Vibrators aren’t smartphones. They don’t have to order a pizza like the ridiculous RubGrub, the vibrator that orders pizza from Dominos. With emphasis on novelty, you can tell its (clearly male) inventor doesn’t care about self pleasure. But it’s quirky and incorporates the Amazon dash button enough to interest tech bros amused by the idea of women getting hungry after sex. “Women! Just like us guys, amirite?”
Sex tech is a wide-ranging industry encompassing many great products for women and men. But like any industry, has its flaws. The biggest one is dude makers like RubGrub founder Daryn Parker prioritizing flashy features over the form and function of the toy.
When I worked in a sex shop, I highlighted the app for products like the We-Vibe, an award-winning couple’s vibe. Customers were generally less seduced by the toy’s app than the product itself. They didn’t care about device connectivity. They wanted to know how to insert the toy and what it feels like—you know, the entire point of the toy.
The app can come in handy. Many toys, including the We-Vibe, once came with remotes but now have only phone apps. So you either have to use the buttons on the toy or the phone. The former option isn’t always possible, since sometimes during sexual activity, the buttons are inaccessible.
The We-Vibe succeeds because it’s a well-made toy with an attractive design that does its job, which is to make its users feel good. Even the smart features make sense for the toy. It’s a couple’s vibe, and long distance lovers and frequent travelers would likely enjoy being able to control it from across the country.
“I think that is very exciting for people,” says Evy Cowan, co-owner of Portland sex shop She Bop. She also mentions that toy apps work much better than they did even a few years ago, which she believes has prompted more toy companies to incorporate them.
We-Vibe got in trouble last year because the app collects data on how and when you use the vibrator. That isn’t an uncommon feature of smart sex toys but toy manufacturers should take much more care informing their customers. People take their privacy seriously, especially with something so intimate.
Sex educator and consultant Lux Alptraum thinks Silicon Valley venture capitalists are to blame for all these unwanted smart toy functions. Writing in The Verge, “As long as companies are designing toys with an eye toward securing VC funding, we’ll be awash in erotic products that privilege tech fads over consumer satisfaction.”
Alptraum criticizes the Lovely, a cockring with an app that tracks all your positions and suggests new ones based on your history. It also counts the calories you burned during your lovefest. If you pay $29.99 a month, you can access sex educators and therapists through the app. An intriguing idea but also as Alptraum writes, “a bloated, unwieldy offering that seems more concerned with adding on features than actually enhancing sexual pleasure.” There are plenty of resources for finding sex therapists and educators, both online and in person. Going through your smart cockring to find them is just unnecessary.
The toy didn’t even meet its crowdfunding goal. But, as Alptraum points out, it’s one of the few sex toys with venture capitalist funding.
I’m not anti-tech. I’m not even anti-fancy tech sex toy. I love the Cowgirl, the first sex machine made by and for women. It’s as high-tech as it gets, app and all, but you don’t need to use the app to get the most out of the toy. The specs, the remote, the vibration settings, all of it was made with human pleasure in mind. And guess what? It wasn’t made by a startup filled with bros.