Is Sextech Doing Enough to be Inclusive?
The industry must recognize that women and non-binary clients are more than a mere secondary market -- they’re the future of sextech.
In January of last year, sextech company Realbotix announced it was developing the world’s first ‘male’ sex robot. Initial reports promised a chiseled body, a razor-sharp jawline and a bionic penis, which could “go as long as you want.” These claims were scaled back when production eventually began; now named Henry, the robot would come with a non-bionic but detachable silicone penis, which could be fully customized. But one thing hadn’t changed: the emphasis on stamina over stimulation.
Most of us know by now that sexual pleasure – especially for women – doesn’t work like this. A series of viral sex education videos this year revealed that only 11% of heterosexual hook-ups result in a female orgasm; by contrast, 93% of lesbian hook-ups end with both women orgasming. In other words, sex is better when the penis is removed from the equation because the clit becomes the focus.
Henry’s creators seemed to have ignored these facts, marketing him as a ‘companionship’ robot and relying on stereotypical, inaccurate ideas of what women actually want in bed. As sextech entrepreneur Cindy Gallop told VICE at the time: “‘As long as you want’… presumes that the only thing that represents great sex for women is jackhammering her for as long as you possibly can. Fuck that shit.”
Stories like these highlight a problem: sextech is sorely lacking the input of women and non-binary people. Communities like Women of Sextech show that vital work has already been done, but the industry remains decidedly male-dominated – worse still, it stigmatizes and erases women and their desires.
Entrepreneur Lora Haddock learned this the hard way. As the founder of company Lora DiCarlo, she was delighted when her innovative, inclusive Osé sex-toy was awarded a prestigious prize. But just months later, the decision was rescinded and the CTA (Consumer Technology Association) went on to describe the Osé as “immoral, obscene [and] profane” – despite having featured a sex robot specifically equipped to give amazing blow jobs in the past. This was misogyny at work, plain and simple.
This misogyny plagues women not just in sextech, but across the board. Gallop has spent the last decade turning MakeLoveNotPorn – a groundbreaking ‘social sex’ video site which prioritizes female pleasure, intimacy and ‘real-word sex’ – into an industry-leading business.
“I can tell you categorically that nothing has gotten easier,” she tells me, describing the difficulties of funding and scaling a business rooted in sex. “After at least five years of pitching, we raised some funding last year – but now the area of frustration is that we have the funds to do paid-for marketing, but nobody will take our ads.” Again, there’s a double standard at play. “White male-founded ventures touting erectile dysfunction solutions for men can raise tens of millions of dollars of funding from white male VCs,” Gallop continues. “And they can advertise all over subways and billboards. Female sextech founders can’t.”
Porn polymath Jiz Lee, who works as a producer at Pink & White Productions as well as an adult film performer and author, echoes the claim that tech and finance sectors represent huge obstacles for start-ups and independent creators. “That’s the biggest hurdle,” they explain via email. “[As a result], the ‘old boy’s club’ porn companies uphold dominance on everything from what porn looks like and how it’s marketed, to how it’s distributed. This ends up with performances and porn categories which assume a cisgender, white, straight male viewer on free tube sites.”
This bias is written across the adult industry more generally. As a result, everything from ‘male’ sex robots to mainstream porn becomes exclusionary to women. Factor in the stigma around female pleasure and the challenges faced by women or non-binary entrepreneurs, and what you have is not just a discriminatory industry, but an unimaginative one.
“There are already badass women in the sextech industry,” explains OliLipski, an expert writer for pioneering website SexTechGuide. “Just take a look at the Women of SexTech community. However, this is definitely just a corner of the industry, and that corner is currently feeling very cisgender, white and straight-dominated.”
This is undeniably true. In her article ‘Where Are All The Women of Color in SexTech?’, writer Tiffany Curtis name-checks successful entrepreneurs like Alex Fine, Janet Lieberman and Polly Rodriguez, but argues that “the faces of the women in the sextech movement are mostly white.” This has long been the case in porn, too – women of color are often fetishized or stereotyped, but rarely given a seat at the table. Issues like these need to be addressed; racist artificial intelligence has been the result of the white-dominated tech industry, and unless things change quickly, even the most benevolent sex robot could come with an inbuilt bias.
Lipski says progress is being made in terms of making sextech queer-friendly, and name-checks products like Enby, the ‘non-gendered vibrator’. “We’ve come so far from the pink, veiny dildos we were too embarrassed to buy,” she continues, “but it’s clear that diversity is needed. Female pioneers entering sextech made that change; ultimately, considering diverse experiences will create the most innovative, exciting products.”
Author Kate Devlin highlighted this in her 2018 book Turned On, which underlined the misogyny inbuilt in existing ‘female’ sex robots and posed the question: what would sextech look like if we moved away from conventional thinking? Her answers were rooted in sensory experiences and wearable sextech, not the kind of jackhammer penetration that companies have described so far.
This is the question we should all be asking; sextech, as is stands, is stalling creatively, and that’s precisely because the industry right now remains exclusionary, closed-off and unwilling to fully explore female sexual pleasure. If we switch to utopian thinking, it’s not hard to imagine the enormous pleasure sextech could yield – but that requires an end to institutional misogyny, a more diverse group of power players and the dismantling of stigma.
“Perhaps we have to dismantle the whole notion of sextech,” concludes Lipski. “Let me put it this way: if we think about how elegant and innovative vibrators are compared to the ancestral rubber dildos, then where could we take rubber fleshlights, sex robots or virtual worlds?” These are questions begging to be answered, but it’s unlikely the industry will give genuinely innovative answers until it begins recognizing that women and non-binary clients are more than a mere secondary market; they’re the future of sextech.
get 10% off for your first purchase