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Last month, I traveled to Singapore to moderate a panel on Love 3.0 at the IMI Festival. The goal of the discussion was to assess whether technology has changed our definition of love, sex, and relationships. Seeing as many of us have become overzealous, right-swiping Tinder addicts, I would be inclined to say that it has. But the topic does not start and end with dating apps.
The panel was made up of four speakers: Dema Tio, cofounder and CEO of Vibease, a smart vibrator that can be used remotely in long-distance relationships and synced with erotic audio playbooks; Erin Chen, a sex and relationship counselor and founder of SPARK Fest Asia; Krystal Choo, founder and CEO of Wander, an app that allows users to chat in groups by topic of interest; and Louise Troen, the global brand director at Bumble, a social networking app that allows women to make the first move. (Note: Bumble started as a dating app but now also has friend-finding and career-networking versions.)
Here are some of the key takeaways from our animated chat.
From offline to online dating
Love letters and phone calls are long gone. Now, not only do we flirt via dating apps, texts, sexts, emojis, video chats, likes, selfies, and other highly personalized forms of communication, we screen our potential date’s social media profiles before even considering a face-to-face meetup. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter… You can learn a lot about someone by stalking their online profiles.
But while technology may have changed the way we court, it hasn’t changed the way we love, according to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies gender differences and the evolution of human emotions. The speaker recently gave a TED talk during which she explained that the core systems in our brains that drive us to love evolved over 4.4 million years ago, “and they’re not gonna change if you swipe left or right on Tinder.”
As chief scientific advisor of Match.com, she knows what she’s talking about. She added that while algorithm-powered dating sites may surface certain profiles, they do not determine who we will love. “The only real algorithm is your own human brain,” she said.
The problem with dating apps, in my opinion, is that they have become the social norm. So if you’re single and you’re not on them, something must be wrong with you. What’s more, these apps seem to encourage serial dating, pushing monogamy toward obsolescence. But perhaps this normalization of sexual freedom is a good thing, especially for women.
Is technology empowering women?
If dating apps have become the norm for both genders, are we moving toward a more progressive society, one in which you’re not shamed for sharing your sexual encounters? The double standard that glorifies men for sleeping around but denigrates women for exercising the same right is gradually being taken down. And with sexual harassment swarming across the power capitals of the U.S., women are now seeking ways to feel more in control. Enter Bumble.
The social network was originally created as a dating app that allows women to make the first move. If a man and a woman match, the woman has 24 hours to initiate a conversation.
The story behind the buzzing Austin, Texas-based startup is a very personal one. Founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd initially broke into the dating sector through Tinder, which she cofounded. After experiencing sexual harassment and online bullying, she decided to sue and part ways with the startup.
While Herd was keen on creating a women-centric app, the idea for Bumble came to light through a collaboration with Andrey Andreev, the CEO of social networking site Badoo. Today, Bumble has over 22 million users and is growing at more than 70 percent year-over-year.
Let’s talk about sex
While dating apps facilitate encounters, technology also has its place in the bedroom. One question that came up during the panel discussion is whether technology can improve sex. Vibease’s Dema Tio says it can. According to him, sex for women can be even better with a vibrator. Not that a man isn’t enough, but since about 75 percent of women never reach orgasm from intercourse alone, a little extra help is sometimes needed.
The tiny pink object is far from the porno-esque dildos we see in series like Sex & the City. That’s because Vibease isn’t meant to replace a penis — it’s more of a cherry-on-top kind of thing. What’s more, while penises may falter, vibrators never do (as long as you charge them properly). So even if you’re well into your 70s, a sex toy can always be trusted to “perform.” This was even the focus of Netflix hit Grace and Frankie, in which two 70-something-year-old women team up to manufacture and market a vibrator for the elderly. The pitch? It’s easy to manipulate and is kind to arthritis-prone users.
“We often neglect to think about the elderly when it comes to sex,” said Erin Chen, during the panel. “There is a bias against aged sex, and doctors often assume older people just don’t have any.”
But to what degree will we let technology creep into our bedrooms? Will we be having sex with robots in the future? Programming them to satisfy our every need and please us on demand?
With roboticists around the world perfecting human-like androids — think Hiroshi Ishiguro — we might just get there one day.
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