How tech is taking over your orgasm

A new type of wearable, such as a smart vibrator, could forever change sexy time.

Robert Doornbos (right) and Maurice Op de Beek help lead Kiiroo, which makes Internet-connected sex toys.

Max Taves/CNET

Robert Doornbos and I are sharing a moment.

Standing about a foot away, the tall, bald and unabashed Dutchman strokes a lily-white rubber dildo that, via the magic of the Internet and a smartphone, syncs up with a "fleshlight." Never heard of it? Think of a hollow flashlight lined with silicone that feels like a ... well, you know.

When Doornbos grips the dildo, the fleshlight tightens. When he rubs it, the insides move.

A former professional race car driver, Doornbos is co-founder of Amsterdam-based Kiiroo. The company spent the last two years figuring out how to use the latest computer technology to simulate human touch without having someone else actually there.

"We added the third dimension of touch to the Internet," he tells me from the show floor of the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, where I'm spending the week trying to understand how technology is changing our sex lives.

Doornbos' company is part of that changing landscape. His devices don't just interact with each other, they can also synchronize with porn videos to give people a sense of participating in the action.

The dildo, dubbed the Pearl, costs $149. Its counterpart for men, the Onyx, goes for $249. Purchased together, they're $360. The company sells them directly and they're even available on Amazon. (If you'd like to see what they look like, Kiiroo's website has plenty of photos.)

Adult entertainment may sell itself as a fantasy, but the next frontier is about bringing it into the real world. Until now, that's meant sex toys designed with traits of popular porn actors, like a dildo made from the mold of your favorite fantasy man.

Along with porn companies' recent embrace of virtual reality, we're on the verge of simulation itself: bringing the action to you, either through devices like Kiiroo's or others like Realov's Irena I, which bills itself as a smart vibrator. Touch a smartphone running a special app, and the vibrator responds from anywhere in the world.


The technology is called haptic communication, and it springs from Silicon Valley's decades-long efforts to teach computers to sense human touch. Video game companies have been giving players a sense of movement via vibrating controllers since the 1970s. But thanks to the mass production of smartphones and tablets from Apple, LG and Samsung, haptic technology has become cheap, ubiquitous and accurate.

Now the adult entertainment industry is getting in on the action, and it could become big business. Adult stores rake in $1.4 billion in sales each year, according to market research firm IBIS World. And sales of sex toys are growing, in contrast to video sales, which are expected to remain stagnant over the next few years.

Movies like "Fifty Shades of Grey" and popular TV shows like "Sex and the City" have helped bring adult toys into the mainstream. Even drug stores like Walgreens sell vibrators now.

The next step is coming from porn studios, which are already beginning to sync up videos to work with smart sex toys.

The benefits don't need to be reserved for fantasy, though. Jamy Lomento, consultant at New Jersey-based online adult shop My Personal Pleasure, said devices can also help couples in long-distance relationships.

"It keeps people connected, keeps relationships strong," she says. "I applaud it."

Another area where these toys have potential is the webcam business. Think digital strip clubs where performers satisfy paying customers' requests over a live stream.

Jonathan Buckheit, CEO of Friendfinder Networks, says his company's webcam site has just begun working with sex toys. Soon, these toys will become part of his dating site too, allowing partners to have sex without actually meeting.

Joe Walla, senior sales manager at National Video Supply, a Los Angeles-based wholesaler for sex toys, says business is booming, in part because of the new Internet-connected devices.

Still, speaking from his booth where he had more than a few toys on display, Walla takes the long view on the new tech.

"Nothing is going to replace a penis at the end of the day," he says. "We get some of these products that are just wild, but the penis will still be the product that everyone wants."

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