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The History of Sex Tech


Question: The History of Sex Tech

When we talk about the history of sex tech, there are at least two ways to think about that history. One is to think about the history of human engagement with technology and sexuality -- all the ways we use technology to have sex and be sexual. Another is to focus more narrowly on the history of the term sex tech -- when did we first start talking about sex tech as a unique phenomenon?

Most writing on the history of sex tech focuses on specific kinds of technology. For example, there are interesting histories of sex and video games and pornography and technology. The most historically grounded examination of what we now call sex tech can be found in Angel Juan Gordo Lopez and Richard Cleminson’s Techno-Sexual Landscapes which looks at the relationship between sex and technology by focusing on three historical periods (the medieval period, early modernity, and present day).

If there were a comprehensive history of sex tech, it would arguably start with the earliest examples of humans using technology. Let me give you an example.

Techniques used to make fire can be considered a form of technology. At some point after humans discovered techniques to make fire, someone would have figured out that if you live somewhere cold and make a fire outside, having sex outdoors or not in whatever shelter you have would be less cold, and more comfortable. The people who figured this out first probably had more sex outside, and may have even increased the overall amount of sex they had because they increased their opportunities for having sex (or at least for having sex without getting frost bite).

In what ways is this different or similar to the first person to use email to engage sexually with someone else? Obviously there are similarities and differences. But the benefit of using the idea of sex tech is that it allows us to make these kinds of connections and see our current experience and understanding of sex tech not as something completely new and removed from other aspects of our experience but as something that connects to a shared history of human interactions with each other through technology and with technology on its own.

The task of documenting our more recent use of the term sex tech is one that hasn’t been taken up yet. But it’s interesting to think about when we started talking about sex tech as distinctive from sex in general. A basic search suggests that the term is still mostly used to describe specific examples of sex and technology. So, for example, the term was used to describe teledildonics in the early 1980s, but at that time sex tech wasn’t thought of as broadly as it is today.

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