Love & Sex

Long Distance Relationships Can’t Be Saved by Tech

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Durex's new app-controlled underwear won't bridge the gap.

What’s the likelihood that a phone app could single-handedly fulfill your sexual appetite during a long distance relationship? Durexperiment, a branch of condom royalty Durex, seeks to solve the issue of long distance dry spells and streamline remote presence tech—with vibrating underwear. They have just launched a new app-based sex toy for partners called Fundawear. We’re talking about  thumping and buzzing underwear you remotely control on your iPhone. This video was released just six days ago and already has over 3 million hits, partly because it features an adorable, underwear-clad Australian couple and partly because the idea of being able to simulate the touch of someone we miss has transfixed a nation who already largely experiences romantic and sexual relationships through an interface.

The way Fundawear works is you have a diagram of your partner’s body parts on your phone screen and then drag your finger across what you want to “touch”, while your partner can do the same. The “fundawear” sensors will then convey your touch in absentia by transmitting the intensity of touch based on how hard you press the screen. 

Fundawear is only the latest of the many teledildonic devices (devices that allow you to have a sexual encounter with a virtual partner through an interface) that have come out in the past fifteen years in order to solve our ubiquitous horny-from-afar conundrums. Everything, from cybersex suits in 1999, to RealTouch in 2010, to LovePalz this year, has tried to recreate the experience of being together while being unable to have sex together. Since the adult industries have never shied away from the incorporation of new technologies into their new models, haptic toys have become more and more popular for an audience that has grown tired of mutually masturbating while on the phone. 

The concept of underwear that could get you off, while your partner clicks a screen a thousand miles away, is not surprising. Our cultural dating patterns practically necessitate the market for remote presence erotic technology. That’s because we are now creating technology to breach the gap that previous dating-based technology has generated in its wake. With about 40 million Americans using the resource of online dating as their means to find significant others, the possibility for the creation and maintenance of long distance relationships has grown exponentially.

Looking back on data from 2000 to 2005, long distance relationships saw an increase of 23%, with 14 million Americans now claiming to be in a long distance relationship, and that figure is just increasing. With Skype sex, FaceTime, and unlimited text messaging, long distance relationships have become much more exciting than the patented letter-in-a-mailbox or weekly phone call from a few decades ago. But the constancy and prevalence of tools that allow for the popularity of long distance relationships also means the oversaturation of the technology will create isolation. Tech allows us to connect from afar, but we can’t touch. So we create tech to connect again.

Enter remotely controlled underwear, dildos, and fleshlights parading under the umbrella of teledildonics. The question remains, if the stakes and the tech keep raising on long-distance sex products, how come none of them are as mainstreamed or destigamatized as your Songza app?

While the technology of vibrators has, for the most part, made leaps and bounds to accommodate the specific needs of female anatomy with lubrication, varying vibrations, and clitoral and g-spot stimulators, male-marketed tech has left a lot to be desired. RealTouch, Zeus, and sex robots like Roxxxy and her sisters are the closest approximations intended for male anatomy, but none are  exactly analogous or rival the warmth, depth, and wetness of a vagina or anus. Also, a USB-connected sex toy, while boasting live, tactile streaming with porn, can be pretty painful for men. “On the first use my husband inserted his male part into the machine and it burned the tip of it,” says one Amazon user in their review of RealTouch. 

Kyle Machulis, writer of the erotic tech blog, thinks the reason teledildonics has yet to reach widespread practice, despite an ever-increasing pool of long distance partners, is because we have yet to solve what he calls the, “OMFG NOW” problem. That is, unlike vibrators, teledildonics require research, waiting for launches, online purchases, and setting up your device to networks, all before use—a veritable disrupter of our need for immediate stimulation and gratification in our sex toys. “On the other hand," he told me, "the user experience with, say, phone sex, is fucking impeccable. It's call person, talk dirty, touch self,” reminds Machulis. He also cites issues of server or network disruption, device malfunction, and cleanup as reasons why our current sex tech just isn’t doing it for the masses.

Fundawear seems easy and fun enough to use, but how far along can an app based on foreplay go? Products like these also combat the problem that vibration on key areas can’t replace the experience of touching an entire body, even parts not typically seen as erotic, like arms, legs, and necks. Rewatch the Fundawear promo and you’ll see something quite telling: While the woman is writhing (or acting) with pleasure, her male partner seems to be most excited about exciting her. He describes the sensation as “tickling,” but there’s no chance he will have an orgasm from the experience. When we finally create a ready-to-use toy that has the potential to fulfill both partners, and not shortchange one sex, we may actually be able to reconnect through our tech.