The Future of Sexual Wellness

September 18 9 min read

When we think of sex tech, scenarios involving robots stepping in to replace human beings spring to mind. But the reality is: many of us are already integrating technology into our sexual lives. Be that dating on Tinder, tracking cycles on fertility apps like Clue, or for more savvy users, combining VR headsets with synced vibrators to enjoy porn on a new level. 


Sexual wellness is a 30 billion dollar industry set to grow to 123 billion in the next 5 or 6 years. But the industry is transforming from a focus on pleasure, VR, and toys, to include “wellness”, because sexual self-care, intimacy and education are increasingly vital components of wellbeing.


Far from being limited to billionaires with cash to spend on robots, sex tech can be a judgement-free, accessible resource for everybody. With therapists connected to tech, we can find support for everything from break-ups, trauma, relationship coaching and more. Technology offers sexual health solutions we might usually look to drugs to solve. With apps like Lover.io offering mindful videos for erectile dysfunction, with comparable results to viagra, it is surely only the start of a digital sexual wellness revolution. 


Ola is the CEO and Founder of Sx Tech Eu, the technology conference that connects entrepreneurs, developers and people interested in innovation in the sex industry. I caught up with her to discuss the surprising humanism of sex tech, dates with humanoids and fucking strangers in a VR rendition of Amsterdam’s Red Light District



What made you want to start Sx Tech Eu?


I had been researching Harmony AI, a sex doll that at the time, was more advanced than Siri and Alexa. But the technology was not able to develop more because of the stigma surrounding sex. After working with hundreds of startups, I noticed what we take for granted in tech, like incubation, stops at sex tech. I wanted to change that.


How has the pandemic altered demand for sex tech?


In lockdown, people have a lot more time for introspection, searching for solutions distance, as well as potentially more time with partners. Of course, as predicted, there was a massive boom in sex toy sales, this sector heated up at least fourty percent. We could see right from the beginning how dating apps such as Bumble responded by adding new features, incorporating video calls – a crisis always leads to innovation. The interesting thing now will be how, for people who purchased a product like this for the first time under these circumstances, how their relationship to the product develops. 



It strikes me as the perfect time to make use of VR. But I don’t really know what that means beyond people wearing headsets at Christmas. 


Right! I saw people attending Zoom sex parties but my preference over this time has been to enter the world of VR – that’s far more compelling to me, and also I can’t stand to watch another virtual DJ! 


In a gamified VR experience, you get to create your own avatar, you can be whoever you want to be. We can see a whole new approach to sexuality, identity, gender and what can be done in ways that will change us beyond the pandemic. So you create your avatar to look however you like, and in one particular game, you can travel around Amsterdam’s Red Light district, meet other online players, and have sex with them. 


These experiences hold the potential for amazing sex education because we don’t open ourselves out of fear we will be stigmatized or judged, and that blocks us in our lives. In a virtual world you can explore whatever kink you like, even a romantic story. At the end of the day, if I have the chance to have sex as a man, of course, I will do it!



The Sx Tech conference 2020 features a special subsection called Sex Tech Academy designed to integrate tech with therapeutic methods. Can you tell me more about that?

We could no longer pretend that medical communities were not part of the sex tech world. People’s problems won’t be solved by sex toys or the reviewers talking about them on Youtube. It’s the professionals that have firsthand contact with people looking for support with their sexual health, so they should be at the forefront of this technology.  

So we want to facilitate this work and, in cooperation with therapists, designed a program to introduce them to new technologies they can use in their practice. 


Immediately I’m thinking about turning to tech to solve medical problems and ending up scrolling through forums for hours panicking.



Well precisely. The idea is to use authorized medical professionals so you know you’re getting premium content, certified information you can rely on. In some instances, going to a doctor or gyno in real life isn’t the best solution either. Conditions like endometriosis often go undiagnosed and with many sexual health issues, such as menopause and sexual dysfunction, medical professionals are not well-equipped to help. Offering sexual wellness in this way is more affordable and can be accessed in the safety of your home. For example, MyHixel offers a science-backed way for penis-owners to help themselves when it comes to climax control. 


