Over the past two years or so, sextech veterans are increasingly being approached by various consultancy agencies. They appear in our LinkedIn inboxes unsolicited, slyly asking about our expertise, on behalf of a complex and anonymous network of competing investors.
At first, we were suspicious. It felt like a social engineering scam. Flatter us by asking us about our vast experience, get us to divulge our bank details in exchange for our knowledge, and disappear into the ether with our hard-earned dollars.
But it was real, and they paid well, and they were all asking the same question: What’s next in sex? At the risk of giving up a healthy second income by exposing my secrets, I have a ready answer. It’s one word long, and one atom thick. It’s graphene.
The sexualization of technology
There have been many revolutions in sexual technology – in fact, new technology is generally sexualized the moment it emerges. As soon as we had the ability to polish rock, we were carving faux phalluses from siltstone and using them for sexual pleasure. Archaeologists, out of civility, or embarrassment, euphemize the growing number of neolithic dildos as ‘ice age batons.’
The first photograph was produced in 1839. By 1841, people were already being prosecuted for obscenity. In 1895, the Lumière brothers’ short films premiered in Paris, which was considered the birth of cinema. The first adult movie, a bedroom striptease, premiered the very next year. Sex is why VHS beat the superior Betamax, and as early as 1995, erotic images accounted for 83.5% of traffic on the early internet.
Et cetera, et cetera. You get the point. As soon as any new technology surfaces, we quickly find a way to have sex with it.
The power of new material
There have been several technologies that caused fundamental shifts in the way sex tech products are designed, produced, and used. Aside from the obvious innovations, like electricity or microcircuits, the last real step forward was probably the introduction of silicone.
Silicone emerged as a viable material for sex toys in the late 70s, thanks to a collaboration between Gosnell Duncan, a man paralyzed in an accident and seeking a penile prosthesis, and a chemical engineer at General Electric. It resulted in a single product, The Venus, a simple silicone dildo.
It took a while for silicone to catch on, but when it did, it caught on everywhere all at once. It was around the year 2000. One day, there were almost no silicone sex toys, the next, they were ubiquitous.
It’s hard to track down the first non-medical sexual wellness brand to really get behind the material in the West, but many in the industry believe that it was Tantus who introduced the first platinum-cured silicone sex toys in 1997.
Silicone changed everything. Overnight, at least in the more reputable sectors of the sex tech industry, we suddenly had access to a resilient, body-safe, pleasurable material that had all the properties one would desire in one’s sexual technology. The moment silicone became commercially viable, the quality of the entire industry was raised, and our relationships with our bodies changed.
And if a material has the power to change things once, it can happen again. A new supermaterial, like graphene, could set to advance material science and technology in general, and sex tech in particular.
What exactly is graphene?
Technically, graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet, in which the atoms are arranged in an incredibly robust hexagonal lattice nanostructure. Think of pure graphene as a piece of plastic wrap, one atom thick, but 200 times stronger than steel.
It’s reported as the strongest material on the planet, and the most versatile. It’s generally produced as a powder and blended with other materials for an almost limitless amount of purposes. It was characterized and understood by 2004, and Andre Geim and Konstantin Novosolev of the University of Manchester were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 for their “ground-breaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.”
It is, truly, a super-material.
How could graphene change sex tech?
To understand the impact graphene might have on sex tech, it’s useful to break down its individual material properties and judge how they might be implemented.
Graphene’s resistance – its hardness for lack of a better metric – is similar to diamond resistance, but many, many times lighter. In 2018, Ford began making plastic for its vehicles that were just 0.5 percent graphene, and that tiny amount increased the plastic’s strength by 20%.
The first, biggest, and most obvious benefit of graphene to sex tech is in the production of condoms, and other barrier contraceptives. A graphene condom would be extremely resilient, and able to be so thin as to be virtually ethereal. The sensations of sex would be far more natural, which would surely encourage their use. (Multiple studies show that the primary objection to condoms is the lack of sensation.)
Work in this direction has been underway for some time. As early as 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offered $100,000 to scientists to work on the concept. In 2015, the sex tech brand LELO investigated the use of a latex-graphene composite in its HEX Condoms, but ultimately, graphene was prohibitively expensive.
