Opinion: Is AI taking over the sexual wellness industry?

Hold on to your seat! Sex tech is changing...

(Image credit: LELO)

In its 2023 Sex Census report, Swedish sexual wellness brand LELO says that many of us will soon be enjoying AI as part of our sexual experience. Business magazine Forbes concurs, citing predictions that the best sex toy tech will reach a value of $122 billion in 2026.

Fantasies regarding the relationship between AI and sex tech are not new, at least in film. Who could forget Ava and Kyoko in Ex Machina, or Scarlett Johansson’s AI character in Her? However, with recent advances in both AI and VR (we're looking at you, Lovense and Apple Vision Pro!) sex tech is no longer a creative fantasy, but fast becoming part of our everyday.

AI and sex tech: it’s already here

AI currently exists within the sexual wellness industry, as smart sex toys are pretty commonplace. Teledildonics (or cyberdildonics) is an immersive technology that stimulates hyper-real mutual masturbation between couples, or indeed with a virtual being. We'll continue to see more AI-informed sex toys too, such as the male masturbator Autoblow AI+, trained on information gleaned from 1,000 hours of oral sex videos.

VR within the porn industry is a growing phenomenon. Its biggest site, VRPorn, currently receives around 8 million monthly visits and can be viewed on Oculus Quest and Google Cardboard, among others.

One controversial development between AI and the sexual wellness industry is the emergence of sex bots. Not to be confused with sex dolls, a sex bot can move, stand and talk. Its brain and ‘personality’ is controlled via an app on a smartphone. Sex bots are currently incredibly niche, partly because of cost (around £7,000). There are also various concerns, including sexual objectification.

Apple Vision Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

Nevertheless, it seems that Brits are keen. A third of those questioned by LELO said they would use or “would ‘maybe’ consider using” a sex robot if an affordable option was released. The gender breakdown was 43.9% men, 21% women and 71% non-binary.

A more common form of AI in sexual wellness is using a chatbot as virtual sexual partner. Soulmate AI provided this service until its closure late in 2023, leaving thousands of digisexuals heartbroken and heading to apps, such as Replika or Kindroid.

One in 10 of those asked by LELO said that they use (1%) or would like to use (7.8%) AI bots, such as ChatGPT for sexual purposes. The report reads: “others enjoyed ‘online chats’ with the bots to satisfy their sexual needs.”

Porn sites are using AI to learn about its users, creating sophisticated algorithms that offer bespoke content. Predictions are that as the relationship between AI, VR and the porn industry deepens, users will come to expect tailor made videos. The industry has, of course, already come under intense criticism for the proliferation of deepfake videos.

The rise of AI in sex tech: good or bad?

We-Vibe Sync O launch

(Image credit: Lovehoney)

The marriage of AI and the sexual wellness industry presents many positives, suggests LELO in its Sex Census report. AI can provide educational benefits, or be helpful for those struggling with social anxiety, or disability. “Additionally, when applied to sex toys,” reads the report, “this tech could provide a more personalised experience to consumers.”

The negatives, advises Dr Joseph Walton a research fellow at the University of Sussex, include issues regarding privacy and data surveillance, algorithmic bias and long-term psychological impacts of data-driven personalisation. Other concerns regarding objectivation, consent, natural relationship development and the marginalisation of the LGBTQ+ community are also cited in the LELO report.

AI and the sexual wellness industry are already partners. Good and bad, the future only promises more collaboration, so we'll have to see what comes out of it.

Katie Nicholls

Katie Nicholls is a sexual health and well-being journalist who’s always interested in the latest developments in this ever-changing and fast-growing field. Katie also writes about music, interiors and food and has had articles published in The Guardian, MOJO and Kerrang!. When she’s not crafting copy, she can be found indulging in one of her passions that include painting abstract art, cooking, strength training and running.