News & Politics

The Future of Sex? 5 Trends That May Completely Transform Our Sex Lives

Pornography, prostitution, online sex -- in the future, it's all one thing. But is it a better thing?

Photo Credit: Black Milk

“Picture a world without pornography,” adult film actress Allie Haze pointedly asks viewers in a 5-minute spoof segment titled “Porn Stars against Santorum.” Haze, in conjunction with Vivid Entertainment, a pornographic film production company, filmed the segment to speak out against former GOP candidate Rick Santorum’s proposed crackdown on commercial sex.

With or without support from people in power such as Santorum, the commercial sex industry is able to transcend even current political debates. A future without sex work is difficult to fathom because of the global, widespread scope of commercial sex.

A recent study conducted by Extreme Tech magazine estimates that pornography, which comprises only one aspect of the commercial sex industry, now makes up 30 percent of Internet traffic. In 2006, the commercial sex industry contributed approximately $13.3 billion to the United States economy -- without accounting for prostitution. In fact, some estimates indicate that the U.S. commercial sex industry had 2006 revenues that were larger than the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball combined. Commercial sex is not only pervasive in the US, but it also has a global reach that extends beyond its borders.

Societal and technological changes have set the commercial sex industry on a trajectory to become more conventional and normalized. Below are five trend clusters shaping the future of the commercial sex industry:

1. The commercial sex industry will expand the definition of sex. Augmented reality coupled with advances in robotics will allow sex add-ons to supplement traditional offerings. Future of Sex editor Meg White points to three emerging areas of commercial sex including virtual sex worlds, remote sex and robot sex. For instance, online sex workers increasingly will link their movements to remote sex toys or even robotic look-alikes. In effect, these new areas may reduce the risks associated with sex workplace violence and STIs, modernizing the online sex marketplace globally.

On the other hand, artificial intelligence capabilities may add heightened levels of social interactions with non-human machines. As our non-sexual needs are increasingly fulfilled by robots, avatars or digital communities, our sexual needs may follow along. Further, distinctions between virtual and real interactions will blur in the future. The accessibility of technology will create a greater demand for sex-based products and services. “Sex-ond” lives will redefine what it means to be in a relationship, have sex, and be in love. Couples will seriously discuss whether sex with robots constitutes cheating; and policy makers will debate what rights exist for sex workers in online communities.  

2. Tech innovations will raise the intimacy level of commercial sex. Passive sex industry consumption will be replaced by greater sex intimacy in the future. Successful sex workers from prostitution, pornography and adult entertainment will integrate technology into their workplaces in order to differentiate themselves. An actress in adult entertainment could create a realistic "girlfriend" add-on experience complete with anniversary gifts and love letters.

A high level of personalization would be achieved by monitoring how a user acts in both sexual and non-sexual spaces throughout the virtual and real world. According to a study conducted by UK researcher Jon Millward, the “girlfriend experience” -- the sense that the client has a personal, ongoing emotional relationship with the sex worker -- ranks above the “porn-star experience” in online escort advertisements and ratings. As technologies advance, sex workers may sell not only traditional sex, but also value-added services such as personal relationships with levels of sociability that transcend machines.

Sex-based technologies already intersect with the dating industry. Long-distance couples use technology to create remote sex lives for themselves. One start-up company appropriately named Pillow Talk simulates the intimate experience of lying in bed with a partner by mimicking a heartbeat in a large pillow. Another tech application known as Pair allows couples to share pictures, messages, videos, sketches, and locations privately. FakeGirlfriend invites male singles seeking female companionship to create a unique “girlfriend.” Men using FakeGirlfriend receive computer-generated text messages to fool others into thinking they are in a serious relationship.

Innovations such as these will create new types of commercial sex intimacy that use technology, yet are still personal and customized. Sex workers will borrow from relationship innovations to enhance their own client interactions. For instance, sex workers may offer their regulars a paid personalized video or text service option in addition to a monthly romp. These personalized tech-driven services will make consumers believe they are engaged in actual relationships rather than economic transactions with sex workers.

