Guest blogger James Mycroft this month tackles the issue of ‘real sex’ versus ‘tech sex’ (i.e. using products like our toys to enhance sex life). And he explains why one isn’t any better (or realer) than the other.
It’s amazing how many of us could be considered cyborgs. I’ve worn glasses since my teens and contacts on a fairly regular basis since I got into adrenaline sports. But those are practical: like artificial knee joints or insulin pumps, they help me move through the world more easily.
I’ve also chosen to modify my body in other ways. A few piercings, some tattoos – nowhere near as comprehensive as those on the models you’ll see on this website, sadly – and the result is that I’m custom, not factory standard. These changes aren’t to make up for some perceived lack, but are added extras that I feel suit the person I am (and yes, I want more).
People do this – they add what you might call ‘bonus features’ to their bodies. They always have. It’s what makes us people. From an evolutionary point of view, what makes humans ‘special’ is that we’re not biologically special at anything. We can’t swim as fast as a shark or fly like an eagle. We don’t have sharp claws, amazing camouflage or sensitive hearing. So why are we, as a species, so successful?
We use tools and tales. We use opposable thumbs and the overlap between language and stories to build and share our ideas with each other. This helps us solve problems much faster than evolution can manage, so we can beat pretty much every other organism on the planet.
So why – when we as human beings use our ingenuity to make so many wonderful gadgets for every other area of life – would the bedroom be any different? We find basic ‘sex tech’ in the form of stone dildos and goat eyelid cock rings almost as far back as recorded history goes. In recent years we’ve seen the development of sex tech like virtual reality porn, medical science harnessed in PULSE, and the Semenette, a dildo that mimics ejaculation and can also be used to inseminate a partner.
Yet even now, men using toys solo is not quite as acceptable as women in the same situation (although huge progress has been made). And some still see using toys with other people as an admission of failure – as something you only do if your ‘natural’ body or skills aren’t up to scratch – rather than an example of innovation.
Twenty years back a university flatmate of mine explained to me that ‘real’ sex means penetration with a penis. I really hope, both for her sake and her partners’, that she’s since freed her imagination from those limitations.
I think most of us would now see the various adjectives often put in front of the word ‘sex’ – like ‘oral’, ‘anal’ – as describing alternatives to, not substitutes for, traditional penetrative sex. Is ‘oral sex’ somehow less real than the kind where a penis enters a vagina? (If your answer is yes, I not-so-humbly suggest that you may not be doing it right – and you’re also telling a whole load of non-heterosexual partnerships that their sex lives aren’t real). The only way that ‘real’ as a modifier makes sense is as a comparison with imaginary sex, or as we might call it: ‘fantasy’.
A while back I read about ‘manual sex’ as another term for masturbating a partner, with a comment that this puts the activity on a much clearer parallel to other forms of physical intimacy. Maybe you could also refer to ‘solo manual sex’ to make it clear that solo masturbation is equally valid (and could be considered sexual intimacy with someone very important: yourself). Now, moving on before we break into song…
So I’d like to introduce another new term: tech sex. The adjective provides information about the form of sex you engage in, but not a judgment. Some people will like tech sex – some so much so they won’t want anything else. And, like oral or phone sex, some people won’t like it. And that’s OK too! The point is that using more than what we’re born with, to perform some task better, is the most human thing in the world. Using tools, for humans, is natural.
Most of the time sex tech complements what we have, rather than replacing our own equipment. These bonus features simply give us and our partners more options. Just like using fingers and mouths, these are alternatives, not substitutes. And just as different people will change their appearance with ink and metal in an infinite number of ways, tech sex will be as varied as the people indulging in it.
As far as I’m aware, most human anatomy doesn’t naturally vibrate at high speed. So choosing to use various kinds of sex tech to provide that experience, for my partner and myself, isn’t about making up for a lack. It’s about trying to have fun – and isn’t that, more than anything else, what makes sex ‘real’?
James Mycroft was a Sherlock Holmes fan before Benedict Cumberbatch made him cool again. He reads, writes and enjoys adrenaline sports, including those that happen in the bedroom. Sadly he is much less interesting in real life than online.