Sex Is About To Go Social (NSFW)

By Kate Hakala

You get home half-exhausted, open a bottle of Chianti, and think about soaking in the tub. Instead, you turn on your laptop, read a few New York Times articles, and find yourself instinctually headed towards that one site your browser loves to autofill. It’s a social network filled with cam girls, single people, and horny avatars — all waiting to have sex with you through a robot interface.

This is Seth’s vision of the future. He’s the creator of FriXion, the first-ever social network that’s working to allow its users to touch one another, using various haptic devices, over any stretch of distance. For the average user, “touching” will involve hand-holding, kissing, and/or full-on penetrative sex.

FriXion works like this: The network uses off-the-shelf sex toys and already existing technologies, and connects them using an open and universal API. So, essentially, it’s a platform that allows teledildonic devices — dildos, vibrators, and sleeves, for example — to interact with each other using real-time, bidirectional-force feedback. Seth uses the word “telemetry” a lot; what he means is that through FriXion, one toy can feel what the other toy is feeling. 

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If you move one way, your partner’s toy will move the other way. Some of the sci-fi features currently being tested include measuring biometrics such as heart rate, which would translate to a soft pulsing on your partner’s device in real time. And, any and all of these devices can interact where their functionalities overlap. Let’s put it this way: This network for sex toys gives a pretty convincing imitation of intimacy.
“FriXion is a software platform we’re developing to enable people to connect physically over distance,” explains Seth, who chose not to share his last name. “It feels like the act of sex. While you’re thrusting, I’m being penetrated. You’re pushing back. I’m feeling the resistance.” Compared to other sex machines or long-distance sex tech, Seth claims that FriXion provides organic motion that’s true to real-life sexual interactions. Pair it with a virtual-reality simulator like the Oculus Rift, and you could see users having a near-three-dimensional experience with other users, with porn, or even with avatars.

Many experts claim that by 2025, robotics will become an integral, normal part of our daily existence. Stowe Boyd, lead researcher for GigaOM Research, predicted that “robotic sex partners will be a commonplace, although the source of scorn and division — the way that critics today bemoan selfies as an indicator of all that’s wrong with the world.” But, what of a network that allows for actual humans to be on the other side of the robot’s moving parts? Will that type of technology be met with the same scorn? That’s the question currently on Seth’s mind.
In 2014, sex got pretty high-tech, and in 2015, Seth feels that it’s bound to go social. If we’ve outsourced nearly every aspect of our livelihoods and identities to machines, what’s to stop us from turning to machines to satisfy our most basic desires? Seth hopes to offer the ultimate in customized masturbatory experiences: not just a place that connects your toys, but a place to meet new people —  a hub for virtual sex.

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“The beta will initially support users to meet, have sex, and transact payments between each other using an e-wallet," Seth explains. "Retail prices for the various devices will run the gamut. The V2 wristband accelerometer will start at $40. The F1 robot is currently the only way to have a meaningful bidirectional experience, and it retails for $199,” Seth explains. He sees FriXion as a great interface to inspire more and more tech developers to innovate now that they have a means of communicating with other toys. FriXion is already able to support smart fucking machines like the Diltron, the Shock Spot, Klic-Klic, Lovense, High Joy, and Black Cat Box. “For the cost of a tablet or an iPhone, you’ve got virtual sex and a frickin robot that does other things," Seth adds.

But, at its heart, FriXion is intended to be a social network, Seth stresses. He explains the Facebook/dating-site mash-up of FriXion: “You’re going to a have a profile, a timeline, a feed. We want to use the profile in ways that work similarly to OkCupid, if that’s how you want to use it. When you sign can check as many [boxes] as you want: cam girls, casual encounters, dating, relationships, long-distance relationships.”

Seth’s okay with developing a network that could very well have implications for sex work, such as cam girls offering live events, or porn stars holding haptic showcases. “It’s a real risk that we’re taking by taking such a broad approach,” he tells me. “When I saw this technology working, I really felt in awe of where we are. I had to sit around and look around and say, ‘Okay, this is 2013 [at time of development]. I’m having sex with a robot with a person. Isn’t that amazing?’” Seth admits, “I couldn’t justify only selling it to cam girls... At the same time, I couldn’t justify just pitching it as tech for long-distance relationships only. So, we just decided to put the tools out there and invite everybody.”

There may also be a gamified future with FriXion, where users earn trophies for different sexual achievements — say a badge for 100 sexual partners, a star for partner loyalty. These partners don’t even have to be human. “You can imagine on Utherverse or Second Life where two avatars could meet each other and connect using their Frixion credentials... Their devices connect, and they’re having real, human sex with each other, but only seeing their avatars, and the avatars are animated using the data received through the FriXion API,” Seth rattles off excitedly.

It’s a very futuristic view of the sex industry — an imagined future where, when browsing online-dating profiles, people can expect to have sex teledildonically before they even meet in person. 

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Seth sees toys like Bluetooth-enabled, wearable vibrators as only practical for a few novelty uses. “A lot of these gimmicks you see are gimmicks because they don’t have the licenses to create functionality that is more useful. It’s why you see on FriXion...devices that are stroking and reciprocating.”

For transhumanists and technophiles, FriXion sounds like a dream interface — if remote sex with feedback is what you’re looking for. Already-established “adult” networks, such as Uplust, focus on NSFW social sharing, and companies like KIIROO are focused on users who are looking to bring immediacy to their long-distance relationships. FriXion has a much more laissez-faire attitude; with sexy avatar lovers and trophies for conquests, it sort of sounds like a Spike Jonze film or William Gibson story waiting to happen. 

"I still have to remember that some people are ashamed to talk about sex,” Seth admits. “I’m very matter-of-fact and clinical about it. I have to remember some people aren’t. It is a bit frustrating, but I feel like our timing is really good. Haptics are huge this year.”

It’s hard to say what it will mean when we have a virtual sexual experience that feels the same as the real deal — but what’s most important is that these products are actually meeting a demand. As David Levy, an artificial intelligence expert, once put it to The Kernel, “The question is not whether it is better to have sex with a robot or sex with a human being, but whether it is better to have sex with a robot or no sex at all. In the case of teledildonics, I see the products as increasing the sexual possibilities between humans, not decreasing the desire for human-human sexual contact."

The effect of future sex remains to be seen, if it will even come at all. At the time of writing, FriXion is still in its early-adopter stages, where users can request an invite in return for discounts and giveaways. Seth says that in the near future, he hopes to send out a new batch of invites and roll it out to a wider audience. “It will really blow people’s minds and will continue to challenge what modern relationships can look like," he says. "It really shifts the core experience to lose all awareness of the device and be present in a virtual space with a virtual partner.” For many of us, opting into the network would be something of a rebellion. We’d be consenting to something we’re not used to experiencing in such intimate spaces: complete novelty, exploration, freedom, and anonymity.

When I hang up the phone with Seth, I contemplate one day having sex with someone over an Internet connection, through a robot-powered vibrator, without ever really knowing who that someone is. I’m still mulling it over. But, it's got to turn someone on.

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