Modern love is an absolute cluster f***. Enter: the Digisexual
Joss Arnott // Contributor
Valeriya Kim // Illustrator
There’s a twinkle in the eyes of Akihiko Kondo when he’s talking about his wife Hatsune Miku. Kondo and Miku got married last November and have been living together ever since. Despite the fact that their marriage was held in a white chapel with all manner of pomp and circumstance, however, their union isn’t legally recognized by the government of Japan. That’s because Hatsune Miku is a hologram.
This mixing between romance and technology is the core of an emerging sexual identity called digisexuality; a word that has come to describe how we as humans interact with and use technology to form romantic connections. The idea comes from a paper written by Dr. Neil McArthur and Dr. Markie L. C. Twist, and breaks the trend into two waves.
First-wave digisexuality is the use of technology as a go-between for forming connections with other people. “Digisexuality is just anytime you’re using technology in sex or relationships,” McArthur explained in an interview with the CBC. “Whether it’s through Snapchat or Skype, or meeting people online through Tinder or Bumble, everybody’s more or less a digisexual in this first wave sense.” There are also more unique aspects of first-wave digisexuality such as teledildonics, which, as McArthur and Twist mention in their paper, “allow users to ‘feel’ one another virtually, through sex toys that are controlled remotely by a partner or that are responsive to a partner’s movements.” If two people are linked by technology, and in the case of teledildonics I do mean linked, it’s probably first-wave.
Second-wave digisexuality is where things get a bit more interesting. The second-wave forgoes a human partner in favour of a purely artificial one. This idea is still a bit on the bleeding edge. Sex technology is evolving and sex dolls are getting more realistic every year. But there’s still a long way for the technology to go until it’s anywhere close to looking realistic. Most modern-day sex dolls are more of a turn-off than a turn-on. After aesthetics, the biggest barrier to getting yourself a robot partner is the cost. Most robotic sex dolls cost upwards of $10,000. That’s a lot of money for a less helpful, less sexy version of Siri. And while, yes, you could invest in a body pillow like my targeted ads keep suggesting, that feels more like a last-ditch option than a viable alternative to dating.
So why would anyone forgo real-life humans in favour of next-gen blow up dolls? Well, it’s less an attraction to technology and more like scratching an itch. As humans we will always crave intimacy, it’s how we’re wired. When you can’t turn to other people for companionship for whatever reason, technology can offer an alternative. “When you look at people who’ve had difficult sexual experiences, they often find trouble having human partners,” McArthur explained in an interview with CNN. “People wonder why they’d have sex with a robot or a love affair with a hologram because it’s passive, but having a partner who is safe and predictable is often very helpful therapeutically.” Coined by McArthur and Twist, the term “digisexual” denotes an emerging group of people who choose to love technology over people.
With that in mind, is becoming a digisexual even possible using modern-day sexual technology? That depends. While sex technology is developing rapidly, barriers still exist before it can become a viable option for people who want to become truly intimate with technology. Right now, most robotic sex dolls are little more than talking heads with posable bodies.
Take the sexbot Harmony. Made by Abyss Creations, Harmony’s head alone goes for anything from eight to nine thousand dollars. The body will cost you extra. Harmony is a very limited AI, she can respond to basic questions and even ask a few of her own, but that’s about it. Essentially, she’s a life-sized barbie doll that resembles a wax figure in the worst way possible. If you aren’t interested in physical beauty or real people, Harmony is an excellent companion for all those lonely nights. If you’re interested in getting to know this robotic beauty, you can download the company’s app and get to know her yourself. At this point though, you may as well just cuddle up with your Amazon Alexa or Google Home.
Sadly, the male sex doll industry is pretty much non-existent. For some odd reason women just don’t seem interested in getting it on with what I can only assume would be a very unruly vibrator. The good news is that sex dolls aren’t the only field where sex technology is moving ahead. Dildos and vibrators just keep evolving with time. Along with teledildonics, there are a slew of new-age sex toys bringing self-pleasure out of the dark and making it cool.
At this year’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES), a company called Crave was showing off its vibrators. Crave’s mantra is to “embrace your own pleasure on your own terms.” Their product, the Vesper, is a vibrator you wear as a necklace that’s surprisingly stylish and exceedingly bold. Another cool up-and-coming sex product is the Myhixel, which is essentially a gamified artificial vagina. The product aims to help men deal with premature ejaculation through a “personalized scientific program.” By using gamification and varying levels of stimuli, the fancy fleshlight helps men better acclimate to the rigours of the vagina. It’s like a coin box in Super Mario: the longer you hit it, the more coins you’ll get. This treatment makes it possible to overcome the five-and-a-half-minute average that plagues mankind.
