Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen live events cancelled all over the world, with organizations and companies across various industries scrambling to arrange online replacements, or simply having to cancel.
Many sextech events have successfully adapted, even strengthening communities or customer bases, despite a few “You’re still on mute…” moments.
With vaccine roll-outs offering a path out of lockdowns in the near future, organizers are planning their first post-pandemic events, incorporating the lessons learned from purely online meetups.
The international Love and Sex With Robots Conference, attended by academics interested in intimacy with robots, became a Zoom event in December 2020 following four years of taking place ‘in person’. Having previously taken place in Madeira, London and Brussels, and normally attended by fewer than 100 people, moving online only helped the event become a more international affair.
David Levy, the event’s founder and author of the book Love and Sex With Robots, says that academics from regions including Europe, America, Australia, Japan and China logged on. With the presentations mainly being in the form of lectures, not much was lost in the format shift.
“All you really need is video, PowerPoints and the lecturer talking, and that’s relatively straightforward to convert,” says Levy. “But for some other events, when you’re dealing with things like robots and physical entities, you would want to be able to see and feel and touch. Physical elements are still going to be important.
But people can see images of robots. The main point of our event is an exchange of knowledge and latest developments from latest ideas.”
Levy’s 2020 event was such a success that he is ploughing ahead with the sixth conference, also purely online, set for August 2021. Speakers include Justin Garcia, executive director of the Kinsey Institute, and Lara Karaian, associate professor at Carleton University’s Institute of Criminology and Criminal justice.
Levy says that for he expects the 2022 conference to be a hybrid online/offline event. It’s a prediction echoed by many other event organizers in the sextech field when we asked about their own events.
Sx Tech, a retail-focused annual bash, switched from a Berlin-based physical event to a fully online meet-up in November 2020, with the decision to change the format made with just weeks to spare. Before Covid-19 the ticketed event drew around 450 in-person attendees; around twice that attended the 2020 version online, once ticket fees were scrapped.
Event founder Ola Miedzynska says that the move allowed the event deeper penetration into the US market, which accounted for 60 percent of attendees. Speakers included Paulita Pappel, co-founder of Lustery.com [NSFW], and dominatrix Tischa ‘The Tigress’ Thomas.
Miedzynska says that the success of online events such as these largely depends on them still feeling ‘of the moment’ and interactive. Elements such as audience quizzes helped support this aspect at the Sx Tech event.
“It wasn’t just pre-recorded content. People could ask questions, talk to the speaker… that this is super critical,” she says. “It’s crucial to do that. It would be very, very hard to convince anybody just to sit for seven hours to watch a pre-recorded stream.”
Like Levy, Miedzynska is expecting online/offline hybrid events to become the norm in the sex tech field post-Covid. She has announced that Sx Tech 2021 will take place on November 26, and will be a hybrid bash.
Miedzynska admits that the 2020 Sx Tech event was a hastily-organized online compromise, but the pandemic has provided a sextech landscape that has benefited some event organisers more overtly.
In May 2020, the first Women of Sex Tech (WOST) conference took place online, attracting hundreds of viewers from around the world. Sx Noir, one of the organisers of the non-profit sex tech entrepreneur network, says that if it wasn’t for Covid-19 the event wouldn’t have taken place in any form, as it was hatched as a method of uniting its largely lockdown-bound community.
The event featured speakers such as sexuality counsellor Maetha Tara Lee and Bryony Cole, founder of Future Of Sex. Despite it being hailed as a success, it highlighted problems sextech organizations face when moving online. YouTube briefly banned WOST from the platform during a feed test, due to automated moderation controls blocking them.
“When you’re navigating anything in the sex industry and you want to do anything online there’s no guarantee that it’s going to go smoothly,” Sx Noir told SEXTECHGUIDE. “You could get kicked off at the last minute or someone could come in and be harassing. You have to be really cautious. Some tech companies are better geared up than others for hosting sex-related content.”
The online conference helped WOST, which began life as an events board, deal with complaints from members that they were too New York-centric. “People were very happy to have this virtual way to connect,” Sx Noir says. “We had attendees from all over the world. From India, from Australia…”
Sx Noir expects future WOST conferences to be hybrid online-offline events. Looking to 2022 and beyond, there are some lofty dreams.
“I’m a big simulation theory fan,” she says, adding that she could see a future with WOST speakers having online avatars that attendees could interact with, or adopt the perspective of.
“An avatar [could represent an] activist, and she’s doing this or that, and they’re [attendees] going to follow the conference from their perspective. And then on the other side we could have, say, an investor’s avatar,” Noir explained.
Plans such as these might not have escaped the heads of event organizers such as Sx Noir quiet yet, but with hunger for real-life meetups stoked by social isolation, and online adaptability embraced like never before during the pandemic, many future sextech events will attempt to harness the best of both worlds simultaneously.