Sex Toys Only a Geek Could Love
After a spending a few psychotic days at DefCon, the hacker convention in Las Vegas, I returned to my office to find a hefty package waiting for me from Blowfish (www.blowfish.com). Inside, I discovered a low-amperage, high-voltage generator, one large, unipolar electrode, and one small, bipolar "shield." Various Y connectors had been tossed in for good measure. Were these components for some kind of robot? Did I need an oscilloscope? What's the point of a low-amp generator anyway?
To truly comprehend the meaning of my special delivery, however, I had to do something no self-respecting techno-geek would ever do: read the instruction booklet that lay nestled beneath the generator in its bed of Styrofoam peanuts. The cover of the thick pamphlet read, "Guide to Electric Sex."
This was a collection of electronic components that only a geek could love -- quite literally. Created by Folsom Electric Company for the devious mad scientists at Blowfish, these electric sex toys are an underground fetish phenomenon that appeals to the sorts of people whose first sex fantasies were inspired by science fiction. I'll confess I'm one of those people. I mean, who wouldn't get hot watching Barbarella stuck inside a machine that rips off her clothes and gives her seemingly hundreds of orgasms? Or watching Julie Christie being molested by an A.I. in Demon Seed (a.k.a. Proteus Generation)? And what about that part in the book Brain, by Robin Cook, where the mad doctors "condition" their victims using shocks delivered via electrodes buried in the pleasure centers of their brains? And don't even get me started on all the robot sex in anime videos.
Let's face it: there's something sexy about the idea of dosing people with pleasure using machines. We live in a culture that adores technology, that sucks up alternating current as if it were a drug. And given our total dependence on electricity, it makes sense that eventually somebody would start associating electricity with the kind of raging, brutal, uncontrollable vulnerability that we call erotic desire.
Needing something intensely -- the way we need electricity -- produces a fear of losing it that is akin to arousal. We fear blackouts the way we fear being abandoned by a lover, and that fear creates the same kind of frantic, helpless lust. What if we had a blackout at the office on deadline, resulting in chaos and economic doom? The thought inspires a tiny tingle of terror not unlike the feeling you get when the object of your desire is lost, then returns with a shocking kiss.
Alright, enough philosophizing. Looking at that generator made me want to electrocute the hell out of myself. I wanted to be like the porn version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, becoming my own depraved experimental subject.
Setting the thing up was as satisfying as building my own computer, except a lot easier. There was no CPU to install, no exposed motherboard to pore over, no concern that the various devices involved would mess one another up. I used my primitive knowledge of electrical engineering -- how to make a circuit, for example -- to figure out how to make my muscles tense up using the unipolar electrode with the bipolar shield. Actually, I could use the shield on its own, since it created its own circuit.
I ran the flat shield over my arms and hands, changing the intensity and frequency of the current on the generator so that the sensations ranged from throbbing to biting, burning to seething. Using the electrode with the shield, I created circuits that ran through my thighs, my lower arm, my belly. (You have to keep the current below your waist, because if it runs through your chest it can cause a heart attack.)
For obvious reasons, it was titillating to have a device that combined two of my passions: sexual and scientific experimentation. And the sensations it produced were certainly unlike anything I'd ever inflicted on myself before. But it wasn't technically sexual. I found the device inflamed my imagination far more than my body. I liked the idea that I could use it to make somebody's muscles move against their will. And I was very keen to play electrodes and dials with another hapless victim in my lab.
Later that night my dreams were full of bodies penetrated by wires, and skin that burned my tongue with electrical current when I licked it. Back in the 19th century, our pal Freud wrote that everybody harbors the unconscious desire to have sex with their parents, mostly because they are our earliest sources of pleasure and physical comfort. But more than 100 years after Freud, I think it's obvious that our unconscious desires have mutated. These days, machines power our fantasies. And electricity has become a sex toy.
Annalee Newitz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a surly media nerd who did eventually invite someone up to the lab. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper. Find out more at www.techsploitation.com.