Let’s talk about sex-tech, baby

31 May 2023

Dr Caroline West. Image: Elisha Clarke

For Tech’s Sake returns for its second season with a bang as the podcast covers the topic of sex-tech with the help of Dr Caroline West.

In 2015, entrepreneur Cindy Gallop spoke on the Inspirefest stage about one of her companies, Make Love Not Porn, which aims to socialise the conversation about sex and make it more mainstream.

However, she talked about the roadblocks she faced when it came to raising money. “PayPal won’t work with us, neither will Amazon. We had to build an entire video-streaming platform from scratch because Brightcove won’t host our content,” she said at the time.

“The entire adult industry has the same problem and, as a result, an entire industry has sprung up to serve the adult porn industry. But we aren’t the adult porn industry. We are on a social mission.”

In the first episode of For Tech’s Sake’s new season, hosts Elaine Burke and Jenny Darmody wanted to take a closer look at the sex-tech industry, especially given how much things have changed since Gallop’s Inspirefest appearance eight years ago.

In the years since, there has been an influx of ‘smart’ sex toys as well as advances in AI leading to chatbots such as those from Replika AI and AR and VR tech has been brought into the bedroom.

But with every technological advance comes a darker side. Internet-connected sex toys and apps have been hacked or suffered major data breaches, AI girlfriends are being created specifically to suffer verbal abuse and of course, in this digital age, there is a growth of intimate image abuse and ‘dick pics’.

To share an expert insight into these issues, For Tech’s Sake spoke to Dr Caroline West, a sex educator with a master’s in sexuality studies and a PhD in feminism and pornography.

“People have found ways to use tools and tech for sex literally since it has existed,” she said. But among the tools, devices and apps, tech can also act as a great catalyst for sex literacy.

“The Gen Zs who are 17, 18, 19, 20, look at them growing up and exploring their sexuality in a world where you can get sex education on Instagram or they can have podcasts, a whole range of things where they can talk to their friends,” she said.

“They’re also learning about healthy relationships as well. The word ‘gaslight’ has become a trending thing on TikTok nowadays.”

While the world of sex-tech continues to have its issues – like many other areas of tech – it’s heartening to know that technology and the online world can also be used as a tool for good in terms of advancing sex education.

Check out the full episode with West wherever you get your podcasts, and subscribe for more.

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