It does seem really empowering that through technology, we can find the support we otherwise couldn’t access. I recently downloaded the app, Blueheart, and even found the assessment questions therapeutic. On their website, they explain the science behind how sex therapy can improve your relationships, sex drive and happiness and that digital therapy can do the same. 



But can apps really replace a therapist?


If you can’t access therapy there are ways you can be more supported in helping yourself. Virtual intimacy coaches can send relationship reminders that help us connect better with ourselves and our partners. Apps that can help us through conflict or a break-up, by asking questions to help you understand yourself and not unlike CBT, observe what thinking patterns you are in. 


Many wellness apps operate in a similar way to journaling, there’s one where you record videos of how you are feeling for thirty days and you cannot watch them until the end. You get to see how you grow and your feelings change over that time. Apps can help facilitate these processes, perhaps by guiding you to write a letter to an ex that you will never send. Taking time to reflect and even being reminded of red flags can help us not to neglect our needs, to recognise what they are. You can help yourself even a little by keeping track of small achievements in an intimate and safe environment. 



I test these products all the time on myself and I’m really amazed; this is the future of self-care and wellness. 


Could this kind of technology also be used to educate young people?


Technology can be a fantastic tool for sex education, where young people can learn about sex, navigating identity and relationships and boundaries through say, VR. However, these services aren’t easy to commercialize and the government won’t pay for them. Adults also don’t know how to speak about porn and sexuality so it’s hard to imagine having conversations with kids that won’t instil the same feelings of shame in them, but with platforms, they could get to explore without judgement.


What’s missing in sex tech?


We need to direct more attention to the future of contraception. Currently, we only have pharmaceutical solutions and we need to ask why. 


Cycle tracking apps like Natural Cycles are helping in this area, and have even been classified as the world’s first contraceptive software. But once again, the responsibility of use largely falls to vagina-owners. But technology can offer more solutions for reproductive health, biotech can offer new materials for condoms, contraceptive gels and even flora-sensitive underwear that can allow people to biohack their bodies. Lasers can also be used to treat sexual dysfunction and incontinence. So drugs, hormones, they are not the only options.



How has working in Sex Tech changed you?


When you’re an entrepreneur in this field everyone thinks you must be super kinky and know everything about sexuality. So people speak more openly to me now and share a lot. Sometimes I have to cut them off since I’m not a therapist, but it speaks to a need for more open-mindedness in our communities.

I definitely don’t feel all-knowing about sexuality. Yes, I know about all these services but I have also been in a place where I was in an unhappy relationship, where I was unhappy about my sex life; torturing myself for years with self-blame - maybe I should do something, maybe I shouldn’t - Many partners experience these problems. 


Sex tech has shown me how much I could improve myself as a person, to learn from these products not to be unsatisfied. Every week I discover something new about myself through tech. I recently had a date with the sex doll humanoid and companion, Kokeshi, and it was a beautiful experience. I open up more and more from these interactions and feel more confident in what I do. 


All my friends, other female entrepreneurs, really shine from this. Getting to support others to break taboos and experience happier relationships is really something to feel proud of. 



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Unlike in real life, and with the right people behind it, digital worlds can transcend economic and physical limitations, especially for marginalized people. Anonymity online is usually a bad thing, a welcome party for trolls, but it can be a force for good, for exploring things we have never allowed ourselves to discover before, to access support and to care for our health. 


With humanistic founders like Ola at the helm, technology won’t replace us, it will empower us.  


The Sx Tech EU conference begins on November 20th and this year workshops, panel talks and hackathons can be accessed virtually. If you are a medical professional, an app visionary, or working in the sex industry, you’re sure to benefit from this unmissable program. Get 15% off your tickets here.


Header image by Natalia Alicja Dziwisch

Olivia Rose
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