This Article Originally Appeared On Lip Magazine:
Although pairing technology with sexy times is not new, recent innovations by Durex are being hailed as a ‘world first’ in wearable technology. Durex are currently developing underwear with inbuilt sense actuators that will be connected to a smart phone app, used for long distance transferring of touch. So, the app connects two smart phones through an Amazon server, and then connects to the men’s and women’s underwear. When stroking a picture of lady or man bits on the app, that touch is reproduced through the actuators in the underwear and felt by the wearer, taking cyber sex to a whole new level.
Durex ‘Fundawear’ (yeah, I know, hideous name, right?) is currently an experiment, but may become a reality in the near future. It is important to question whether this technology is entirely positive and what the possible social implications of its development may be. As with any new technology, especially those impacting on human relations, there is a tendency to fear its capabilities of dehumanisation. Will it get to the point where we don’t actually touch each other – we just use the app for that? You can just imagine future married couples in waning and loveless relationships sitting morosely in bed together engaging in ritualistic virtual foreplay instead of the real thing. However, it’s all too easy to lapse into these familiar moral panics around technology, and I like to take a more optimistic approach.
Clearly the app/undies have obvious benefits for long distance couples and also just look like a lot of fun. Although the marketing is shamelessly heteronormative, with blatant his and hers sections full of pink and blue, not to mention the standard girly lingerie for ladies that just screams Male Gaze/compulsory hyper-femininity, this technology is not limited to heterosexual couples. Unless “his” phone cannot connect to another “his” phone…then there’d be a problem.
There are so many ethical and social questions that rise out of new social media technologies, and Durex Fundawear is no exception. What happens if you loose your phone and someone else uses it to cyber-grope your lover? What about hackers? These issues are not so problematic while the technology is a novelty, but what if the technology is developed to the point where it is normalised and standardised, so every pair of undies you buy are equipped with the Fundawear capability? Will anyone be able to connect with your server, to the point where you could be virtually pinched on the butt by a stranger in the line at K Mart without them physically touching you? It would be like the poke option on Facebook, but you would actually feel it. That could get scary.
I think this potential addition to cyber sex is positive in terms of the use of touch. It seems fairly futuristic to be able to create simulated sensations that are actually being controlled by the person you would like to be physically doing that stuff with, but perhaps can’t for whatever reason. Being able to physically feel even simulated touch could be comforting for those in times of loneliness and isolation. I know there have been times in my life where I would have loved to reach through the computer/phone screen to the person on the other end. There is no denying that simulated touch could never replace real human emotion and sensuality, but it’s better than nothing.
Post-structuralist feminist, Helen Cixious and Iris Marion Young have both argued that touch is an especially empowering and salient sense for women. Sight and visual stimuli have been largely associated with male (hetero)sexuality through the concept of the oppressive Male Gaze, which has been used to objectify women by giving men the power of The Look. A recent example of this at play is that of the scandalous Danish television program which featured naked women being judged by men on the “aesthetics” of their bodies. By introducing virtual touch as a new element of cyber sex, the objectifying power of the Male Gaze will be diluted, resulting in a less oppressive experience for women. Misogynist trolls will be less able to exploit women through things like creep shots and revenge porn if virtual touch becomes a bigger part of online sexual interactions. You can’t save touch and upload it later without someone’s consent. You can’t use virtual touch to slut-shame. When you are touching someone you are also being touched yourself, thus there is less of a power imbalance than being the person who actively looks and the person who is passively looked at.
As with any new technology, Durex Fundawear has both positive and negative aspects. Whether or not this technology is for you, it undeniably makes us think about the ways in which technology and the Internet are impacting and shaping the ways in which we create and perform our sexualities.