Burgeoning industries like fintech, edtech and healthtech are constantly in the news. But not sextech. Given the ubiquity of sex, is that about to change?
‘Sextech’ is a term you may not have heard a great deal about – as of yet. However, if you search the hashtag #sextech on Twitter, you’ll start to get a sense of how many exciting things are happening in the space right now, and why this is a tech sector that should be monitored as much as any other.
What is the definition of sextech?
Sextech is technology, and technology-driven ventures, designed to enhance, innovate and disrupt in every area of human sexuality and human sexual experience.
Why is it important?
Sextech is important because sex and sexuality lie at the heart of everything we are and everything we do.
This fact cannot be overstated. Society’s conflicted attitude toward sex – we all enjoy it but we don’t talk about it - means that sex is defaulted in the public consciousness to an act, a thing we do. But sex is personality. Who we are sexually informs everything to do with how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about others; it informs our relationships, our lives, our happiness.
Sextech is also important precisely because of that conflicted attitude.
No other area of human existence is hedged around with so much shame, embarrassment, guilt and self-torment. How fundamentally important sexuality is to us, combined with how fundamentally conflicted we are about it, makes it the richest possible territory for advances and breakthroughs using technology to disrupt and enhance our experience of sex.
This is important because in a broader context the failure to openly discuss, address, solve for and improve sexual issues lies at the root of many social ills.
From sex trafficking, sexual abuse, rape, sexual violence, intolerance of alternative sexualities, through sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, to unhappy marriages and relationship breakdowns – all can be positively impacted through initiatives designed to change the way we think about and behave around sex.
And ultimately, sextech is important because sex as the universal human use-case makes this the biggest technology market of them all, and therefore potentially far and away the most lucrative.
What are the possible areas of application?
Areas of application are endless. There are so many, the best way to approach this may be to consider them as falling into three broad areas of opportunity:
1. Innovation based on observations inspired by personal experience
As with the tech world in general, sextech entrepreneurs are inspired by personal experience and what they perceive the world to be missing and in need of.
I started Makelovenotporn because I realised that porn had become default sex education, as I told the TED audience back in 2009.
Tina Gong was motivated through her own experiences to eliminate the stigma around female masturbation by creating HappyPlayTime, a gaming app whose primary target is young women but which has a huge secondary audience in straight men.
Michael Topolovac and Ti Chang of Lovecrave wanted to change the way women experience sex toys. Kit Maloney of O'actually was fed up with not finding the kind of adult entertainment she wanted to watch.
Dema Tio found himself and his young wife working in different countries early on in their marriage, and out of their frustration came Vibease, which allows couples in long-distance relationships to maintain their sexual connection.
2. Innovation redeployed in sextech
There is huge opportunity in sextech to do what already happens in every other tech sector – redeploy technological breakthroughs made in other areas, in the service of sex.
The founders of Slixa wanted to revolutionise escort booking with an easy-to-use online platform in the same way many other services have.
KinkBnB overtly positioned their offering for what a lot of people use AirBnB for anyway.
In the same way, James Lohan and Tamara Heber-Percy founded Mr & Mrs Smith twelve years ago to capitalise on the fact that – shocker! – people have sex in hotel rooms and would very much like a guide to hotels that are great to have sex in.
Danny Wax and Tyler Elick saw an opportunity to extend the ‘quantified self ‘ app trend in the areas of fitness, exercise, weightloss, into sexual activity with this app.
Rule 34 of the internet states, ‘If it exists, there is porn of it.’ It’s as true to say, ‘If the tech exists, it’s also sextech.’
3. Innovation in servicing sextech
Here’s the internet’s dirty not-so-little secret: every piece of business infrastructure any company can take for granted, sextech ventures can’t, because the small print always says ‘No adult content’.
This is ironic, because the answer to everything that worries people about porn and sex online is not to shut down/censor/block (which is directly responsible for forcing dodgy underground practices) but to open up: open up to welcoming, supporting and funding entrepreneurs who want to disrupt all of this for the better, and open up to allowing us to do business openly, honestly and transparently, on the same terms and conditions as everyone else.
