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we investigate the future of sex

To celebrate the launch of The Institute of Sexology at the Wellcome Trust, i-D explores the development of technology enabling us to push boundaries in the bedroom, asking is it natural? And what does it mean for the future of sex?

by i-D Team
|
Nov 13 2014, 10:15am

Man in stockings. Anonymous photographer. Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

"The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform." - Alfred Kinsey

Launching at the Wellcome Gallery on 20th November, The Institute of Sexology is an exhibition investigating how research by the likes of Alfred Kinsey and Sigmund Freud has shaped our ever-changing attitudes towards sexual identity and behaviour. Exploring taboos, perversions and contested ideas of normality, the exhibition features rare archive material, erotica, film, art and photography from the 19th century to the present day, "Erotic antiquities provide a long view of extraordinarily diverse sexual behaviours, sex aids and imaginings of sex. Our attitudes about sex are in constant flux but it's interesting that as new technologies offer new possibilities for physical acts, the same questions about what is natural or not remain as contested as ever," says Honor Beddard, co-curator of The Institute of Sexology.We've come a long way since Kinsey conducted his questionnaires and gathered his research findings in the 1950s. Back then, even the topic of sex was taboo itself. However, we're now living in the age of technology, where the act of sex doesn't necessarily involve intercourse, or even humans, but instead holograms, artificial limbs and robots. These ideas may seem like they're from a galaxy far, far away but they're very, very real, and ready for you to take home for your pleasure. Sex acts that were considered impossible in Kinsey's time are now made possible to perform, but does this make it natural?

Cyberspace is alive and kicking with virtual prostitutes, BDSM dungeons and secret strip clubs hidden behind your computer screen. More than 8 million users are logging on to sites such as Red Light Centre - a virtual sex online community described as "a safe environment to explore your deepest sexual fantasies and desires," and who would want to live in the real world when you can live out all your darkest fantasies online? The importance of human touch is being left behind and replaced by machines as you enter a three-dimensional world from the comfort of your bedroom. This is what the Japanese sex company Tenga is providing - a promise to revolutionise pleasure for the modern man. All you need is a pair of virtual reality goggles and a cylindrical 'sex tube', and your own personal anime-style avatar is able to practise sexual acts and respond to your own actions in what looks something like a video game. How does an "intimate experience straight out of science fiction," sound to you? FriXion Angel is another online community enabling users to touch each other up, wherever they are in the world, with the use of haptic devices. Or there's LovePalz, the his and her toys that work in a similar way to Cute-Circuit's more innocent Hug T-Shirt, connecting to the computer and digitally sending every rub, push and squeeze to your partner at that exact moment in time - perfect for long distance relationships. What if, instead of using robots to stimulate ourselves, we became the cyborgs? Dr. Stuart Meloy invented the Orgasmatron, a micro-chip that connects to a woman's spinal cord and sends pleasure signals to the brain to prompt orgasms - with the simple push of a button. Of course, the name itself is slightly scary, there's nothing sexy about 'Orgasmatron' which was taken from Woody Allen's 1973 film Sleeper.

Plakat dla Institute for Sex Research - Participants Needed. Uprzejmości The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

Who's to say robot-assisted virtual sex won't be all the rage in the near future? It's already big in Japan, where men can actually take their avatar girlfriends on holiday with LovePlus+, the dating simulation game. Whether you're buying it or not, there's no denying that with one of the most technologically advanced countries jumping on board, it's not absurd to believe that we will follow in their futuristic footsteps sooner than you think. How 'unnatural' is the idea of having an avatar girlfriend anyway? In Spike Jonze's 2013 film Her, Jaoquin Phoenix fell truly, madly, deeply for an operating system, where no visuals were even required and virtual love became a reality. We're already a society who are constantly on our phones, double-tapping, poking and swiping to the right. We're on our way to a future where science is bringing your dark, twisted fantasies to life, where any fetish can be catered for by technology. But before we go falling head over heels for hand held devices, think of the impact sex-tech is having on Japan. We already know that young people in Japan are having a libido crisis, with a decline in 16-24 year olds who want to have sex… The future doesn't look romantic.

The idea of having sex with CGI anime characters or robots seems unnatural and taboo, but in the same way we have with everything else, perhaps we should open our minds and see what technology has to offer the sex industry. Do masturbation machines and avatar girlfriends only seem unnatural because it's something we're not used to? Beddard argues, "However liberal or open minded we might think we are, preconceived ideas about sex and sexuality are rooted within us, shaped by the cultures we live in. The sexologists in our exhibition opened up different ways of talking about sex, often in the face of fierce cultural resistance. The conversations they started are still very much alive today and there's nothing to suggest that our relationship to sex is getting any less complicated." It can be hard to embrace strange new ideas, especially those that are considered abnormal by society. Despite technology developing at the speed of light, sex with robots still seems like something only a science-loving nerd would have a wet dream over.

There is no doubt about it, technology is changing the way we have sex. The most natural human act is being taken to a whole new surreal level - one dreamt up by inventers and scientists who are paving way for a future of pleasure and hedonism, with no real distinction between virtual reality and reality. Taboos are constantly being lifted and we're now the most open-minded we've ever been towards sexual attitudes and behaviours. Who's to say what's natural and unnatural anyway? Once upon a time, our society perceived many sexual acts as 'unnatural' but once the idea of what's normal is contested, it opens up a whole new world to explore. If the studies of sexologists and psychologists could change the views of our more conservative ancestors back in the 50s then surely it can happen again in the 21st century. Who knows what the future of sex is? We'll just have to wait and see whether it's one full of robots, avatar girlfriends and virtual sex adventures.

Representing the last stage of mental and bodily... Wellcome Library, London

wellcomecollection.org

Credits


Text Billie Brand
Image courtesy of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and The Wellcome Collection

Tagged:
Sex
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Wellcome Collection
Alfred Kinsey
institute of sexology