"Teledildonics" refers to controlling a sex toy remotely, often via the internet, allowing one person to contribute to the experiences of another through the device, from across the room or even over great distances.
These capabilities didn’t just spring up out of nowhere, nor do teledildonics continue to develop on their own. In order to grow and progress, the entire field of computer connected sex toys requires engineering, creativity, social awareness and ethics, and science. In short, it requires teledildonticists.
Kyle Machulis is one such teledildonticist. In fact, he’s considered the leading expert in the field. His work – an open-source standards and software project for controlling intimate hardware – can be found at buttplug.io.
“There are a lot of computer and phone controllable sex toys out there, but they're usually difficult to work with from a technology perspective, requiring a lot of specialized knowledge,” Machulis explained. “My work makes it easier for people who write software to make applications that involve sex toy control, so they can build games and apps that do whatever they're interested in, versus just what the toy manufacturer provides, which usually isn't much.”
Machulis has been online in one form or another since 1991. He started a blog in 2004 aimed at teaching people about engineering through sex toys. Then, he pivoted to looking at user interfaces and experiences in sex tech. And recently, he’s been exploring the ways in which people deal with the absence of the body and translation of intimate touch through technologically mediated systems. All this is to say that Machulis has been immersed in the world of teledildonics for decades.
“This knowledge is just lived experience and second-nature to me,” Machulis shared, but he realizes this isn’t the case for everyone. Though wider awareness and understanding of teledildonics is expanding, there’s still a lot for people outside the core of development to learn. Machulis took some time out to explain a bit more about the intersections between teledildonics and society, as well as how Motorbunny fits into the wider conversation.
Dr. Chauntelle: In your view, why even in 2020 do some people feel uncomfortable with tech in the bedroom?
Kyle Machulis: It starts with lack of sex education. If we don't know how to touch each other with our own bodies, then touch mediated by technology built by the lowest bidder, as most sex tech is outsourced that way, is going to introduce even more problems. Not only that, brains have some innate ability to move limbs, to reach out, to react. They do not have innate abilities to properly set up Bluetooth and wifi in such a way that a toy will work.
Then there's the physics problems. Most people want wireless toys because getting wired in the places toys go can be awkward for many reasons. However, wireless toys run on radios, and radios hate meat and water and unfortunately bodies contain a lot of both. Therefore, the technology can drop connections quite often, and in the literal and figurative heat of the moment, that's a really really bad user experience. Once again, most users aren't going to be aware of that.
(Ed. Note: One reason Motorbunny LINK technology does not face connection drop issues is that the Bluetooth connectivity remains with the physical controller, and is not obstructed by penetration.)
Then, finally, there's the privacy and data issues. These toys don't really need to ship data back to companies, but then companies wouldn't be able to improve on their product without knowing how it was working in the field. However, due to the aforementioned lowest bidder problem, the companies don't know how to store the sensitive data, and we get the privacy issues. This is something projects like internetofdon.gs are working on -- teaching sex tech companies how to safely and securely handle this data.
Should people feel tentative about utilizing today’s sex tech?
That's actually a super tough question… Engaging with sex tech is still sexual interaction, even if it's a very new type of it. Because it's a very new type of sexual interaction, we don't have norms or rituals, including things like consent, around it to fall back on, much less larger social power structures like laws, which could be seen as a good or bad thing and discussion of which is a big ol' book worth of topics!
Sex tech ideally would represent a safe space for certain types of experimentation, and I definitely think it can be used as that. However, we've gotta be tentative with everything involving technology these days, so at least thinking about -- and in multi-party situations, discussing -- possible situations before using these products is important.
How does Motorbunny fit into the world of teledildonics?
The Motorbunny can the considered a teledildonic sex toy by the nature of its computer connected control mechanism -- the Motorbunny LINK wireless controller. This controller sells separately from the base product, so I guess in a way the Motorbunny is Schrodinger's teledildonics.
The way I see it, once there's a way for a computer to interface with a toy, and since all computers are pretty trivially connected to networks these days, at that point it can fulfill the original idea of teledildonics as set out by Rheingold. This can get mired in technicalities when you consider that people have built projects like motors that turn knobs on otherwise unconnected toys, but for general definition, something being able to communicate "out of the box" with a computer or smart phone can be considered teledildonics.
Here is a Buttplug.io’s mission statement. It raises many issues and touches on social awareness within the context of sex and technology. It’s pretty thought provoking:
Buttplug.io is committed to the safety, autonomy, and human rights of people using it as a sex technology standard and stands in solidarity with the many intersectional rights of all individuals to be sex positive. As such, Buttplug encourages individual empowerment through self-directed education and responsible behaviors, which are also respectful of the needs and the choices available to everyone.
One of the most important things to remember when thinking about sex tech and teledilonics is to be, as Buttplug reiterates above, respectful of everyone’s needs and choices. We can work towards this being mindful of communication and aware of the issues that come up in all intimate interactions, including those involving teledildonics.
Keep thinking, keep communicating, and keep exploring!
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