3. Commercial sex will converge with pop-tech. Currently, the commercial sex sector is repurposing pop-tech (mainstream tech ideas) to make it sex-specific. Innovators within commercial sex are connecting current platforms to sex in everyday life. For instance, Offbeatr is a crowd-funding platform akin to Kickstarter, a funding company for adult projects. Snatchly, recently launched, is the adult pornographic version of Pinterest, a virtual pin board that allows for the social sharing of content. Both ideas evolved because mainstream platforms currently reject adult content. Popular technology will adapt to accommodate commercial sex needs that are not currently being met.

In the future, the line between mainstream and underground sex work will blur to the point of non-existence. Personalization technologies, artificial intelligence and privacy settings will make it easier for users to apply pop-tech platforms to meet their sexual needs. In fact, mainstream pop-tech will partner with sex- based services in order to create alternative revenue streams. Ratable and shareable online content available through popular technology will allow users to customize their own sex-based content. Individuals will get increasingly enhanced user experiences and personal security. At the same time, they will be able to see and store all of their favorite NSFW material on one platform that's accessible from anywhere.

4. Sex work will be dependent on region. Even though technology has created digital bridges across the globe, sex-based services will continue to be different in the developed and developing regions of the world. In developed nations, technology will move sex work off the streets and into entrepreneurial ventures. This change will provide a safer and more stable work environment for sex workers, who will be empowered by technology to take ownership of their careers by using collaborative networks and online promotion for personal marketing. Sex workers will use tools to position themselves as businesswomen. They'll be able to personally connect with potential clientele in a specific niche, instead of relying on a third party. By cutting pimps out of the loop, the sex workers will make more money -- and increase their own freedom and safety as well.

Conversely, in developing regions such as Southeast Asia, men will continue to travel abroad to leave traditional Western “female empowerment” behind. The inequities between the developed and developing world that fuel the dark side of global sex tourism are unlikely to change any time soon. According to the Commission on AIDS in Asia, men who buy sex are driving Asia’s HIV epidemic. As a result, Asia stands to be the first region in the world in which governments will get serious about regulating working conditions for sex workers; and international organizations will make AIDS and STI prevention in developing regions such as Asia a priority.

5. Mainstream organizations will realize the economic value of commercial sex. Mainstream brands, governments and investment firms are aligning with commercial sex to not only attract consumer attention, but also to raise revenue. In 2011, PETA announced plans to launch an .xxx site to promote vegetarianism. In the past, the organization commissioned porn stars to film racy advertising segments about “Veggie Love." Actresses were filmed engaging in naughty behavior with an assortment of veggies from celery to beets. Though the short was banned from the Super Bowl, the campaign went viral online.

Recently, Sony Entertainment partnered with Playboy’s Cybergirl Jo Garcia to launch its new PlayStation Vita, which is a handheld gaming device that can be used in conjunction with a PlayStation 3. Sex-specific investment firms like Ackrell Capital will continue to attract investors who want to reap the financial rewards associated with the commercial sex industry.

The International Labor Organization reports that the sex industry accounts for 2% to 14% of economic activity in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. It also estimates commercial sex is worth 4.4% of Korean GDP -- which is more than forestry, fishing and agriculture combined. In the early 1990s, tax revenues from phone sex calls in San Tome increased so significantly that the government was able to construct a new telecommunications system with the funds. In addition, private and public organizations of all types will openly support or engage with the commercial sex industry to increase revenue and gain attention.

In the future, the public face of the commercial sex industry will change dramatically. The traditional definition of sex will be redefined by not only technological innovation that expands the ability to create intimacy online, but also by popular technology platforms that will help users meet their sexual needs. Sex work will be dependent on region with developed nations accepting sex work into the mainstream, while developing nations will continue to accommodate the darker side of the industry. Mainstream organizations will seek economic growth through commercial sex affiliations and governments will realize more tax revenue from these pursuits.

With or without mainstream support, the commercial sex industry will move ahead as an established and essential industry because of these technological and societal trends. As a result, sex work is already beginning to move out of the back alleys and onto Main Street. Views towards sex, specifically toward the sex industry, will be debated instead of ignored, stigmatized or generalized by the global masses. The implications of commercial sex will be considered alongside the complex web of faces and experiences associated with sex work.

Technology won’t replace sex workers; but it looks like it's leading to the creation of a new industry that augments our current experiences with sex, and could eventually take us to new and fantastic places where no human has gone before.


Emily Empel (@localrat) is a trend spotter, marketing disciple and futurist.
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