The Strange Future of Cyber Sex Toys

E-sex toys are novel, but can they touch the real thing?


| January/February 2000



Years ago, I was a crash test dummy for sex toys. I'd field-test and review pleasure gadgets for books and zines. One of these toys was an Accu-Jack, a male masturbation device similar to Austin Powers' Swedish penis pump. I was sent a tarted-up pneumatic version and gave it the thumbs down it deserved—it sounded like a jackhammer and could suck the rivets out of the space shuttle. After that, I didn't see an Accu-Jack outside of the occasional campy porn flick, but I knew this classic gizmo was out there somewhere. Imagine my surprise when I found it reincarnated as a cutting-edge cybersex device.

This new rendering, with the charming moniker RoboSuck, is more Buck Rogers than Austin Powers—a battery-powered rubber air bladder nestled inside a sleek Lucite tube. The biggest difference, though, is that now you can share it with others by jacking it into the World Wide Web. You're not just having a private fantasy, you're having real cybersex. As in virtual presence. As in the-sex-toy-is-pumping-but-no-one-is-touching-it.

The technology is ingenious. A small window, the RoboSuck controller, pops up on your monitor. Your cyberpartner has a similar window open. By moving the mouse, your partner sends a signal to the window on your screen. A sensor on the RoboSuck that suction-cups to your monitor reads the data in the control window. Voila! The digital jack-off.

Known as cyberdildonics, this naughty new contender for killer online app comes to us courtesy of SafeSexPlus.com, a Web site that boasts the slogan the internet never felt so good. Part carny hustle and part genuine technosocial breakthrough, this site peddles an arsenal of Web-modified sex toys: vibrating rubber mouths and vaginas, anal toys, fantastically shaped vibrators. Developed by techies at Web-Power, the parent company that also operates adult Web sites, the gadgets cost about the same as those found in big-city sex shops. Combined with a $25 converter that reads the stroke data off your screen, they enable you to have real-time sex with anyone on the planet who also downloads the free software.

"Who would have thought that the computer mouse would become the most powerful sex toy ever invented?" asks Dominic Sardone, SafeSexPlus' senior vice president of marketing. Actually, lots of people. According to Howard Rheingold's 1991 book, Virtual Reality, the word dildonics goes back to 1974, when Ted Nelson, the inventor of hypertext, used it to describe a "device capable of converting sound into tactile sensations."

The hype, however, didn't begin until the early '90s, when virtual reality was going to Change Everything. Like every other shiny new technobauble, VR promised us mind-blowing sex. Sci-fi sex. But not even the ambitious folks at SafeSexPlus have cracked that barrier. Even when supplemented with those golf-ball cameras that allow lovers to watch each other, the RoboSuck experience is Bronze Age crude. There is something ghostly, even ridiculous, about today's cyberdildonic sex--a clumsy little machine, simple and repetitive, untouched by human hands.