By Rachel Gelman
We live in a different time. I remember when chat rooms and meeting people from the internet was the plot line for a Lifetime movie. Now, we get in cars driven by strangers and fall in love via sophisticated algorithms and profile pictures. What a time to be alive! It is pretty apparent that technology plays a huge role in our lives. Since I live in the tech mecca of San Francisco, I am surrounded by techies and have connected with several start-ups that specialize in a field that I hold very near and dear to my heart: sex! At first, I thought that I had discovered a small niche in the tech community; now I know that technology and sexual health have quite the relationship, one that is more extensive than you might guess.
These days, the role of technology in sex is so much more than online pornography, although that market is still booming (or so I’ve heard). First, there is a whole wide world of alluring apps. There are apps, such as Kindu and Undercovers, that allow you and your partner to find new sexy things to try together. Think R-rated truth or dare, but sans slumber party with the added bonus of being able to potentially play on your commute! There are apps that give you ideas for new sex positions to try or even places to try them in. Finally, there are the obvious
hook-up dating apps, including some that help you find a third (or fourth) should you be in the mood for some late night company.
Then there are some apps with not-so-carnal intentions, such as Tabú, a start-up that I have recently become involved with as a “sexpert.” And yes, my parents are “so proud.” Tabú helps promote sexual education via an app that allows its users to post questions and receive answers from their peers, as well as “sexperts,” who have been approved by Tabú as being knowledgeable in the field of sexual health. Tabú also has a college ambassador program to allow college students to provide quality sex education via campus workshops . Per Mia Davis, the founder of Tabú, “the goal of Tabú is to empower ‘millennials’ to take control of their sexual health. We understand that misinformation is rife in sexuality, and to truly break down the myths and taboos, we need to provide young people with answers. We believe that to open up a dialogue, we need to approach young people where they are – their phones, social media, and for college students, on their campuses.” With more and more people using smartphones and apps to interact, having resources to provide solid education to people is crucial. And education can be as simple as knowing about your own body. As you know, I am a big advocate for getting to know yourself, which I discussed at length in this post. Luckily, there are many apps that allow people to learn all about their sexual health and health in general. Certain apps, such as Clue and Glow, allow people to track their menstrual cycle, ovulation and other details relating to fertility. Some, such as Pelvic Track, even allow individuals to track symptoms related to pelvic floor dysfunction, such as pain and incontinence.
Some apps even connect with other devices to help improve pelvic floor motor control ( like a fitbit for your vagina). Here is one example. Another company, Lioness, has developed a “smart” vibrator that helps users to better understand how they experience sexual pleasure. The vibrator pairs with an app that provides biometric data about how quickly the user becomes aroused and how long it takes to orgasm. The app allows the users to share this information with their partner. Some other vibrators on the market even allow your partner to control the device from afar via their cell phone! This can be useful for long distance relationships or for patients with pelvic pain who cannot tolerate penetration but still want sexual intimacy with their partner.
Intimacy is a key word. Smartphones and laptops have almost become a silent partner for most of us. It brings us information from other people that makes us feel like we are in constant contact without having any real contact at all. This brings me to one of the downsides of the internet and technology in general: everyone has access to it and can therefore contribute content. I frequently see patients who — terrified after reading about someone who was bed bound with pelvic pain for five years — ask, “Will that happen to me?” The thing I remind my patients is that it is impossible to know who your new internet “friend” really is. The person writing could be a thirteen year old teen who thinks it is hilarious to post in forums for people with chronic pain. Why? We may never know. Just like Pokemon-Go’s popularity, some things may never make sense. Just like the person who posted that he cured himself with some wonder-herb and is living the pain-free dream. Maybe he did, and that is great, but that doesn’t mean he has a medical background or any knowledge about your unique history and symptoms. In other words, Basically why should internet user #10065 be trusted to give you advice? The internet is not the end-all, be-all of information. I mean, Dr. Google didn’t even go to medical school! However, you can find a lot of well researched information online. Please refer to Liz’s post on determining what articles are legitimate. Yes, the internet can create great communities as a way to form support groups of people who share similar experiences, but remember to, always take information with a grain of salt.
Now, if you think the present world of sex and tech is amazing, wait till you hear what the future holds. Love and sex with robots may be here sooner than we think. I wonder, will the legalization of robot marriage be a future debate topic? Will 3-D printed robot babies be the new norm? The ethical and philosophical questions that go along with a robotic romance are endless, and if I am brave enough, I may explore it in a later post (or while watching Westworld). Sex-bots may still be in the future, but this sweet virtual reality sex jumpsuit is currently available in — surprise — Japan! While these developments make me question what this means for the future of intimacy and relationships, virtual reality and robots may have a positive impact on controlling STD/STIs and unplanned pregnancies. Furthermore, this type of technology may let you discover your own wants and needs without the pressure of a (human) partner being present.
As a provider, I find the potential future impact of technology on sexual health both fascinating and at times frightening. Someday, will I be treating patients who can’t have sex with their robot husbands? Or will I be treating robots which have such advanced Artificial Intelligence that they have chronic pelvic pain and are unable to function as “human beings?” But what scares me is this: what if I already am?