Sex & Relationships

Internet-Controlled Sex Machines and iPod Vibrators? The Sex Toy Industry Goes Digital

Teledildonics are sex toys that are controlled by computers.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The romantic term “teledildonics” was coined back in 1975 by tech guru Ted Nelson. As defined by VR Sex Lab, it means sex toys that are controlled by using computers. Given how much we lean on text, email and social media these days, has their day arrived?

The sexnology (sex plus technology) universe is wide open. The ever-expanding camming industry is eagerly awaiting new technologies that allow models to better connect with their Internet-based clients. It's been suggested that this level of interconnectivity will allow for a new wave of digital prostitution. But for many, the appeal behind these technologies boils down to something as simple as keeping intimacy alive over distance. That’s at least what Brian and Suki Dunham had in mind.

The couple launched OhMiBod back in 2006. The sex toy pioneers are known for having created the original iPod vibrator. The idea of syncing sound and pleasure sounds complicated, and the mechanics surely are. But the inspiration simply comes from a choice pair of stocking stuffers.

Brian Dunham told me over the phone, “It all started when I gave Suki, my wife and partner of 27 years, a vibrator and an iPod mini for her stocking stuffers one year" and she told him, "You’ve got to put these two things together." 

"So during one of my trips to China," he says, "I kind of sketched out what I wanted on a napkin... A vibrator that could connect to a music player, like an iPod, and vibrate, potentially to the tune of the music. And that could give a really cool dual sensory experience because you can take your favorite melody and vocals and feel the vibration patterns on your body.”

The Dunhams aren’t alone in the quest for more innovative sex toys. Firebox’s Vibease is a wearable vibrator that can be controlled with a smartphone. The company also offers a downloadable app that allows the vibrator to operate in sync with a selection of erotic novels.

FriXion, while still in beta development, is working on a social network platform that members can use in conjunction with a variety of haptic sex toys, like the Interactive Fleshlight, the Fleshlight Accelerometer and the Virtual Sex Stroker. FriXion's website says it uses “real-time bidirectional force feedback telemetry to achieve convincing and organic intimacy.” It’s a mouthful. And a fancy way of saying, “you feel them, they feel you.” The company also offers a wristband accelerometer, which tracks the movements of your arm in order to simulate similar movements in another user’s toy.

Then there’s the RealTouch, a fully interactive male masturbator that boasts it can "do all the work for the guys.” The device plugs into a computer’s USB port and syncs up with the various RealTouch porn videos available. As described in a promotional video, “What you see onscreen synchronizes with the movements of the device in realtime.” The toy is armed with features like heating elements and lube mechanisms. The company has lent the technology to its own camming platform, where models are provided with RealTouch technologies.

The same company has pledged to bring military families together with these Internet-based technologies. At a 2012 Consumer Electronics Show party, company manager Scott Rinaldo said he was working on distributing “1,000 dildos for the military wives.” The RealTouch joystick was created to interact with the RealTouch male masturbator.

Some toys are a little more extreme. Back in 2007 the Thrillhammer was hailed for its “pioneering use of teledildonics.” At that time, the 700-pound sex machine sold for a minimum of $2,000. The machine can also be remote-controlled over the Internet. As reported by Eli Sanders in The Stranger, the Museum of Sex in New York “acquired a Thrillhammer on the basis of its claim to being ‘the world’s first Internet-controlled sex machine.’”

The idea of combining sex and technology is something a lot of companies are experimenting with. And while it’s fun to get flashy new gadgets, the sexnology industry provides the additional service of keeping sex accessible in an increasingly digital environment. 

As Brian Dunham explained, “Nowadays, teenagers, their first experience with intimacy can be virtual, can be through Snapchat. Through a sexy text message or a naughty Facetime session. So they’re growing up hardwired into an environment where intimacy isn’t created or derived from physical touch. It can be a very emotional and abstract virtual sense of intimacy, which achieves the same physical reaction. You can get your heart racing with the anticipation of a text from someone that you know (or don’t know). So our mission now is to create products that facilitate that and bridge this intimacy gap. Looking ahead into the future, it’s about all the different ways you can create intimate moments with your partner, virtually, that will lead to a physical connection.”

While the idea of “sex robots” might sound a little cartoonish, are we heading in that direction? We may be heading to the day when consumers can customize their own personal sexbots.

At a tech conference in 2013, Tenga, a Japanese manufacturer of male sex toys, invited volunteers to participate in a VR demo in which they simulated sex with anime characters through virtual reality goggles. Innovations like the Oculus Rift and HoloLens have also helped bring us closer to the world of virtual porn. The Huffington Post recently published an article suggesting that brainwave technology “could further be used to ‘teach’ computers what sort of pornographic imagery turns you on the most.”

That's a lot of territory to cover. In the meantime, we can sit back and enjoy the technology already available to us. One vibrator at a time.

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture.