The sex tech product category is still in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be the subject of lively discussion – which it is. Generally, it is a good sign if a new trend gets industry members talking talking, however, not all arguments that are swirling around in this discussion are positive. First and foremost, there’s the question of the target audience for sex tech: Is this category focussing too strongly on the male clientele.
It is true: The recent developments in the sex tech segment that have caught the public attention really seem to be catering predominantly to men, especially virtual reality porn and sex robots. But just because these are the elements that the media is paying the most attention to right now does not mean that this is all sex tech has to offer. For proof, just look at one of the most women-centric product categories in the market: vibrators. We are not going to discuss how useful or useless it is to be able to control a toy from halfway around the globe, nor will we debate whether or not we really need hundreds of vibration modes. Let’s just acknowledge that all these things exist in the market, and that these products are marketed to a female target audience. The same goes for a lot of teledildonics products, for instance vibrators that are coupled to a masturbator. So, it’s fair to say that women make up at least part of the intended audience for these products.
If you look at VR, the situation is a different one, admittedly. In this segment, most content is clearly catering to a male clientele. However, the same can be said about most types of pornography that people have consumed over course of the past decades. And that’s the thing: You can’t blame the technology if it is used to present clicheed male fantasies. At the same time, you can’t really blame the producers either. This is a new technology, creating VR content is expensive, and it is only logical to rely on content and consumers that have proven reliable in the past. Ultimately, VR is only a medium. The female audience may never amount to a large portion of the VR clientele, but it is all but guaranteed that will see more content that is designed for a wider audience as we move forward – an audience including women and couples.
We should also mention that there are many projects catering to the female side of sexuality apart from physical products. Apps and websites like OMGYes or Happy Play Time put the new media to good use and help women achieve a more fulfilling sex life.
Having various products catering to very different audiences is perfectly normal, especially in the adult industry. This diversity is its greatest strength. Yes, there are certain categories that appeal more to men, and those are the ones that get most of the media attention right now. But the impression that is created due to one-sided coverage should not be confused with the actual situation in the market. The reality is much more diverse and colourful, and it has much more to offer than just sex robots and VR porn.
There is no need for in-depth research to know that most everything marketed as sex tech nowadays is geared predominantly – if not exclusively – to a male audience. Men can be tempted more easily than women to spend money on erotic pleasures. Also, men respond more strongly to visual stimuli when it comes to sex and sensuality. Not to mention that men are more interested in new technologies, etc. This may sound like a bunch of generalisations or simplifications, but it still hits the nail on the head. The changes we have seen in the adult market these past years have resulted in a tectonic shift, the focus of the industry moving to another target group, namely women and couples.
The industry managed to get these groups interested in adult products, getting them to buy in modern brick and mortar and online stores. Compared to that, the new developments surrounding sex tech and its apparent focus on male consumers seem like a big step back.
Of course, it does not have to be a step back – it is a fact that men are still an important customer group, and the industry obviously needs to cater to that group. However, there is a possibility that much of the progress the industry has made these past years will be lost. Of course, you can’t turn back the wheel, the developments in the market cannot be undone, but even slight deviations from the course we’ve taken could have far-reaching consequences.
It may be that parts of the target audience of women and couples are put off by things such as sex robots or virtual reality pornography. They will still buy sexual wellness products, but maybe not in adult stores. One doesn’t have to think back too far to remember why women gave wide berth to adult stores of any kind in the 1990s. Sure, there may be a few people out there who miss those days, and yes, there are usually two sides to a coin, but there is no denying the fact that our market has become attractive to a much wider audience – and that our industry is better off for it. So what I am worried about is the image of the market should things such as VR pornography take centre stage.
Even now, it is the subject of a lot of talk, inside and outside the industry. At the moment, the focus is on the technological innovation and its possibilities, but it won’t be long before VR porn will face the same criticism that pornography has been faced with ever since people started creating this type of content. It is not my place to judge whether this criticism is justified or not. Our market has done great things in terms of education, fostering values such as sexual wellness, sexual health, and sexual self-determination, etc. and it played a major role in creating public acceptance of sexuality in all its forms. Will all this be watered down if pornography becomes the face of this industry in the mainstream media again? We will have to wait and see.
Just to be perfectly clear: I have no intention whatsoever of demonising certain products within this industry, especially if they keep the cash tills of the trade ringing. But people should be careful about how they present and position these products lest the whole thing turn into a boomerang.