The Big Turn On: SexTech Hits The Silver Screen

It was only a matter of time before SexTech left the bedrooms and the labs, taking its spotted hanky bindle a few towns over to the world of documentaries and television. It is multimedia marketing site The Drum that has taken the plunge and forged ahead with The Big Turn On; a revealing look at the future of sex and personal relationships that constitutes SexTech.

Director and producer Sam Scott left no stone unturned in The Big Turn On, speaking with SexTech stalwarts such as Cindy Gallop, Kiiroo, Hot Octopuss, Ashley Madison owner Noel Biderman and a host of other commentators, and delving quick and fast inside the industry. The consensus is unanimous: SexTech is here and ready to stay.

The Big Turn On chronicles the rapid evolution of SexTech and the veritable flood of ideas that have moulded the Class of 2015 into the sleek, inventive and razor sharp innovators they are. From the stunted but no less enjoyable of text-on-a-screen cybersex to the incredible science-fiction-if-it-wasn’t-actually-real technology that we can have in our hands and elsewhere today, it’s been quite a weird ride. An enjoyable one too. Sex and the adult biz have always been pioneers when it comes to the early adoption of the newest tech. The current cycle is no different either.

The premiere will be held at the Cannes Lions Festival on 24 June during The Drum’s Don’t be Shy of the Tech Revolution session at the Palais des Festivals. BaDoink spoke with Sam Scott, who returned from the Big Turn On experience with plenty of optimism, hope for the future and food for thought… and even one or two concerns about the blurred lines of sex and rigid, personal and private data.

What led you to create a documentary on SexTech? Did one particular moment prove to be the catalyst or was it the culmination of a number of different elements over time?

There was no single catalyst but there was a feeling of urgency; that now was the right time to take a look at SexTech. It was the combination of several areas of innovation. Recent advancements in teledildonics, household VR just around the corner, Oculus saying yes to adult content, ads appearing on Tinder and Happn this spring. And in a broader sense date/hook-up apps are firmly mainstream and embedded in youth culture.

What was it you learned about SexTech? Before you began the project did you have any preconceptions that were either enhanced or dispersed as the project went on?

I think I was ignorant of the implications for all of us. At first I was looking at things like teledildonics and VR porn from a sensationalist perspective, and that’s to be expected. But speaking to experts and innovators made me aware of how digital technologies have the potential to radically transform sexual experience, sexualities and relationship styles. The implications for wider culture and business probably shouldn’t be underestimated.

Proponents of SexTech are keen to highlight the fact that the field – and sexuality as a consequence – is opening up to women. Did you find there were more women in prominent positions in SexTech companies? If so, what do you feel is the knock on effect of this; A fairer view on sex and sexuality, perhaps?

I didn’t expect such a prominence of female voices and business leaders in SexTech but now it seems obvious. At the beginning of the film we mention that the pill (a medical technology) was partially responsible for the sexual revolution of the 60s. It allowed women spontaneous choice about when, where and with whom they wanted to have sex. More access to sex basically. It seems the same spirt of empowerment and equality is being invested into these digital technologies. Because they do what the pill did, they give women access better access to sexual variety. And the central point of the film is that access squares up to taboo and in many cases prevails. I think hook-up apps are best contemporary example of that. The gender issue is perhaps the most interesting point from a political/social point of view.

Critics of SexTech may argue that by allowing ourselves to carefully select partners via apps and machines, we may be eliminating the ‘random encounter’ element of our lives and interactions. Do you believe this to be the case? If so, is it actually a bad thing?

I think what really matters is choice. If you want to chat up a stranger in a bar and go back to theirs, there should be places you can do that. If you want to watch three athletic, tattooed, Chinese businessmen give each other foot jobs, there’s an app for that.

It’s important to acknowledge that the random encounter is a pop-culture ideal. When it comes to long term partnerships in most places around the world structure is built into romance. And I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think the way we choose partners is based purely on some kind of intangible attraction.

What’s next for SexTech?

When VR headsets go commercial next year I imagine there will be an influx of VR / 3D porn.

Is there a section/generation of society that can benefit most from SexTech?

People doing long distance, although I can’t see it being sustainable, personally. Maybe those who are sexually dissatisfied and need a way to explore without the associated risks of a real encounter. Those who are curious about X but want to be able to press the OFF button when they feel uncomfortable. The elderly or those with physical difficulties also.

Is there a danger that with the proliferation of SexTech – the growth of data use and so on – we may lose the humanity and the inherent organic nature of sex and relationships?

It depends what you mean by organic, but I’m concerned about people’s sex lives and sexual histories being recorded digitally. There are obvious ethical worries about revenge porn. Then there’s the possibility that people will become obsessed with measuring their sexual performance with apps like Spreadsheets, and that could distance them from the experience of sex itself and create misleading insecurities and ego-boosts. But on a more subtle level even Facebook keeps a rudimentary sexual history; what gender you identify with, who you’re into, your relationship status. That’s only going to become more detailed, so there’s a concern about a lack of privacy. Privacy that might be necessary for positive sexual development as a young person, and freedom moving forward. Every aspect of our lives leaves a digital trail now and sex is no exception.

How can SexTech fight against the more traditional/conservative elements of business and society?

By promoting open, honest conversation about sexual experience of all kinds and by continuing to give people what they want, which is better access to better sex. Ultimately consumer demand will prevail and companies will have to decide if they want in.

SexTech is – as The Big Turn On states – a revolution for the bedroom and the boardroom. But can it go beyond that?

I think it already has moved beyond that. Porn (if you can call that sex tech) and apps like Tinder have already made it into popular culture, music videos, etc. I think we’ll see that develop as SexTech becomes more and more sophisticated and commercially viable.

Check back with tomorrow for a full review of The Big Turn On.