The near-future romance film Her, written and directed by Spike Jonze, is critically acclaimed and Academy Award nominated. The film follows Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix—a lonely, introverted man who falls in love with an intelligent computer operating system with a female voice and personality. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Theodore has an intimate encounter with the operating system, named Samantha, in which he edges her to arousal by describing what he would do to her if she was actually with him in physical form.
While fornication with an operating system may seem characteristic of a science fiction dystopia, many sexual technology products in the same vein are starting to appear.
A dating simulation game for the Nintendo DS console called Love Plus has been turning heads. The game allows for players to caress another’s hair using a touch pad, or go on date, rife with flirtations. Just like Samantha, the personas of the game characters are modified in real time based on the likes and dislikes of the players. The game has only been released in Japan, and is highly popular amongst otaku (‘otaku’ is Japanese slang for those with obsessive interests).
Devices for direct sexual pleasure are also on the market. RealTouch, a USB-connected sex toy, has been developed in order to provide “interactive sex” with another person over the internet. Developed by a NASA engineer, the product comes in two parts: one modelled after a man’s lower anatomy, and another modelled after a woman’s. The device works by capturing sex sensations using technology similar to a touch screen, and then transmitting it digitally to the other. These sensations include heat, lubrication, tightness, and the partner’s motion.
In a report entitled “The Future of Relationships,” published by the Museum of Sex, partnered with a trend-forecasting firm in New York, a case is made that advances in video game and other intelligence interactivity will allow for people to develop real relationships with their software.
Some of the trends that the report outlines are “long-distance foreplay,” which allows for sexual activity without the presence of a partner, “relationship forensics,” which can analyze your sexual history and provide feedback, and “teledildonics,” which are sex toys operated by computers, such as the RealTouch.
We may not be at the point of making personality adapting operating systems just yet, but one cannot say that technology is not shifting the sexual landscape. Even popular person-to-person apps such as Tinder and Grindr are changing how we interact with one another sexually. One thing we can all agree on is that the act itself has not changed. At least, not yet.