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Screw Science: The Futuristic Sex Tech Aiming to Penetrate Your Bedroom

From fully customizable vibrators to bioelectronic headsets, smart sex toys are on the way up. But does personal pleasure necessarily make for better health?


Pleasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.

It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.

These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.

Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.

“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”


Mysteryvibe’s flagship product is the Crescendo, a customizable sex toy.

But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.

Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.

“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”


Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.

If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.

According to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.

Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.

“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”

Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.

“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”

Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.

“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.

But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.

Complete Article HERE!

Is casual sex bad for your wellbeing?


Up to 80% of undergraduates have hookups.

Up to 80% of undergraduates have hookups.

Casual sex, hookups or one-night stands: whatever you call it, more than half of us will have sex with someone we barely know or don’t expect to date in the future. We’re most likely to do this at university, where up to 80% of undergraduates have hookups. Sex within relationships is said to improve cardiovascular health, reduce depression and boost immunity, but social science research has often linked casual encounters to feelings of sexual regret, low self-esteem and psychological distress, especially among women. Studies show that while men regret the sexual opportunities they missed, women often regret some of the casual sex they did have.

The solution

A Canadian study of 138 female and 62 male students who had casual sex found that men selected physical reasons for regret – such as their partner being insufficiently attractive. Women’s regrets focused on shame and self-blame. But the evidence as to whether casual sex, when done with protection against sexually transmitted diseases, is actually bad for anyone is unclear. The studies are overwhelmingly on heterosexual American university students and have varying definitions of hookups – from knowing someone for less than 24 hours, to sex in a “friends with benefits” relationship. Some show both men and women feel depressed, used and lonely after hookups; others find casual sex promotes more positive emotions than negative ones. In a study of 832 university students, only 26% of women compared with half of men felt positive after a hookup. Nearly half of women and 26% of men felt negatively about the experience.

Some factors are associated with an increased risk of feeling bad afterwards – these include having sex with someone you have known for less than 24 hours, drinking heavily or taking drugs beforehand, feeling you ought to rather than you want to, and hoping for a relationship afterwards. Interestingly, the Canadian study found that high-quality sex rarely led to regret.

Zhana Vrangalova, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, New York, who runs the Casual Sex Project – a website where people graphically share their encounters – argues that casual sex can improve wellbeing by increasing confidence, sexual pleasure and making people feel desirable. She points out in a TEDx talk that a study of 20,000 college students found that only 42% of women, compared with 78% of men, had an orgasm in their last hookup. This “pleasure gap” may partly explain the difference between men and women’s feelings about casual sex. But however pro-casual sex she is, Vrangalova warns that you shouldn’t hook-up if you care about seeing them again. Casual sex is not, she says, like doing the laundry.

Complete Article HERE!

Let’s Talk About Sex (for Trans Men)

By Buck Angel


Here is a simple fact that not a lot of people realize: Many trans men choose not to have what we call “bottom surgery.” That is to say they chose not to have any surgery on the genitals they were born with. This means that the world has a significant number of men with vaginas. I have spoken with a lot of trans men through my life and work, and I would estimate that around 90 percent of trans men around the world — I have interviewed men from Sweden, the U.K., Brazil, Mexico, and other countries — have not opted for bottom surgery.

For some this decision comes for financial reasons, for some a fear of complications, and for some it’s more of a “one step at a time” kind of vibe: “Let’s see how this first stage (chest surgery, hormones) feels, and I will take it from there.” Regardless of the reason, the newly transitioned trans man’s body is a new landscape for him, and perhaps one that isn’t very well understood or accommodated, even by the man himself.

When I first transitioned, I was worried that I might not be able to find a partner or even love. I was worried that people would simply be turned off by the idea of a man with a vagina. I’ve since interviewed and spoken with hundreds of trans guys who echo the same anxieties. Kevin, 30, who lives in Brooklyn, said, “Deciding not to go with bottom surgery was something I went back and forth on for many years. It wasn’t until I saw videos online of your work (a docu-series that I make called Sexing the Transman) that I realized I didn’t need a penis to become a man. I was worried about sex, but surprisingly, most of my sexual partners have been very open to me and my body, even if it’s unfamiliar territory for them.”

I personally will always remember the exact moment I realized that my genitals were OK — that my vagina was a part of me and that is was OK to be a man without a penis — and it was through masturbation and orgasm. It was one of the first times that I penetrated myself, and I felt a bit guilty that I actually climaxed. It was a weird feeling to enjoy my vagina for the first time — it had always been something that I was not connected to and even hated. But that orgasm changed everything for me. It was really a turning point in my identity and my self-love.

Masturbation became a daily ritual for me, which is true for many other trans men I have spoken with. Because of this we are always looking for new ways to get off. There was nothing in the sex toy world that was designed for our bodies. What makes trans male vaginas and vulvas unusual is that they become enlarged, specifically the clitoris, because of the testosterone usage, and with that our vaginas also become a little bit more sensitive. Guys talk about a newly heightened sexual awareness and desire for sex. When that is combined with a detachment from your body or a lack of information or resources, trans men are at risk of not experiencing their best sex lives.

Because there was nothing made for trans men in the sex toy (or “pleasure product”) world, I had to be very inventive!  I would cut up products made for the cisgender man and women to fit my anatomy, like dildos that had a suction cup backing, rip that out, and use the hole in the end to masturbate with. I would find things like snakebite kits, which are used to suck out the poison from the bite of a snake, or toys like nipple play suction cups, and adapt them to fit me. Some trans guys showed me how they used the ends of water bottles filled with water to create suction. One guy would even use a small hand towel filled with lube to rub on. Its pretty amazing how you can engineer things just to masturbate.

