The day was broken down into four panels: sex and pleasure, pornography, on line representations, and intimacy. Each panel had four or five presenters who talked for ten minutes or so about their papers and then different moderators facilitated discussions with the whole group.
Panel 1: Sex & Pleasure
The first panel, moderated by Elizabeth Churchill, included two papers explicitly on teledildonics. The first was a presentation by Allen Stein, the creator of the Thrillhammer. When I read Allens paper I was initially a bit wary. In the paper at least, there is a focus on orgasm as the real goal of any sexual experience, and it read as a bit too much like a sales pitch. I went into the workshop thinking that next to porn, commercially made sex toys are the least interesting aspect of sexuality and HCI. But Allens presentation combined with his comments throughout the workshop, was thought provoking and I began to change my opinion of both his paper and the possibilities for teledildonics.
For example, in the newest incarnation of the Thrillhammer, users can control the speed of the machine by using their PC muscles. One of the side benefits of this is that the system can collect data on muscle contractions, as well as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. There are several exciting possibilities for researchers engaged in physiological sex research, who may be able to take research out of a laboratory setting. Allen is also very keen to collaborate with researchers to make use of the data collection capacity of his products.
In true interdisciplinary fashion, the next presentation was a complete change in direction, and still directly related to the workshop. Brooke Campbell, who is completing her PhD in comparative literature, presented a paper which asks the question: Is Cyberprostitution Prostitution? Coincidentally Brooke is using Montreal, a city with both a rich sex worker history and current political sex work culture, as well as a huge adult internet industry, for her research.
In part, her paper looks at the way that the courts are (inadequately) dealing with the idea of cyberprostitution. But she is equally interested in looking at how the question (is cyberprostitution prostitution?) requires us to confront the basic flaws in our traditional understanding of prostitution. In this way her paper is an eloquent example of how human computer sexual interaction (in this case cyberprostitution) can provide the opportunity to re-think real life sexual interactions and the way they are socially constructed.
Kyle Machulis, the man behind Nonpolynomial Labs and Slashdong.com presented next on his open source platform SeXBox, along with about a dozen other projects and ideas hes working on. I got to talk to Kyle throughout the workshop, at dinner that evening, and then the following day when he was nice enough to let me interview him for a piece Im doing for CBC Radios Definitely Not the Opera so everything is merging, but here are a few particularly exciting elements of his presentation:
- I love thinking about the possibilities his open source platform may provide for sex education. Along with other presenters, Kyles flexible and open approach to design inspired several ideas on how one might use this software, and even create specific hardware for use in sexual health education (for example, role playing with teens about negotiating safer sex behaviors).
- His work also provides ample opportunity to explore the seemingly infinite variations in sexual desire. Kyle talked about the challenges of designing for and around peoples individual sexual desires, and I can think of several researchers who would be interested in knowing more about the more intricate and marginal sexual representations that people are constructing in massively multiplayer online gaming worlds as well as places like Second Life.
The final presenter in the first panel was Chris Noessel. Chris paper describes a graduate school project for which he designed a tool for BDSM practitioners to increase safety for tops and bottoms.