Are men more hardwired to be monogamous than women? And will VR porn be the new Netflix? All of this and more was discussed as last week’s Future of Sex’s Summer Series in NYC. Alexandra Warrick went to investigate.
For many of us, our first brush with a proto-VR experience – that is, your brain genuinely losing track of the boundaries between simulation and tangible reality – was something along the lines of 3D flying insects on a ride at Disney World. Virtual reality has since diversified and, well, “matured.” Thanks to virtual reality, adult entertainment production company BaDoink VR, the experience of having an illusory erect penis swing at your face (among other stimulating experiences) can now be yours. Welcome to the future.
Images provided by Future of Sex
Getting familiar with BaDoink’s therapist‐developed, women‐targeted Virtual Sexology II: What Women Want was just one component of Unraveling Female Promiscuity, a lively panel presented by Future of Sex’s Summer Series at the Williamsburg Hotel. Despite its forward‐facing title, last week’s event also touched on the past and present of female sexuality. Speakers included cultural critic and Primates of Park Avenue author Wednesday Martin, who offered historical and anthropological context, Math Magazine’s MacKenzie Peck, who provided insight into the present‐day state of adult print media, and sex hacker Kenneth Play, who introduced us to coming erotic evolutions.
Future of Sex podcast creator and moderator Bryony Cole handpicked the heterogeneous panel of Unraveling Female Promiscuity with the intent to examine some of the various intersections of sexuality and technology. On the con side, for example: will nightlife suffer, Cole asked, from the proliferation of dating apps? (Attendee and nightlife sociologist Victor Corona, seated beside me, chuckled nervously – perish the thought!) On the pro side: what might new developments in tech mean for sex toy innovation? (Naturally, this perked up Juliette Lippman, attendee and Events Lead for sex‐positive subscription box Unbound.)
Offering mic‐drop moments throughout the event, author Wednesday Martin jumped in guns blazing. She cited a rankling experience she had as an undergraduate: after a professor’s assertion that only male species benefit from mating multiply and that females, “as we all know”, do not, Martin shared that she “just had this urge to say – fuck, why do I mate multiply? Because I definitely do.” This early exposure to cultural bias presented as scientific truth set Martin on a lifelong debunking mission, which has culminated in her upcoming book on women and adultery, Untrue. The “bill of goods” women have consistently been sold that they are hardwired to be monogamous and, conversely, men novelty‐seeking – or that humans are “hardwired” to be any one thing at all – she condemns as problematic pseudoscience. If anything, she concluded, humans are “flexible sexual strategists” who can find fun and fetish in a wealth of places.
Martin went on to note that, despite academic omission on the subject, women actually evolved to be sexually promiscuous – “a really great, smart strategy for a female primate” from a propagative point of view, she explained. While resistant researchers may have studded primatology studies with the word “promiscuous” in reference to males while actively stripping them of their counterparts, Martin shared, female libido cannot be edited out from existence as easily as it has been from the academic canon. Martin offered a cheeky illustrative anecdote to this effect about interviewing a 58‐year‐old woman from a traditional Irish Catholic family who had reported a ‘low sex drive’. “I was shaken to my core when I interviewed [her],” Martin shared; “She said, ‘oh, I just say that in front of my husband and the doctor. I don’t have a low sex drive, I want to have sex all night long, every night, with a different guy.” “Women need variety and novelty of sexual experience more than men do,” Martin insists. Despite ideological manacles thumbing the scale, she asserts, the scientific reality continuing to surface is that “monogamy is a tighter fit for women than for men.”
To Martin’s right sat Kenneth Play, international sex hacker. For the uninitiated, Play offered an elegant culinary metaphor on sex hacking: “you can eat really terrible‐tasting food to survive, but we have celebrity chefs to make it a really incredible experience.” If you’re going to indulge in something sensory, why wouldn’t you push it to be the best it can be? Offering historical examples from the Kama Sutra to the Victorian invention of the vibrator, Play cheerfully explained that sex hacking – harnessing technological developments to reach new sexual stratospheres – is hardly a young science.
The important philosophical distinction Play made, however, is one of which many in the sex‐tech industry may have lost sight: Yes, it may be all well and good (if exhausting) to engineer an experience that facilitates “76 orgasms in one 90‐minute session” However, sensation‐based tech is rendered ineffective, he explained, if it doesn’t take into account the most important factor: inspiring arousal in the first place. The concept of “hacking arousal” may invoke the kind of banal sex tips that squall in all‐caps from the cover of grocery‐store glossies, but the generic can have no place in the heady, hyper‐specific world of the female turn‐on. Generalizations, compounded with a lack of attentive sex research on the intricacies of female pleasure, has manifested in – among other un‐fun things – a distinct orgasm gap.
Furthermore, acknowledging that pleasure‐seeking is inextricable from privilege and societal consequence, Play posed the following question: “if we removed the consequences, how would women behave?” To exist as a woman in a society where you’ll unfailingly get the brunt of sex‐negativity for any choice you make only serves to feed the myth that women just aren’t, you know, interested in sex like men are. And so the age‐old, toxic trope lumbers on.
“I was just thinking about how to expand what Play describes as his ‘sex positive Brooklyn bubble,'” mused feminist pornographer and self-described “free‐love hippie” MacKenzie Peck. As editor‐in‐chief of Brooklyn‐based erotic publication Math Magazine, Peck spoke to her power as a media creator to shape conceptions of female promiscuity. While eager to shut down the slut/stud dichotomy with Math, Peck notes that the falsehood cuts both ways, acknowledging that, “as much as women suffer injustice in the world of sexual freedom, so do men…there are double standards on both sides.” With a chuckle, she submitted that, if the magazine had a sexual orientation, it would be “pansexual” for its commitment to the kind of diversity of representation that aspires to clear away discrimination of all kinds, one lush editorial spread at a time.
Once the panel wrapped, the attendees promptly beelined to BaDoink’s range of VR demos, designed with female consumers in mind and facilitated by Vibrate Communications co‐founder Leslie Amadio. After each guest put on their headset, I watched their faces register a similar emotional journey: hesitance, confusion, curiosity, incredulousness, and then finally – big, sloppy grins. Dumbstruck and delirious: this might be the look on the face of the future.
For those who missed this event and yearn to get a little sex‐tech‐y this summer, the Future of Sex panel series will once again grace Williamsburg TONIGHT, Monday, June 26th at 7pm, this time to explore “Tinder, Teledildonics & Sex in 2020” at Fifth House. Panelists will include award‐winning pornographer Tina Horn, Center for Erotic Intelligence director Mal Harrison, The New Monogamy author Dr. Tammy Nelson and TED Resident Sue “Jaye” Johnson.
Main image via Dani Read