We talk a lot about how technology is transforming our lives. And why shouldn’t we? Mobile devices, social networks, artificial intelligence and other innovations are completely changing the way we communicate, perform our jobs, date people and even raise our families. But we don’t talk as much about how technology is causing a shift in the bedroom—by way of remote-controlled couples’ vibrators, virtual reality Oculus Rift porn and performance-measuring apps. Hell, one expert even claimed in a recent Pew Research AI study that robotic sex partners will be commonplace by 2025.

Honestly, does traditional intercourse stand a chance?

We don’t talk much about how technology is causing a shift in the bedroom.

In 1975, information technology guru Ted Nelson used the term “teledildonics” to describe to the realm where sex toys, electronics and computers intersect. In the same decade that this awkward portmanteau was coined, the company Digital Sexsations released one of the first devices of this kind: the Black Box, which connected up to four toys to an online chat interface, letting users remotely control the vibrations.

Eva

By modern-day standards, the Black Box looks hilariously archaic. But still, the invention set the tone for toy makers around the world, who have now expanded on the idea by building vibrators and developing apps that enable men and women to experience virtual sex from any location.

And the gap between the real thing and simulation is narrowing as broadband speeds increase, circuitry advances and more engineers and physicists increasingly infiltrate the sex toy space. Like Janet Lieberman, an MIT grad who founded Dame Products. The company’s first toy, a couples’ vibrator named Eva, boasts an innovative design that is aimed at making it easier for women to get off hands-free—and it also happens to be the most highly funded adult product in the history of online crowdfunding.

Remote-controlled orgasms

In an email interview, Lieberman told me that she believes devices that can be controlled remotely will gain wide usage going forward, as extensions of pornography.

“It brings a realism and intimacy which was not there before,” she said.

Already, developers are coming up with audacious applications for Facebook‘s Oculus Rift that could revolutionize porn watching. Considering that the virtual reality headset is designed to dupe your brain into believing what it sees is real, the pornographic possibilities here are many. Adult streaming platform SugarDVD is building an app that will bring viewers into the action, which the company says will be similar to a choose-your-own sexual adventure type of experience with alternate endings that depend on users’ decisions.

Meanwhile, a number of companies are releasing some next-gen gadgets that are transforming how lovers stay sexually connected at a distance. For example, New Hampshire-based manufacturer OhMiBod has developed a remote-control vibrator called blueMotion, which enables a man to “e-stimulate” a woman from anywhere in the world. The company was founded by Suki Dunham, who previously worked at Apple for nine years, and her husband, who happened to travel a lot, posing some challenges to their sex life.

A number of companies are releasing some next-gen gadgets that are transforming how lovers stay sexually connected at a distance. 

Kiiroo has similar devices for both genders, as well as a social media platform for people to “connect,” and Mojowijo lets Nintendo Wii users transfer vibrations from one Wiimote to another.

Then there’s the HumThe three Silicon Valley biohackers behind this toy claim it’s the first robotic artificially intelligent vibrator—and it emulates the experience of having sex with an actual human by providing auto-feedback in the form of pulses and vibrations.

Now, vibrators are also even going open-source. Atlanta-based Comingle just raised $55,277 through a crowdfunding campaign for the Mod, a multi-vibrating dildo platform equipped with a Wii joystick, Arduino controller and hacker-friendly programming options. Users can customize the Mod’s vibration patterns by using the Comingle API, downloading apps from the website and connecting plug-and-play controllers.

FriXion, meanwhile, is taking things to an entirely new level of virtual intimacy. The Florida-based firm has created a sexual social network that provides synchronized feedback, allowing users to touch each other using various supported haptic devices. The system accesses toys’ existing technologies—allowing users to control them remotely—and will go for another round of testing before hitting the shelves potentially later this year. Frixion is reportedly going to be hosting live mass cyber sessions with one sexual ringmaster—say, a porn star—controlling thousands of people’s devices with his or her movements.

Helpful, or harmful?

Concerned about improving your prowess in the bedroom? Yeah, there’s an app for that, too.

Glance, for the iPhone and Google Glass, allows users to experience sex from their partner’s point of view. If that sent self-conscious shivers down your spine, consider apps like Nipple and Spreadsheets, which allow you to track your sexual performance via stats and graphs. And for guys who are wondering about their game between the sheets, there’s even a Bluetooth-enabled sex-tracking wearable: the SexFit.

You don’t even have to leave the house anymore to retrieve a new toy for your collection, either. The site MakerLove offers a variety of free sex toy designs for downloading and producing via a 3D printer.

So what does all this innovation in the sex toy space mean? Does it represent a positive development in our quest to boost pleasure for all, or is it a troubling indicator that good old-fashioned screwing simply isn’t enough anymore?

According to Lieberman, this new wave of gadgets is a sign that sex toys are being viewed more as consumer goods than as novelty items, even if the advanced technologies don’t necessarily make these devices more effective.

“The important thing is that the market is being viewed as a space worthy of innovation, and the consumer is seen as someone deserving of the latest technology,” she added.

Still, while these products are pretty intriguing—and could do wonders for long-distance relationships—Lieberman is adamant that they definitely don’t replace the real thing.

“Ultimately it’s no substitute for intimacy and touch,” she said. “There’s more to sex than just orgasms.”

Alexandra Fine, co-founder and CEO of Dame Products, agreed that the industry is headed into a more sex-positive direction, in part because it’s breaking away from ties to the porn industry.

“I think we will continue to see more and more teledildonics—for better or worse,” she told me in an email. “But I predict more ‘sexual wellness’ products and a greater acceptance of sex toys.”

As of yet, it’s probably too soon to tell whether technology is going to help us reach a new level of sexual enlightenment or eventually lead to a cold, dystopian future where humans barely interact for pleasure. Still, one thing is for certain: If a robot or device of any kind is better at getting you off than a consenting person, then maybe you should seek out a different partner.