hope for the future of sextech is that it enables us to become more aware of ourselves and our partners, more in tune with our bodies, more developed in our proclivities, more honest in our conversations, and hopefully continues to reduce shame and stigma surrounding the discussion of sexual health and pleasure. It is, after all, how we got here! Perhaps paired with erotic intelligence, sextech could also enhance our interpersonal skills to create deeper more sustainable human connection, so that we’re not just better lovers, but also better citizens of humanity.

Sextech is an exciting new frontier, one that begs each one of us to answer the following:

What does sex mean to you? Is it simply this thing you do, a need to get off like a need to eat, or is it a journey you go on. Is it something confining and scary, or is it exhilarating and liberating? Do you use it as reward, punishment, manipulation? Does it give you power, connection, or maybe even both? Do you think of it as something you get, something you give up, or something you share?

What place does sex have in your life now, and what place would you like it to have?

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