Despite the likelihood that many more of us prefer sex to, say, drones, stigma around sex-related projects in the DIY hacking and ‘maker’ communities means you’re more likely to see people showing off their modified drones than sex toys.
This is according to sex toy hacker Bawdy Blueprints, who creates open source sextech hardware in pursuit of pushing the boundaries of sex and wellness tech innovation.
Blueprints tells SEXTECHGUIDE that a “home-brew sex toy” will be less shouted about than non-sexual products due to the stigma that still exists in the DIY space, which runs contrary to the impression that it’s a wholly inclusive and open community.
While attitudes are slowly changing in some parts of the world, stigma around building products for sexual pleasure is nothing new. In mainstream sextech, business are repeatedly subject to censorship on social media platforms, along with barriers to investment due to this stigma. While it’s hard enough trying to convince a big investor to side with sex, much of the hostility also comes from payment platforms, as ‘big tech’ repeatedly turns its back on adult content creators.
But in DIY hacking spaces, often lauded for their forward-looking attitude to creating products well ahead of their time, there’s still some resistance.
Queer engineer Space Buck comments that, while DIY sextech hacking can be very simple and “beginner-friendly”, many makers don’t want to advertise their adult projects as much as their “family-friendly projects”.
He adds that it’s actually not that surprising, as even though the maker community is built on the “principles of inclusivity, openness, and a passion for teaching,” as it is also a welcomed space for young children, in some cases.
And of course, in some countries, it’s not just stigma – speaking up on some sexual issues can land you in legal trouble. In China, LGBTQ+ and feminist activists are regularly jailed, let alone those involved adult and sexual content. This isn’t helped by the country’s crackdown on porn.
A ‘closer-knit’ community
Nevertheless, the DIY sextech scene is one that’s growing rapidly. Bawdy told SEXTECHGUIDE that he is seeing a lot of people, who were previously tinkering on their own, beginning to find each other online.
While in the past couple of years various sextech hackathons have taken place around the world, in London, Berlin and Australia, this (pandemic) year has meant such events, as the LGBTQ+ HackOut and SxTech Eu, have headed online-only.
Alice Stewart, founder of DIY sextech community Touchy Feely Tech, says that this growth in interest is mostly occurring in much “closer-knit communities” where adult makers feel safe surrounded by similarly-minded people.
Safe spaces within tech hacking are important to foster true creative freedom and innovation, as Stewart says the internet can be a “really unaccepting place” with a lot of shameful attitudes around sextech. “The priority is protecting yourself,” she adds.
It is, however, this intimate and almost vulnerable nature of working within sextech that is one of the main reasons she loves the DIY scene so much.
“It suggests that people are genuinely involved for the love of it, rather than to try and impress a wider audience,” Stewart told SEXTECHGUIDE.
Why would anyone want to hack a sex toy?
Sextech hacking can have many functions, such as adding features and optimizing a sex toy to suit your needs, as well as learning a new skill.
Quite aside from the technical point of view, Stewart makes a convincing argument that engaging with the making process also has a deeper, more empowering meaning.
“It opens up a space to have really important and transformative conversations,” she says, adding that “you can have conversations about sex, pleasure, ownership, consent, the body, the mind, and endless other surprising things that might come up.”
While, of course, you can reap the pleasurably empowering benefits of using an “un-hacked sex toy”, Stewart adds that there is something to say about the combination of the physical, visceral and cerebral pleasures that come out of understanding how and why it works in the way that it does.
Overcoming stigma is an important mission for the sextech industry; inherently part of its existence. Creating and innovating sex-positive products doesn’t just enhance our intimate sex lives, but in turn dismantles societal shame around sex. Hopefully.