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Sex Drive: How to Keep the Fireworks Going From Afar

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Old 07-04-2008
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Sex Drive: How to Keep the Fireworks Going From Afar
Many long-distance lovers have become experts in how tech can augment sexuality.
No commuter couple should go without Skype, Twitter and mobile phones, while sex toys can take the repetitive stress injury out of a long-distance affair.
But it's not much of a stretch to think that there's a bigger need (read: market) for "tele-amore" devices than there ever will be for tele*****nics (online sex toys controlled by a lover from anywhere in the world). And yet we don't have a lot of options when we're looking for devices designed to arouse our emotions.
Not everyone is comfortable enough with both sex and computers to get internet-enabled vibrators working, but we all want to interact with our partners in special ways. Despite the frenzy around social media applications, we still don't have sensual devices that extend that functionality beyond virtual space.
All it would take is something like the Ambient Orb hooked up to a desktop dot to get my heart racing.
Joseph Kaye, a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University studying human-computer interaction, developed the Virtual Intimate Object, or VIO, to study the effect of low-bandwidth applications on long-distance intimacy.
The VIO is a dot that sits in your system tray (Windows) or desktop (Mac) and monitors an identical dot on your partner's computer. When your partner clicks his or her dot, yours fills with color; as time goes by without a click, the color slowly fades until the circle is just an outline.
In Kaye's 2004 study (.pdf), five long-distance couples kept journals of how often they clicked the VIO and how using it made them feel. He notes that while he originally thought of the VIO as the source of intimacy, he realized that the journals quickly became an integral part of the experience for the couples.
Just as dancing leads to necking which leads to spanking and then to the oral sex, what was enough on day one was merely adequate by day five of the study.
By week's end, participants had several suggestions for additional functionality: a choice of colors, the option to play a sound, and the ability to replace the circle with their own set of graphics. They had become emotionally engaged not just with their partners, but with the application.
If you can get all that from a 2-D dot, think what you could do with an object you can touch.
Unfortunately, the closest thing I can find to that type of technology for consumers is the Nabaztag rabbit, a wireless device that connects with other Nabaztag rabbits over the internet. From a strictly romantic standpoint, they one-up the Chumby and the Tux Droid in that the rabbits can "marry" each other, so that when one partner moves their rabbit's ears, the paired rabbit's ears move the same way.
Chat acronyms, make way for the semaphore signs of love.
The Nabaztags are excruciatingly cute. I've wanted a set for years, but they weren't specifically designed for suitors. (Nor are they the seamless technical experience they claim to be, apparently: The Nabaztalk user forums provide a sobering counterpoint to the Nabaztags' slick product marketing.)
The human-computer interaction folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seem to understand the connection between technology and emotion, but their clever projects -- like the Lover's Cups that light up when a far-away partner takes a sip or the Mutsugoto interactive art bed -- have yet to break free of academia and museums.
Gadgets like tele*****nics and sex machines that stimulate the body but shouldn't be used at work or in public only go so far. Sex tech doesn't have to be explicit to be effective: If you and your distant partner have been together long enough, you realize that tech that fosters intimacy, playfulness and common experiences has a much greater impact on the quality of your union than just having orgasms now and then.
I want to glance at the shelf and see an object glowing warmly because someone special sent me a message. I want to let someone know I'm thinking about him, simply by stroking my fingers over a smooth surface.
I know I'm not the only one who wants to interact through something sensual and swoopy and erotic that has no connection to business, chores or taxes.
I want my ambient intimacy object. Are you listening, developers? There's a mountain of money to be made keeping long-distance lovers connected in our increasingly complicated world.
See you in a fortnight,
Regina Lynn
- - -
Regina Lynn is the author of Sexier Sex: Lessons From the Brave New Sexual Frontier. She blogs at reginalynn.com.


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