Which is why every obstacle the tech and business world throws up for sextech is a huge disruptive opportunity in itself.
Be the bank that provides bank accounts and support to honest, legal sextech ventures, and clean up.
Be the payment processor that works with honest, legal sextech ventures, and have more business than you know what to do with.
Be any technology that is part of the infrastructure of the sextech industry and laugh all the way to the bank. Tatiana Becker identified sextech as a sector that needs brilliant, open-minded tech talent as much as anywhere else, and is building her sextech recruitment practice at NIAH recruiting.
Emma McGowan lists sextech-friendly services on her blog. Expand that list creatively and watch your business rocket.
What is the opportunity for entrepreneurs?
Currently, no college, accelerator, business school, publication or mentor encourages potential entrepreneurs to explore sextech.
That’s a big mistake.
Peter Thiel in his book ‘Zero To One’ poses ‘Our contrarian business question: What valuable company is nobody else building?’ He goes on to say, “Secrets about people are relatively under appreciated. What are people not allowed to talk about? What is forbidden or taboo?.The best place to look for secrets is where no one else is looking…People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed…The best projects are likely to be overlooked, not trumpeted by a crowd; the best problems to work on are often the ones nobody else even tries to solve.”
No sector is more relevant to his words than sextech.
And talk about gaps in the market. As Jon Evans of TechCrunch wrote in this article, “The internet – and the tech industry as a whole – has essentially polarised into two separate, independent fiefdoms: porn, and non-sexual content."
There’s a huge, huge market in the ‘in between’.
What is the opportunity for investors?
Peter Diamandis, founder of SpaceX and SingularityUniversity, says in his book ‘Bold’, “The World’s Biggest Problems = The World’s Biggest Business Opportunities”.
Put simply, there is a huge amount of money to be made – in two sextech markets, the second of which no investor has even conceived of yet.
The first market is, obviously, sex. We all have it. We all enjoy it. It’s recession-proof. The market never goes away.
But there is even more money to be made in socially-acceptable sex.
When the emerging sextech industry achieves its goal of socialising sex: making it socially acceptable and socially shareable – that’s when you triple and quadruple your returns, by normalising people feeling good about publicly buying into sextech products and services; publicly doing what they do with everything else – advocate, share, recommend; and publicly badging themselves as sextech brand ambassadors.
As proof of how achievable this is, the highest income-earning author in the world currently is EL James. The author of ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ has out-earned every other blockbuster novelist; the Fifty Shades movie broke box-office opening weekend records.
That’s the financial power of socially-acceptable, socially-shareable sex.
When you have a truly world changing business, you have to change the world to fit it, not the other way round.
Tad Friend wrote in his recent profile of Marc Andreessen in the New Yorker, “The game in Silicon Valley is not ferocious intelligence or a contrarian investment thesis: everyone has that. It’s not even wealth: anyone can become a billionaire just by rooming with Mark Zuckerberg. It’s prescience. And then it’s removing every obstacle to the ferocious clarity of your vision: incumbents, regulations, folkways, people. Can you not just see the future but summon it?”
Every one of us working in sextech has to not just see the future but summon it, remove every obstacle to the ferocious clarity of our vision ourselves, in a way unique to this particular sector that so many people still won’t even admit exists.
Sextech entrepreneurs are in the Steve Jobs business of reality distortion.
Reality says we can’t build our business the way we want to? We’re going to change reality.
Investors looking for the passionate inventors, the resilient die-hards, the visionary pioneers who will tunnel their way through mountains – sextech’s where you’ll find them.
How is sextech worldchanging?
I like to say that MakeLoveNotPorn operates in the biggest market of them all. Not porn. Not sex. The market of human happiness.
That, at its heart, is what makes sextech so crucial as an area where technology can have the most fundamental human impact.
Wouldn’t we all like to see world peace? Well, when we’re all comfortable in our sexuality, able to express it healthily and appropriately, have more open conversations about sex, more sex and more better, happier sex - the world will be a happier place, and we’ll be one step closer to world peace.
Think about it.
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