Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sex and Technology - Sunshine and Shadow

by Lisabet Sarai

Cyber-sex. Robotic fuck-toys. Bionic sexual augmentation. Full-immersion virtual reality.

I suspect that these are the sort of notions that first come to mind when someone brings up the topic “Sex and Technology”. These notions are not new, but they continue to be compelling. William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neil Stephenson have left their marks on our psyche. The real world is just beginning to catch up.

I’m more interested in, and concerned about, the impact of biotechnology on the sex of the future. Of course, biological innovations have already had a massive effect on the nature of sex and its relationship to society. “The Pill” dramatically altered the sexual landscape for women, giving them the kind of freedom men had enjoyed for centuries. Sexual reassignment surgery allows individuals to remedy what they see as nature’s errors, which trap them in the body of the wrong gender. Viagra may be the stuff of jokes and an endless generator of spam, but it’s a genuine boon for many men – and couples.

Scientists are learning more every day about the brain and its functions. The mechanisms of pleasure are well on their way to being mapped. The brain centers for appetite and addiction have been identified. Just a few days ago, I read about some recently-discovered molecule that can selectively erase memories. Anyone who has seen the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” can’t help but wonder at the implications.

I’ve said it so many times before that my readers are undoubtedly bored, but I remain convinced: arousal begins in the mind. Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac. So what will happen when we know enough about the mind to manipulate not just the physical aspects of desire, but also the psychological? Will we experience ever more explosive orgasms? Will we be able to save marriages by artificially inducing mutual attraction? Will fantasies and fetishes become obsolete when a pill can awaken lust on demand? What will happen to flirtation? To innuendo? To all the social complexities that we’ve erected around sexual thoughts and feelings?

What will happen to erotic writing, when the webs of titillation and tension we authors weave so laboriously are replaced by instant arousal?

Then, of course, there is the darker side. In this future that is rapidly approaching, desire may not be an individual choice. Even today, there is talk of castrating sexual offenders in order to blunt their desire and, arguably, reduce the danger they pose to society. How much more effective to simply change their brain function so that they are unable to become aroused.

Perhaps such interventions might not be limited to criminals. We all know that there are forces, powers, who believe that any non-procreational sex is evil, and who would love to enforce that belief on the those of us who disagree. Put the technologies that will undoubtedly grow from today’s explorations in neuroscience into their hands, and desire might disappear altogether.

That’s the premise of “The Antidote”, an erotic story I penned recently in a bout of darkness triggered by writing one too many happy endings. I’ve put it on my website for Grip readers to ponder, if you dare. Warning – this is not romance. It’s hard-core, graphic, sci-fi erotica. It is also a cautionary tale about sex and technology that may be well worth considering.

I’m a sexual Luddite, I guess. I can see the appeal of cyber-sex, using words to stir your partner’s imagination. Hey, that’s what I do all the time, as a writer. But I’m not really interested in fancy sex toys that vibrate in tune with my iPod. Actually I don’t even have an iPod. I don’t want a perfect fuck-toy of either gender; I’d rather have a real, flawed man or woman in my bed, warts and all. I’m all for a relaxing glass of wine but I don’t want a drug that will artificially turn me on. I’m a sentimental traditionalist when it comes to sex. To be honest, I worry a lot about what technology will do to the glory of genuine desire in the not so distant future.


  1. Hi Lisabet,

    Wonderfully crafted response to this topic!

    You wrote:
    "What will happen to erotic writing, when the webs of titillation and tension we authors weave so laboriously are replaced by instant arousal?"

    I think we're safe, and here's why: there are already much quicker ways to get aroused than by reading erotica - more immersive, more concrete ways to get you off. One of the elements of good erotica is that it takes its time - it rarely dumps you into the deep end of a fuck scene in the first paragraph (and if it does, it's usually not a part of the story written to arouse but to set a sequence going). And affords the reader time to come to a state of arousal slowly and in some sort of context that takes the arousal beyond the purely libidinal.

    Always a pleasure to read your posts. You make me think. And THAT is sexy.

  2. The ramifications of technology go beyond sex for procreation only to total thought control by the dominant political or religiousphilosophy of the time. No one will have the desire to disagree with the powers that be. Perhaps humans can be made to believe they have died and gone to heaven or are in a state of eternal torment.

    I remember a movie about a device that when shined in someone's eyes would induce them to buy a certain product or to vote for a certain candidate and to lose negative memories. The only actor I remember is Susan Dey. We have that technology now. It is called television.

    Thank you for bringing the dark side of technology to our attention where it needs to be.


  3. It will certainly be interesting to see where sexual technology might lead.

    I guess it will be like most technologies - neutral. Only good or evil depending upon who is in control of it.

    Kim Dare.

  4. A really heavy topic for early Sunday morning. I need more caffeine. Interesting post, Lisabet!


  5. Hi Lisabet,

    I've been looking forward to this topic. I loved your story by the way. Progress in both the medical field and technology are dragging us humans into a future we're really not prepared for in so many ways. I figure the next 25 years are going to be outrageous and amazing. You showed one possibility with your story.

    Great stuff


  6. Hi Lisabet!

    Oh you just know - this subject is dear to my little heart.

    I was actually thinking of your story "Chemistry" when I was reading your post. Human beings have associated technology with sexuality since the beginning of time, including chemistry - aphrodisiacs. Chemistry is fundamental to the evolution and sexual activity of almost all organisms in nature. Why stop there?

    You mentioned about scientists studying the brain and its functions. So much of what is associated with love and spirituality appears to have neurochemical origins. This idea kind of worries me. But what we see as reality or love is so fluid anyway.

    The point you mention about the Pill is very significant. A generation of women have grown up with the pill so that its second nature, but when it arrived it changed society profoundly. This is an instance of technology colliding with relationships and actually changing the dynamics of them. I think artificial intelligence will do that in the future also and may seriously redefine what we think of as human.


  7. Ah, thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments.

    I view thinking as sexy, too.

    Sorry to be heavy on a Sunday morning, Jamie.

    Garce, you're right about chemistry and aphrodisiacs, of course. But up until recently, the chemical inducement of desire was inefficient and imprecise. Technology will make the manipulation of emotion so much easier - I find that very frightening.

    The weird thing is, I definitely still believe in some notion of the mind or the soul, despite what the scientists discover about brain stimulation or neurotransmitters. And that when that "natural" mind is suppressed, all hell breaks loose (as in my story).

    Like I said. Luddite.

    Thanks to all,

  8. I'm not against chemical or AI incentives. I'm against disinsentives.


  9. Good point, Ray!

    People should be free to choose their own sexual paths. Some people would be scandalized by mine. Others would find it terribly ho-hum.



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