Sex Tech as the First World Luxury?

I had the pleasure talk to Nichi Hodgson a television journalist at Sky, a BBC presenter, author of books “Bound To You”, and “The Curious History of Dating”. Nichi will host the stage during Sx Tech conference and first German sex-tech hackathon. Can technology help to prevent sexual harassment? How Trump’s sexism affect as all and why sex tech is seeing as the First World Luxury? Let’s follow…

We’re living in a time where the president of an economically leading nation can openly confess to having committed sexual assaults and having said terribly degrading things about women. What consequences does that have on social behavior in society as a whole?

It sets a terrible example — and what is perhaps the worst thing about it is that it has little to no impact on his reputation in the eyes of the most conservative and judgmental voters, the people we would expect to be outraged, while creating an atmosphere of horrific complacence. It means that thousands of other abusers are vindicated by his example, and given confidence that they can get away with their abuses. And it creates a climate of fear for victims.

Can technology help to prevent sexual harassment?

I’m not sure it can just yet. Recognising sexual harassment has taken place is still dependent on someone feeling brave enough to report it so any tech that hopes to ‘record’ harassment would still need that level of human input — unless it was some kind of haptic body sensory device that reacted to being touched and registered the touch as harassment unless you told it otherwise. Any tech that creates registers of information about potential or existing offenders is obviously going to be more controversial and doesn’t allow any room for rehabilitation. And obviously the best way to prevent sexual harassment is not through the threat of exposure but by appealing to someone’s better nature — anything that wields the threat of exposure or bringing to justice outside of the legal system is going to be controversial — so we are a way off being able to design successful products that are culturally acceptable just yet.

You wrote ‘Bound to You’ as your own real-life sex memoir — How does it feel to give away the peace of your privacy, in favour of being judged by public opinion?

It’s funny — at the time, I didn’t think about it too much because I had been writing confessionally about my personal life for a while as a journalist — the book seemed like a natural progression, plus it was reaching an audience of people who didn’t know me, which it was infinitely easier to open myself up to than an audience of people who did. I suppose I only realised the consequences of writing so personally once it formed part of the Google trail on me and I was meeting new people for the first time who had read this stuff about me — in particular dates. I remember going on a date with one guy who had read the book before we met as ‘research’. It completely scuppered us getting to get to know one another in an organic way and I felt really angry afterwards that he had access to so much information, without context, about me (particularly because there was obviously a good dose of poetic licence involved in constructing the book as is always the case with memoir when some of your subjects are still alive). I have always been a very open person but it taught me the value of some things being private. These days I’m much more careful to guard my private life although I will still write personally where I think it’s beneficial to the readers. I just have it in a better balance now. But it’s still annoying when people only remember you for that, and not anything weightier or more boring you’ve done. But then that also makes me realise how important it is to openly write about sex and relationships. The more we do it, the more one day it will cease to shock or titillate everyone who comes into contact with it.

You are a journalist and broadcaster and the host of many sex tech events. Sexbots are a huge topic now. Will humanoid sex robots based on customized design and oftentimes pornographic representations of female anatomy essentially lead to the objectification of women?

We have the representations of femininity we deserve. So anything designed now, which relates to an existing vision, isn’t going to lead to the objectification of women — that’s already happened. Certainly, the popularity of humanoid sex robots could influence the lack of shock we feel when we see highly idealised, pornographical representations of female anatomy — but I’m not convinced they’ll lead to a slippery slope whereby all those that encounter them and then encounter women start treating the women like them. What’s obviously very important is that we don’t only have humanoid pornified bots — which is why supporting, funding and celebrating the people that are making any alternatives to them is so vital. I’d like to see half as much coverage given to the stuff of dreams being created by women — but it’s not as Frankenstein’s monster to look at, and that’s why we don’t. We almost need someone to make something so radical it can’t NOT get attention, just to redress the balance.

In your following book, you dig into the “intriguing history of amorous relationships “. How do you think our romantic lives will change over the years, thanks to tech development?

Well, having worked in the dating app business, I’m not quite yet convinced that apps remain the future of dating. They’ve been here for such a short period of time — Tinder only came out seven years ago — that their rapid growth makes us forget they’re likely on a stop-over en route to the next big dating phenomenon. And while financially we are pouring more and more money into them, culturally, we are growing frustrated with them. Ultimately, unless the apps learn to address those frustrations — the lack of manners online, a creeping sense that the house always wins, their growth will stop — or at least there’ll be a very concerted no-app dating movement, in which matchmakers, coaches and ‘live dating’ events can expand. As emotional and relationship literacy increases, we’ll likely see people better able to manage their relationships too — so I’m positive that the quality of relationships is actually going to increase. Whatever the tech we use, we can’t fundamentally rewire how we make connections and fall in love.

