Bryony Cole Is A Sextech Storyteller

Bryony Cole, host of sextech podcast The Future of Sex, tells the story of a misunderstood industry that is shifting towards transformational, female-led innovation. 



Bryony Cole Is A Sextech Storyteller

“Some people describe me as an industry analyst, but that sounds very dry to me. I feel like I’m more of a storyteller. All these people are working on all these different parts of the sextech industry, and I’m bringing [the story] together.” 

 

BRYONY WEARS THE BALCONETTE IN BLACK

Over the last three years, Bryony Cole has interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs, therapists and scientists about technology’s impact on sexuality. Sharing these conversations on her podcast The Future of Sex, Bryony is working to remove the stigma and shame behind the “sex” in sextech.  

“Sextech is any technology designed to enhance sexuality. So if we think about sexuality, rather than just sex, sexuality encompasses education, health, sexual assault reporting, crime and violence, medicine — then obviously relationships and pleasure and oragasms.”

“When I discovered sextech about three years ago, I thought, ‘What an interesting industry, why is no one talking about this?’ I stumbled into some guys making sextech [products]. The craziest thing they were working on was a [virtual reality attachment with a scent releaser] that simulated being in a hot tub with three supermodels. That was their big thing — we never have to leave the couch again, because we have a pack of Doritos and our virtual girlfriends in these hot tubs. For me that was sort of horrifying and shocking — hang on, how am I going to find a boyfriend if everyone’s at home watching VR? That planted the seed for me.” 

“What else is there? How is it changing our relationships in the bedroom? I went and interviewed everyone who knew anything about sex or technology.” 

BRYONY WEARS THE BALCONETTE IN BLACK

Sextech is a $30 billion industry that no one is talking about. We use websites, apps and products all day, recognizing these forms of technology as tools that can positively transform our lives. But as soon as we enter the arena of sex, Bryony has found, conversations about our bodies, identities and sexualities struggle to catch up with the rapid rate of innovation. 

“[Sextech] is much more than a foray into VR porn. It’s all these other applications that can be used for people with disabilities, people that are considered invisible sexually. With the aging population, for example, we think, ‘Oh they’re not sexual.’ When, in fact, the highest STI rates are in nursing homes in Florida. So sextech asks us to reconsider sexuality in many ways. How can technology support this new understanding and enhance people’s lives? That question is where my journey began.” 

BRYONY WEARS THE BALCONETTE IN BLACK

With a podcast and a powerful purpose, Bryony was on her way. But her exploration of the topic really took root when she stumbled upon a community of female entrepreneurs in New York City, all harnessing the power of technology to transform the sexual experience for women. 

“It was complete serendipity. I had no idea [what I was walking into]. I just thought I was going to be researching robots and VR. I had been introduced to Cindy Gallop, who is the creative at MakeLoveNotPorn and the matriarch of the sextech industry. I got invited to her apartment and it was a Women Of Sextech gallery. I thought, ‘How is this even possible that I started this podcast and found this group of women that are doing the same thing?’ I was at her apartment and there were thirty women there who were all designing products and services in this sextech arena. And they were all facing similar challenges around the taboo and stigma of creating these products as women.” 

Not only had Bryony found ten seasons of her podcast in one room, she had tapped into a larger conversation. A new wave of female sextech entrepreneurs are shifting this indsustry, but their innovations face enormous barriers because of the stigmas that swirl around women and sex. 

“All these women are creating so many different things: vibrators, kegel exercise apps, STI result-sharing apps, sexual assault tracking, pleasure products with haptic technology, fertility tracking, and Cindy’s MakeLoveNotPorn which is an ethical, real world sex site.”

“When I talk about female-founded sextech, what I find really interesting is that the founders are conversation starters. Beyond making very functional products, they are changing culture. [Their products] are more like signals that say ‘I’m a woman and I’m in charge of my sexuality.’”

BRYONY WEARS THE BALCONETTE IN BLACK

Bryony has noticed that most of these sextech innovations from women aren’t overtly sexual. They aren’t exploiting intimacy or cheapening the sexual experience. They are solving real problems and starting conversations that women have not had the permission to be part of before. Compared to VR hot tubs and human-hologram marriages that unfairly dominate our knowledge of sextech, these rebellious women have a very different agenda. 

“Women are building things to solve issues around sexual experience and sex education — we’ve kind of got companionship, or intimacy, covered. When it comes to [pleasure], men are good, they know how to jerk off. Whereas with women, it’s like, whoa the clitoris. We never talk about female masturbation, and since men are so visually oriented, pornography has always been there to satisify that. But on the [female side] of pleasure, we are finally seeing products like Dipsea and Quinn, two new erotic audio storytelling platforms. Alternatives to pornography. Made for women.” 

During the time since Bryony started The Future of Sex, conversations around sexuality have undergone massive transformations in wider culture. The innovation happening in sextech reflects this shifting narrative. 

“Things have changed so much in just three years. The signal of growth is so different. Cultural conversations like #MeToo have, fortunately or not, propped up this permission to speak about sexuality as a woman a lot more. I was brought up in Australia, very chilled out people, but still quite conservative. We have that sort of commonwealth side where sex education was pretty abysmal and we didn’t really talk about it, let alone talk about pleasure or the clitoris or any of that. When I went into this industry, I remember my mum being like, ‘What are you doing?! What are we going to tell our friends?’ Now she’s like, ‘Woohoo! Let’s go!’ It’s taken her three years, but we’re there.” 

“So, why am I talking about sex so publicly? Sure, I had this tech background and this area of tech was fascinating to me. But a large part of this that came from the personal, from having that experience of developing really early physically and not being able to cope with that mentally; not understanding what to do. I went from being this little girl to a woman, overnight. I had no way to understand, no one to tell me what that meant. I felt like I had no voice. I didn’t know how to say no,’ or ‘please don’t,’ and that had such a ripple effect on my whole life.”  

“From the university to the workplace, I [always received] inappropriate comments. But I never had a voice around my femininity or my sexuality. It wasn’t until I was 36 that I really flipped the script and said, ‘no, this is something we all need to talk about.’ I think we need to take [these topics] out of the shadows. The Future of Sex has been such a great gateway; sextech has allowed me to start a conversation and to have a really loud voice on the topic.” 

“With technology, there is always this danger that it will become a replacement for something, in this case human connection. I just think we need to give humans more credit. We need more people involved than just the two guys on the couch designing simulations in hot tub. If women are involved, if different needs are being solved, if we bring more people in, we can start to [enhance human connection], instead of replacing it. Humans still want intimacy for the most part. We need to really value what humans bring to the table as much as we value technology.”

 Interview by Anna Jube. Article by Molly Virostek. Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Styled by Emily Newnam. 

Tags: bodytalk , sensuality

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