But it’s likely going to be through condoms that graphene is introduced into sex tech. In general terms, graphene’s unique hardness and resistance would make all products designed for intimate purposes safer, by vastly reducing breakage and failure in use.
Not to mention, bacteria are unable to grow in graphene. The hygiene benefits of that sex tech should be obvious.
How could graphene change sex tech? More safe and hygienic usability.
Graphene can be extremely flexible, and soft. This would have applications anywhere there is a need for a physical object to interface with a human body. It would mean a revolution in sex toy design, allowing for a material that’s as “fleshy” as, say, the TPE used in a Fleshlight-like device, but with far superior strength and body safety.
Think of all the places where sex tech meets the body. The seal of VR goggles, the elasticity of a menstrual cup. Graphene would be a non-porous material that molds itself exactly to your own anatomy for a truly personalized interface.
Thinking more abstractly, carbon nanotubes – essentially a sheet of graphene rolled into a cylinder – might be useful for the development of synthetic muscle fibers, and elastic robotics. The snake-like robots created with this method are able to change their form with the application of an electrical current, and no other external forces. The sexual implications are… intriguing. And… tentacle-y.
How could graphene change sex tech? Adaptable, dexterous, and fluid forms of stimulation.
Every atom in graphene is exposed to its environment, allowing it to detect the minutest of changes in its surroundings. This might be deployed in motion detection, infinitely increasing the accuracy of virtual reality interactions. Harnessing that, it would potentially be possible to precisely recreate motions made in one location and transmit them in real-time to another, an evolution of the way partners are already having long-distance sex.
This might theoretically allow couples to have as-good-as-real sex, completely remotely, in separate digital spaces. If that sounds like speculative fiction, Researchers from Tsinghua University in China have already developed a wearable, bio-integrated device that can translate sign language into text and artificial speech. Really think about that.
Those same ultra-sensitive graphene sensors might also be used in the skin surfaces of a sex robot, allowing it to detect every touch with the same accuracy as our own bodies, and react accordingly.
This sensitivity has huge potential to be functionalized in highly creative ways. Smart implants, and either hydrophobicity or hydrophilicity: as a sensor, graphene is versatile and tuneable.
How could graphene change sex tech? Accurate feedback for long-distance sex.
Electricals & Energy Storage
Graphene batteries would charge five times faster than Li-ion batteries. Their lifespan would be far longer, and their capacity far higher. The implications of that for sex tech are profound – products would be more powerful, safer, and longer-lived. Again essential for creating a more sustainable industry.
But most interestingly, due to graphene’s flexibility and lightness, these batteries might not necessarily look anything like existing batteries. Wearable electronics would be possible in currently unimaginable ways – batteries printed onto fabric, for example. Imagine a powered bodysuit that you can wear under your clothes, through which a partner can discretely stimulate you remotely with subtle electrical impulses across your erogenous zones. The very clothes you’re wearing could become a sex toy.
How could graphene change sex tech? Electrically stimulated erogenous zones.
Graphene transistors would increase computer processing speed by a thousand times versus silicon transistors. Artificially intelligent sex tech would potentially be far more empathetic to its user’s desires, and interactions with it would be a thousand times more immersive than they currently are.
How could graphene change sex tech? Enhanced speed of response time.
Whoa… we’re not quite there yet
So is graphene the future? Well, unfortunately, it’s certainly not the present. A ton of graphene is currently anywhere between $60,000 and $100,000. That doesn’t sound so unreasonable, except the production of graphene is currently so time, energy, and resource intensive that only a few thousand tons are produced each year and, understandably, most of that goes to experimental and research purposes.
That’s changing as we speak. In 2020, a brand new production method called ‘flash graphene processing‘ uses both rubber and household waste to create usable graphene flakes. This astonishing material might not only initiate a whole new technological revolution, it might even clean the planet while it’s at it. All in a day’s work.
This much is sure: the graphene revolution’s coming, and it’s coming soon. The next time someone asks you, ‘what’s going to be the next big thing in sex tech?’
Well, you can tell them from me: it’s not VR, it’s not AI, it’s graphene.