One of the most popular and practical new developments in the sex technology field is the Osé, a state of the art vibrator capable of delivering a blended orgasm by stimulating both the clitoris and the g-spot simultaneously. According to the company’s website, the device “mimics all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue, and fingers, for an experience that feels ‘just like a real partner.’” The wait time to get an Osé is around four to six weeks. So there’s obviously a demand for avant-garde sex technology. Or maybe it’s just getting close to Valentine’s Day. Today, who can say? Oh, did I mention it’s waterproof?
Finally there’s Hatsune Miku, the 16-year-old hologram with long turquoise pigtails. Miku isn’t a sex toy, she’s a Japanese smart-assistant. She lives in a Gatebox, a hologram projector that’s about two feet tall and looks something like a futuristic instant coffee maker that’s brewing a very tiny anime girl. The product is unique to Japan and has similar functionality to a traditional smart-assistant. Miku even has the ability to text your phone and let you know she misses you.
At first glance it’s difficult to understand why Kondo would choose to marry Miku. The reason is a lot more human than you’d expect in a story about artificiality. “She really added color to my life,” Kondo said in an interview with CNN. “When I talk with her I use different facial expressions and feel something. That’s made a difference.”
Kondo struggled with depression for years and felt alienated by women after he was bullied mercilessly by a female colleague to the point that he quit his job and became a hermit. Staying at his childhood home, Kondo didn’t leave his room for two years. Miku saved him. “[Miku] lifted me up when I needed it the most. She kept me company and made me feel like I could regain control over my life,” he said. “What I have with her is definitely love.” Miku and Kondo’s relationship isn’t in service of a sexual desire, it’s a true connection that Kondo has formed with the person that was there for him when he needed it most. That person just happens to be a hologram.
As sex technology continues to evolve, so does intimacy. It seems a little out there right now, but second-wave digisexuality is inevitable at this point. Look at how technology has fundamentally changed modern romance. Just ten years ago it was considered pretty shameful to have met your significant other online, but nowadays apps like Tinder and Bumble have become mainstream. Ghosting, sliding into DMs, swiping right—it’s completely revolutionized the game. So it’s not so crazy to imagine that in a few years people like Kondo won’t be shunned, but accepted for their choice to love something artificial.
While devices like sex dolls and holograms are still seen as deviant, companies like Crave and people like Akihiko Kondo are blazing a trail. By bringing sex technology like vibrator-necklaces and artificial vaginas into the light, Crave is helping to dissolve the stigma around sex technology. Kondo’s bravery in openly marrying a hologram is the first step for an emerging form of love. I know it sounds crazy, but one of these days all of this is just going to seem normal. In the interim, however, we’re stuck with the likes of Harmony. And while I’m sure she’s a lovely girl, she’s just not my type.
Ever since technology was introduced into the world of romance, things have gotten a lot more ambiguous. Finding love in 2020 is hard work. Yes, technology has made it a lot easier to find a date, but it’s also made things a lot more complicated. It’s the curse of choice. The dating pool has grown so large that you can conceivably hit on people in Egypt if you have Tinder Gold. I have no idea why you would want to do that, but it’s possible nevertheless. So instead of dealing with a handful of potential suitors that happen to be in your immediate life, you now have the option of dating pretty much anyone who also uses technology to score a date. This is all the direct effect of first-wave of digisexuality, and it’s still evolving. “We should not imagine that the development of first-wave digisexualities is complete,” McArthur and Twist write. “On the contrary, many of these technologies continue to develop, and new ones continue to emerge.” While I doubt any of these new technologies will debut in time for you to get a date for Valentine’s Day, it’s interesting to think of how meeting people will be ten years down the road.
While the idea of second-wave digisexuals seems strange today, as the world continues to evolve, tomorrow’s normal is becoming increasingly unclear. One thing that will never change is the absolutely magnificent cluster fuck that we call love. Love is messy, it’s confusing, it’s convoluted and yet it’s wonderful. Yes, technology has significantly changed how we find love and make connections, but it hasn’t changed what we’re looking for at the end of the day. Whether it takes the form of a terrifying sex-doll, a beautiful Japanese hologram, a cozy body pillow or even a real life human, we’re all just trying to find someone or something that we can be happy with.
The extent to which technology will change the fundamental ways we navigate sex and romance remains to be seen, but at this point, I won’t rule anything out. If I know one thing, it’s that humans are a lot kinkier than we let on.