Jim, a 23-year-old trans man from Philadelphia told me, “Masturbation is something I do daily. It was not easy at first for me to find the space to feel comfortable touching myself; it felt weird because I never did it before I transitioned. Though through that I realized that I love sex and that I needed to feel myself and let that be a good thing.”

Buck-OFF - Buck Angel FTM Stroker

Buck-OFF – Buck Angel FTM Stroker

When I was finally able to love my body and be comfortable with it, I was more comfortable on so many levels that went far beyond sexuality. For this reason I’ve been on a mission to teach trans guys to love their bodies and through that to love themselves. These conversations are so important to our well-being, and it’s why it’s been a years-long dream to actually create a toy that is just for us. It’s validating; it says, “Your body is real, it deserves to have pleasure, and you are not alone.” I’m really hoping to use the Buck-Off to start conversations outside of the trans male community as well to create larger awareness of trans male bodies and their specific needs. This is important not only for us, but for our potential partners, teachers, health care providers, and legislators.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Sex Is Better At 57 Than 27

Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Dame Helen Mirren approves of her wax replica.

Dame Helen Mirren approves of her wax replica.

Despite the fondness certain corners of the internet and cable television have for mocking sexually vital women of a certain age, new research suggests that those who embrace their sexuality may be laughing all the way to longer, healthier lives—though older men aren’t as lucky.


A study out of Michigan State University (MSU) published this month in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior has found that frequent sex (defined as once or more per week) for women age 57 and older—especially if it’s “extremely pleasurable or satisfying”—resulted in a lower risk of hypertension and protected against cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately for men, frequent sex in the 57 and older range is actually dangerous, increasing their risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and stroke. The risk is compounded by the use of medications such as Cialis and Viagra.

The study—an analysis of survey data of 2,204 people collected by the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project in 2005-6 and again five years later—isn’t just good news for older women, and should offer hope for younger women as they look to the future of their own sexuality.

Dr. Nancy Sutton Pierce, a nurse and clinical sexologist, suggests the best thing a young woman can do for her continued sexual health is to cultivate an attitude of optimism about it as she ages. “Younger women think sexy has an expiration date. Older women know it doesn’t,” she says.

The study is a stride toward busting the cultural myths that older women are supposedly non-sexual beings, which Sutton Pierce says “absolutely does them a disservice.” Sutton Pierce, who is almost 60, happily defies sexual stereotypes of older women. Married for thirty years to the same man, she says, “My sex life is better than ever, much better than my twenties.” In her work she says she sees women after forty “blossoming,” adding, “As women mature, we mature on all levels, which means we start to own our sexuality and sexual power. We don’t need someone else to tell us we’re hot, we can feel it.”

Study author Hiu Liu, an associate professor of sociology at MSU, also finds that for women, quality of sexual experience is a key contributing factor to the health benefits, not just quantity. “As a sociologist, I don’t see sex as just a physical exercise, as medical doctors do. It’s a social behavior, and has emotional meaning,” she says.

001For older women experiencing other kinds of physical declines related to illness, staying sexually active may bring other benefits. Irwin H., who asked to remain anonymous, of San Francisco found that for his 70-year-old wife, who has multiple sclerosis, increasingly limited mobility, and walks with a cane, “Sex gives her back her former sense of her physical self.” He even waxes a little poetic: “Sexuality for her is like an unexpected warm day in the middle of winter. It doesn’t end winter, but it makes it bearable.”

Some older women may believe they’ve lost their sexual selves when they experience the often dramatic physical changes at and after menopause, such as vaginal dryness and reduced libido. They need not despair, says Celeste Holbrook, PhD, a sexual health consultant and sexologist. “Sex, and fulfilling sex doesn’t always have to be centered on the goal of an orgasm, or penetrative sex,” she adds.

004However, Liu points out that the female sexual hormone released during orgasm, oxytocin, “may also promote women’s health” by reducing cortisol and increasing estrogen.

Holbrook urges communication between partners rather than silent acceptance. “Redefining your sexuality as we age for anybody is really good. Talk to your partner about your body changes and how you can create a fulfilling sex life while embracing those changes.”

Men shouldn’t worry too much, however. Though the MSU study seems to be the research equivalent of a cold shower for older men, Liu reminds them, “Moderate sex is good for older men, too.”

Complete Article HERE!

Could my wife’s circumcision explain her lack of interest in sex?

Our sex life has been underwhelming. I wonder if what happened to her as a child could be to blame

By Pamela Stephenson Connolly

I cannot even try to guess your wife’s experience’

I cannot even try to guess your wife’s experience’

I am in my mid-40s and have been married for 16 years. Our sexual life has been very underwhelming. I have tried everything I know but my wife seems to have little or no interest in sex. I do know that she was circumcised as a child. Could that have affected her sexuality?

A person’s sexuality is created through a complex combination of physical, psychological and physiological factors as well as the messages about sex they received from childhood onwards – religious beliefs, parental warnings, societal judgment and formative experiences. You have told me little, but the fact that she was circumcised suggests that she may have been raised in a society where the notion of female sexuality was not exactly appreciated. In many of the world’s societies – including our own – it is judged by some as inappropriate, and even feared, suppressed, or punished.

I cannot even try to guess your wife’s experience, or the motives of those who performed it, but I am sure it has had some effect on her conceptualisation of sex and her ability to experience pleasure. This would be particularly true if her clitoris was removed. Gently ask her if she could try to express what the circumcision was like for her, and how it might have affected her ability to enjoy sex. A gynaecologist could shed some light on how nerve loss or damage might have affected her ability to orgasm or even become aroused, and a psychosexual counsellor could suggest alternative sexual approaches. After 16 years, your wife and you deserve some understanding and hope.

Complete Article HERE!