When I first started introducing myself as an artist involved in sex tech, the most frequent response was confusion. I started making music with my own orgasm wave patterns a little over a year ago as a way to de-stigmatize masturbation, pleasure, women’s health and so many things in-between. Using Lioness’ bluetooth vibrator I could extract my own orgasm wave forms and input them into my own wavetable oscillator to make sounds. Ever since I’ve been putting out music with orgasm bass lines, synth riffs and melodies with the hope of creating space to have conversations that didn’t exist within my public school’s non existent sex ed program. Being from a traditional suburb I was met with a myriad of opinions. Some of disgust, some thinking it was really cool, but most confused about how my mission as an artist was feasible. I was told about how these advancements in tech would hurt human connection, how they would force us to become more isolated, how the ability to get the job done on our own would result in no desire to add others to the equation: how could music made with a vibrator do anything to help real people talk to each other about sex?
Advancements in tech have always been met with backlash. The same way we’ve been told cell phones killed dating is what was said of cars ruining the chivalry of having to ring the doorbell. What we blame sex toys for today is what we’ll blame another invention for years later. I was 13 during Tumblr’s prime. In 7th grade I felt more seen by strangers on the web than most of my family, friends, teammates, etc. (as did most 13 year old girls in 2010). For me personally, the claim that the internet, or any advancements in tech for that matter, diluted relationships has always been a cop out. Besides being told that the concept itself of making music from orgasms to promote sex positivity doesn’t make sense, the response I’ve gotten from mostly crusty white dudes at record labels has been that it’s too many contradicting identities: you can’t be an “artist”, an “activist” and a “woman in tech” all at once – it’s too much of a cluster fuck.
The time has never been worse for femme creators to gain visbility. Words pertaining to female bodied genitalia are getting flagged, trans bodies are being deemed “against community guidelines”, tumblr banned porn, sex tech companies are unable to run promotions on facebook all while erectile disfunction ads cover the subways. Male artists are posting videos glamorizing rape, songs about dicks face zero flack for “obscenity” and birth control for men has yet to be approved because of potential “mood swings”. Yet the need to combat these issues, both within the communities that feel the importance and within those that do not, has collectively mustered up a big enough fuck you to do it anyways. Whether it be through CGI, animation, tech initiatives, fitbit vibrators, IGTV interviews, podcasts or newsletters, there are so many people on the internet fighting to make space for too many overdue conversations.
They are artists, they are activists, they are womxn in tech. They are prevailing despite every systemic obstacle put in place to make it impossible to do so.
These experiments in the hyper real parameters of the internet not only create existential safe havens but also force us to confront tangible realities, as ugly as they may be.
Salty, a 100% independently run newsletter highlighting the voices of women, trans and non binary folk, got their account removed by Instagram last year after outing a well known male artist as an abuser. Salty gave victims a space to tell their stories, express their outrage and garner media attention that was being ignored at larger publications. Despite losing access to their account, having multiple editorial covers flagged, content removed and fighting to fund itself entirely by its community, Salty has over 1500 loyal monthly subscribers. Salty’s created a platform to tell stories about things so many experience but so few spaces allow. Alison Falk, founder of Women in Technology Pittsburg and community manager of Women of Sex Tech, uses her background as a software developer to combat tech gentrification and lack of inclusivity. She started Sex Tech Space, a newsletter highlighting womxn in sex tech as well as information from experts about advancements in tech that should be accessible and distributed to the masses but isn’t (ie. Deep fake, removing digital footprints etc.).
Trashy Muse, the collective behind the world’s first virtual avatar fashion show, is changing the way we practice sustainability in fashion and design. Sarah Nicole Francis is not only making some of the craziest CGI art on the internet (including work for Brooke Candy, Rico Nasty, Solange, Boiler Room, Pornhub etc.) but is also the designer of 000sportswear, a gender fluid ready to wear clothing line. Carol Civre, Shani Banerjee, Ines Alpha, Guisy Amoroso, Nathalie Nguyen, @exotic.cancer, @3rd_eyechakra, @stifflog and SO many more are deliberately overlooking the limitations of the physical world to bring seemingly non existent realities to life. Not only are all of those contradicting identities achievable, but they’re already abundant. These communities of programmers, innovators, CGI artists, animators etc. all push the boundaries of perceived constraints.
Their work challenges the ways we contextualize gender, sexuality, physicality, etc. by experimenting in hyper real environments – all rewriting the rules of the internet by directly going up against the current rules themselves.
Similarly to how I felt as a 13 year old Halsey stan with purple hair and too many I <3 Boobies Hot Topic bracelets, for most of my adult life I’ve felt more myself in spaces on the internet than spaces IRL. Dissimilarly to the points made about how these indulgences would ruin my real life relationships and social skills, my interactions with peers, partners etc. have only grown deeper, more communicative, and honest due to being a part of these internet communities. It’s changed the way I vocalize what I want with partners. Vibrators have not only made me feel self sufficient, but also completely elevated what’s possible with a partner. Bringing vibrators and sex toys into the conversation have forced male partners to swallow their ego and understand that the way each body feels pleasure is different, and therefore having to adapt/attune isn’t a knock to one’s ability/performance.
Sharing podcasts/newsletters with friends has changed the way we talk to each other about sex, whether it be while confiding, asking for advice, sharing experiences or combatting how to talk about our queer identities within mostly straight peer groups. Having internet pen pals has tested my ability to be empathetic when interactions are safe guarded by a screen. It’s changed my standards for relationships IRL, sexually and platonically. It’s changed the way I view my body, my boundaries and my fluidity. Having more access to learning about coding has changed my confidence in conversations about tech. Being apart of communities where womxn are the experts has changed my awareness of my own abilities in music production. Before I would rarely speak up in rooms full of dude beat makers, now I lead the info sessions. All due to the artists/activists/visionaries who manipulate abstract physicalities, genders and sexualities to change the standard for representation.
In a reality where everything is categorized into binaries, the art tech communities on the internet make space for all that exists in between – highlighting the gray areas and creating characters, collectives, products etc. to live and thrive within them.
Corporate brands will and have already begun to catch on. From Instagram filters to sell charcoal toothpaste to Lil Miquela’s CGI queer baiting, we’re taught to stay fearful of the things we don’t understand until enough validation is given to those things for corporate entities to deem them fiscally valuable (and therefore most likely problematically execute).
How can music made with orgasms do anything to help real people talk about sex? How can hyper real displays of sexuality do anything to combat stigmas about bodies? How can more women in tech promote inclusivity in corporate spaces? How can more femme artists learning how to code destroy the illusion of so many barriers to entry?
The reality: in the past decade they already overwhelmingly have. While another dude in a suit ponders the questions, pitches a half assed VR marketing campaign and/or rewrites the history of these art forms to exclude the femmes that spearheaded then, these communities will continue to flourish with the odds entirely not in their favor – in comradery and abundance, entering the new decade with unlimited space on the web to claim.
Be sure to follow Von on Instagram @vonmusic