Social distancing: great for public health, not so great for your sex life—at least when it comes to sex with other humans. While your Tinder in-box may have been quiet this past year, there’s been a lot of buzz (vibrator pun intended) in the wonderful world of sex technology, from skyrocketing sex-toy sales to the fact that your grandma has suddenly heard of the website OnlyFans.
“People have become more comfortable and accepting of relying on online technology in every dimension of their lives,” says Bryant Paul, Ph.D., an associate professor of media psychology at Indiana University. “Sex is apparently, and not surprisingly, no exception.”
One in five people tried something new in the bedroom during the first few months of the pandemic, including watching porn, visiting or performing on cam sites, and using “advanced sexual technologies,” such as remote-controlled sex toys, according to a Kinsey Institute survey of 1,559 adults. Those who tried new things were more likely to say their sex lives had improved.
“Sexual breadth is associated with sexual satisfaction,” says sex researcher Nicole Prause, Ph.D., who was not involved in the Kinsey Institute study. “The more stuff you try, the more things you play with, the more likely you are to be satisfied.”
And man, is there a lot to play with, from guy-focused sex toys that aren’t Fleshlights (finally) to new ways to connect with long distance partners to, yes, virtual-reality porn. In case you’re not sure where to start, our experts identified the five biggest trends in sex tech and what you need to know about them.
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The platform where performers can stream live sex shows and chat with paying viewers has burst into mainstream consciousness since the pandemic began—and not just because Beyoncé rapped about it. The number of OnlyFans creators grew from around 120,000 to more than 1 million last year, and subscriptions surged from 7.5 million to 90 million.
Cam sites aren’t new, but people seem more accepting of OnlyFans than its various sexy predecessors. Chaturbate, founded in 2011, and CAM4, founded in 2007, “were more stigmatized,” Prause says. But because OnlyFans also features nonsexual content, it “seems to have had more success in refuting some of the stigma around that type of sex work.”
Browsing OnlyFans is a low-stakes way to explore different kinks and sexual techniques, says Marla Renee Stewart, a sexologist and coauthor of The Ultimate Guide to Seduction and Foreplay. If you and your partner have been curious about bringing in a third, try a virtual threesome by watching a live webcam show together.
Strap on your Oculus Rift and travel to a hot tub full of naked people. In a small-scale 2019 study in Computers in Human Behavior, men reported more arousal after watching virtual-reality porn than 2D smut. And people are down to try it: In April, VR Bangers—a porn site designed to be viewed through a VR headset—reported a 30 percent sales bump since lockdown began.
But Paul doubts that VR porn will ever truly rival 2D porn, as most people are already happy with the latter. “They’re not worried about seeing 4K clarity of resolution,” he says of the average porn viewer. “It turns out the human brain, especially in terms of sex, does not need high-level stimulation.”
In addition to vision and touch, our sense of hearing has high erotic potential. That’s why some people have been gravitating toward audio erotica—i.e., sexy stories you can listen to. In late May, the audio-erotica app Dipsea reported an 84 percent increase in subscribers since the pandemic started.
Though Dipsea—which lets you search for stories based on preferences like the gender of the characters—has been around for a while, lots of new audio-erotica brands have recently joined the mix, like &Jane (which features women’s real-life sex stories), Kampsite (which focuses on queer men), and Quinn (where users can hear recordings of people narrating sexual scenes or upload their own).
Listening to a sex scene can help you tap into your creative brain and pinpoint your exact desires, Stewart says. “It helps you get an image of what you think is sexy, not just what is injected into your mind.”
That’s the technical term for sex toys that can be controlled from other devices. During isolation, many people have been shelling out for these higher-tech sex toys that offer some semblance of human connection, Stewart says. Think: being able to adjust the speed and intensity of your partner’s vibrator while the two of you are getting down over FaceTime.
A leading name in the teledildonics game is We-Vibe (pictured), which makes remote controlled vibrators that respond to an app called We-Connect. Then there’s Lovense, whose Nora and Max 2 toys react to each other’s movements so partners can have “interactive” sex when they’re apart. When you slide your penis into Max 2, Nora will start rotating; as Nora moves, Max 2 makes pumping motions. The future is now, people.
Masturbation sleeves (like the famous Fleshlight) have long dominated the male sex-toy market, partly due to a lack of other options. But in recent years, companies have been rolling out vibrators for people with a penis.
In 2018, MysteryVibe released the Tenuto, a vibrator that fits around the base of the penis. The vibrations spread through the penis so that if you wear it during intercourse, your partner can feel them, too. Whoa.
In the fall of 2020, Arcwave launched the Ion (pictured), which uses pulsing air pressure to stimulate the frenulum, the sensitive underside of the penis. (This “pleasure air” technology was first developed for female toys like the über-popular Womanizer.)
According to Prause, whose research laboratory tests vibrators on men, these toys feel great—but too many guys are shy about using them.
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