Google now blocks the word “porn” in almost every context. In practice, that means that censorship also blocks results focused on sexual health, business trends, sex work, politics, gender and women topics in general. Where is all this leading to? Maybe soon we will need a license for being allowed to publish books like yours?

Yes, it’s very worrying but I think sooner or later it will force their hand and they will have to devise a more sophisticated way of being able to sift through different kinds of information and imagery — mainly because there’s too much revenue to be lost by not discerning between them. Google is also fundamentally against censoring the internet, so unlike with something like child abuse imagery where there must obviously be a block, I’m confident that there will be more freedom in this area rather than less.

We’re living in a political climate where the sex tech industry is constantly confronted with censorship. When was the last time you thought of the internet as a free space?

I’m not sure I ever have for women, to be honest. I think the level of misogyny on the internet has been a growing problem and that it applies to everything from Twitter abuse to access to porn and positive information about sex. I think men are expected to misuse the internet but for women, the prohibition to so-called x-rated material is greater. Plus there’s the fact that so much of the sex positive content we generate is censored because the key terms are considered ‘rude’. It’s a shame there isn’t more context given to what is automatically blocked, better differentiation between what is really education vs what is titillation.

What has been your favorite sex tech-related topic so far? And why?

My background is the dating industry which I also happen to be pretty cynical about, so I’m always really interested in what the execs say about how we’ll be dating in the next decade — much of which I don’t think people will fully embrace (VR dating, for eg). Given an increased cynicism about how computers can match us, I’m very interested to know how tech will incorporate more sophisticated relationship theory into matching, going forward — if it will.

Sex tech development within the realms of pleasure and entertainment is, in particular, a demand in highly developed countries. What can sex tech offer to the people living in countries that are struck with poverty and low sexual education?

Really good question. I think sex tech can seem like a real First World Luxury — and I guess in countries where female genital mutilation is affecting huge swathes of the female population, devising hi-tech vibrators seems entirely inappropriate (although I’d love to see a product specifically devised to help this).

On S x tech we will also run the first German sex hackathon for startups. What kind of project do you expect here?

Ooh, I have no idea! I’m excited to see. Perhaps more haptic devices, full body sensory things. Since the teledildonic patent expired, I expect more teledildonic innovation — in particular stuff that allows couples to connect across the distance which, to date, hasn’t been much explored.

Between sex toys and videos of real-world sex, female entrepreneurs are changing the game. Why is sex tech important for women?

Because it allows them to offset sexism and misogyny in society through a credible, scientific lens and a sector which men take seriously because they have, to date, owned it. Other spheres like literature, healthcare, therapy have always had a strong female presence and association so it’s important that women are penetrating what has traditionally been a male space. What’s more, this is where some of the major influences on how we will live in the next 20 to 100 years take shape. The idea that women could be removed from that sphere of influence is seriously disconcerting — and another reason why it’s so brilliant that they no longer are.

S x Tech conference will take place on July 1, 2019, in Berlin. It will be the very first event that connects the deep-tech with the sex tech industry. Get your tickets now!

Intelsexual property — an interview with a sex-tech attorney

S x Tech conference will take a place on July 1, 2019 in Berlin. It will be the very first event that connects the deep-tech with the sex tech industry. I had the pleasure to talk to one of the event speakers and mentors, Maxine Lynn, a sex- tech lawyer and sex tech blogger at Unzipped Media

How did Unzipped Media came about?

I was invited to a home sex toy party several years ago, which was basically my first exposure to sex toys I had been practicing patent and technology law already for many years at that time. As I looked through the toy catalog, I saw so much room for innovation. Since then, the industry has come a long way, and the technology has blossomed. I started Unzipped Media to merge my two passions — law and then newly, sex tech! Through the company, I publish the “Unzipped: Sex, Tech & the Law”® blog and the “Sex Tech Patent IndeXXX”® bulletin. I have also recently started producing and hosting the “Unzipped: The Business of Sex”® podcast. Through these various avenues, I explore the intersections of sex, tech, law, and business!

So how did you become the sex-tech lawyer?

I started with my blog, running head first into issues that no one was really talking about. Through my articles, I explained the importance and basics of patents, trademarks, and copyrights as they apply to sex tech. I wrote about major patent disputes in the adult industry (the “teledildonics patent”, the C-shaped vibrator patent, etc.), as well as censorship issues in the registration of trademarks (government prohibiting registration of sexually-explicit marks, which is now heading to the U.S. Supreme Court). My articles have been published in magazines all over the world, and I have spoken at conferences throughout North America. I have tried to educate not just my clients, but the industry as a whole. The more knowledge each company has, the better they can help themselves, and in many cases, help each other to become successful.

How would you describe the sex tech revolution? Is it needed?

It is the convergence of human sexuality and technology. Modern technology has changed so many parts of our lives from how we catch a taxi to how we set an alarm clock. Innovation makes technology better and more accessible, and is supposed to make life better. Along those lines, the sex tech revolution is improving people’s lives in a multitude of ways. From making it easier and more enjoyable for women to orgasm to helping the disabled experience sex, the revolution is dramatically shifting the way we have, and think about, sex and sexuality.

