The Medium Is the Massage
While most sex toys work without the help of outside media, there are products that use movies or audio in order to enhance the experience. Since the mid-90's, there have been many toys for men that synchronize with movies, some even sold specifically to be used with movies by a certain porn performer.
Most toys for women don’t ship with media. It’s usually just the toy, controls, and enhancements added by the imagination, partners, or whatever else happens to be a part of your playtime. This isn’t to say they don’t exist at all, but just that there haven’t been many attempts to create a market for media driven toys.
With many people now carrying usable, high fidelity media players with them at all times in the form of cell phones, there’s a chance for that to change. Since these media devices are small and simple to use, there’s a higher probability someone would hook a toy up to it rather than use a large system.
By large system, I mean portable CD player. Really, when was the last time you used one? They’re huge compared to MP3 players now.
Let’s take a look at how basing control of women’s toys on media has played out in the past and present, and what may lie ahead in the future with Vibease’s announcement of an erotica marketplace shipping with their toy.
The Talking Head Vibrator
Picture it, Sicily, 19.. er, I mean, the Internet, 2005.
Thanks to a Sex in the City episode 7 years prior, rabbit vibes had become one of the hottest toys out there. However, with that many years on the market, it was becoming difficult to innovate and make one toy different from the next. There were toys with different animals on the clitoral stimulators, or multiple motors and vibrating patterns, but nothing really new.
That is until My Little Secret, LLC decided to disrupt the land of “Let’s make it a dolphin this time and call it new!”
What was their novel idea? They released the Talking Head Rabbit Vibrator. On its face, it was your run of the mill rabbit vibe with rotating penis. However, embedded in the base was a media player that used something similar to digital answering machine chips. When proprietary format audio carts (with names like “Juan the Latin Lover,” “Slow Ride with Koby,” and “Bergen the German Mountain Man”) were inserted, the toy would play the voice of a male of some international origin through a speaker on the base. The voice would normally be engaged in a 3-4 minute session of dirty talk and orgasm.
Thanks to archive.org, you can still hear samples used on the toy.
My Little Secret felt their contribution to sex tech was important, enough to patent it in a filing titled “Phallic devices with audio features and related methods,” finally granted in 2011. They also advertised that they were “in talks to sign a major hip hop artist for a custom branded vibe.” Despite these factors, the Talking Head never really gained traction, and went off the market in 2008.
OhMiBod and Featured Artists
The OhMiBod doesn’t specifically ship with media, but it also would just be a regular boring toy without it. The OhMiBod line of vibrators, released by Suki LLC, expect to be driven off of music. While not the first audio driven vibe on the market, the OhMiBod was the first to come with “featured artist” tracks. Instead of driving a toy off of a movie of a certain porn star like most equivalent male toys, it would react to specially mixed music by popular bands and musicians. These tracks are posted every so often on OhMiBod’s website, which also includes a forum for people to trade their favorite tracks.
While the OhMiBod has been on the market for a few years now, it seems that the vibrator still retains a fanbase. Their twitter account is quite lively, with people even maintaining soundcloud accounts specifically for favoriting tracks and mixes that work well with the toys.
Vibease and the Fiction Market
Vibease, a Singaporean startup that’s been going to every startup comp ever, has decided to pivot from remotely controlled toys to a media based system (though they’ll still sell a remote control app in the future). From the copy on their Indiegogo campaign:
The Vibease and Fantasy app work like this: When the voice in the fantasy app says: “I’m touching you softly”, the vibrator vibrates softly. And when the voice says: “I’m touching you hard”, the vibrator vibrates hard. The vibrator reacts to the story within the Fantasy. The vibrations are personalized to each Fantasy, and it gives vibrations with different intensities and various patterns at just the right moments.
Vibease is planning on selling stories that work with their vibrators via an in-app store. This means that they can service current fandoms (twilight, 50 shades, etc…) as well as any new ones that come up.
There’s a lot of interesting topics around this new marketplace, so it’s time to play armchair analyst. Notice all of the Fifty Shades references in their UI? Fifty Shades itself started as Twilight fan fiction. So in terms of market coverage both now and in the short-term future, Vibease seems to be spot on. However, how these stories are conveyed is also going to be a big deal. The stories are going to be read to the user. Will the voices appeal to users or be a turn off? Publishers have certainly put more work into procuring voices for audio books, as articles about publishers embracing audiobook erotica and interviews with audio erotica voice talent shows. It’s not even a particularly new venue, being covered during Wired’s Sex Drive article series in 2005. Voice actors cost time and money, though, meaning that for the media to be profitable, Vibease is going to need many sales per story to break even. Since there’s no available data about reuse of audio erotica versus video erotica, it’s a question that’ll have to be answered by watching how well the company does after this hits the market.
Shipping a toy that relies on media to run can be a blessing or a curse. The toy may provide the user with a new synesthetic sexual experience, or it may just be a gimmick to be used once or twice before being thrown in a drawer. When it’s up to the producer to create the content themselves, the difficulty grows, as they must encode the actions for their toy, work out the bugs, etc.In the already complicated world of shipping intimate hardware, this is a big risk to take. Whether or not it will pay off in a way that turns these toys from curiosity to new genre remains to be seen.