What have your experiences been like as a female in technology? Especially one that searches into sexuality?

I truly enjoy being a female in technology. We are still the minority as compared to men. It’s interesting to bring a new perspective, or at least a different one, to the discussion. I also pride myself in “living my work.” I consider it part of my work to show that you can be intelligent (and tech-oriented), as well as sexual. I live my life as I choose, rather than how society or someone else tells me I should. I get such joy out of having open discussions about sex on my podcast, as well as throwing in a sexy joke here and there in my blog articles, which especially, as a female, would have been shocking just a decade ago.

What has been your favorite sex tech-related topic so far?

I am fascinated by the issue of sex robots. The robots are “cumming” — Almost literally. Right now, the potential effects of sex robot technology are mainly just speculation. However, as the technology becomes more realistic and “smart” with artificial intelligence, what will really happen? Will people choose to have relationships with robots over humans? I mean, I can see why — No arguments, no divorce, no chance of unexpected pregnancy or STIs… And if people do make that choice, will it, in fact, be good for them, for example in giving an intimacy option to people who might not otherwise be able to be in a relationship with another person for various reasons. Or, will it drive people apart since, in some ways, a traditional relationship could become “obsolete.” It’s going to be a new world either way…

You have been advising for many of the porn, sex toy, and adult social networking industries in connection with the law. What are the most-often-expected traps for sex tech startups?

From a legal perspective, I think a lack of understanding of intellectual property protection is a major trap. Forgetting to file, or choosing not to file, for patent, trademark, or copyright protection can lead to disastrous results. For example, deciding not to protect novel sex toy technology via a patent means that other third parties can freely copy the invention. If a company does not trademark its brand names, a third party could file first and swap away rights to the names. Although there are processes for “righting that wrong,” they are long, expensive, and uncertain. Similarly, putting out a porn video without filing for a copyright registration can mean significantly lower damages in the case that it is pirated. As I always say, a little time with a lawyer can go a long way. Sex tech start-ups should be savvy, and set themselves up for success from the beginning.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I love helping sex tech start-ups get off the ground. My clients and I consider myself as part of their team. It’s extremely rewarding when they are not just happy with my work, but that such works helps them to become successful in the marketplace. The world needs more sex tech, and to start any business, especially one relating to sex, a company needs good legal counseling. It’s a pleasure (pun intended) to have an integral role in the future of the industry.

You are not a typical lawyer. What would surprise people most about your job?

Well, many people assume I get to sit at my desk and watch porn all day, which is not actually the case. While sometimes that’s true, for example, if there is a copyright dispute relating to a porn movie; most of the time, it’s simply hard work. My job is very interesting and fun, but requires a lot of skill and experience to get things done right. I help my clients navigate not only tech and intellectual property law, but also laws like FOSTA-SESTA and other censorship issues around the globe. It can be a mine field. The issues I deal with day-to-day at my job far transcends what most people outside of the industry would imagine. I love it though — It keeps me on my toes… Good thing I like high heels!

You gonna speak and advice during S x tech conference in Berlin. In this project, we focus a lot on female creators and founders. What do you think about the gender proportions at the management level in the world of sex tech?

It looks to me like it’s improving. There are a lot of new female-owned companies in the space, which are making waves. It will take many years to fully balance out, but the industry is certainly heading in the right direction. Hopefully, over time, the industry will have players with strong voices of all genders, colors, sexual identities, and viewpoints.

We’re in a political climate that forces us to regularly confront sex tech industry with huge censorship and blocks in public or social media life. How FOSTA-SESTA law impacted the industry?

On April 11, 2018, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” was signed into U.S. law by President Donald Trump. This was a bi-partisan attempt to provide federal and state authorities with more tools to fight, as the law recites, “sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking.” Though stopping sexual exploitation is certainly an honorable cause, the new law, known in short by the acronym “FOSTA,” has actually created big problems for legitimate websites, while in reality, also increasing the difficulty of finding and prosecuting human trafficking. The practical effect of the law is that providers of websites that allow users to post or communicate with one another now have to review and censor user communications and posts for possible prostitution or human trafficking. If human trafficking or prostitution is found to be “facilitated” by the site — including through no direct action by the site, but instead by users via communication on the site — the site owner/operator can be held criminally and civilly liable. As you can imagine, with such a heavy burden and looming uncertainty, many adult-oriented websites shuttered basically overnight. Others have had to adjust their terms of use, and monitoring practices. In addition, evidence of human trafficking, which previously could have been obtained from offenders’ online actions, is now not available since trafficking operations have moved offline and “underground,” making it much more difficult for law enforcement to fight. The law is currently being challenged through the court system. The case was initially dismissed based on a formality (rather than on the merits), and is now being appealed.

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