Arse Elektronika: Come for science!

Jack Diehl, Alison Gardner, and Dan Massey contributed to this article.

VenusPlusX attended the Arse Elektronika conference in San Francisco (September 29 – October 2), hosted by the Austrian “art-technology-philosophy groupMonochrom. This energetic collective has run the European AE for many years, and this is the fifth year in a row they have brought its parallel to San Francisco. The call for entries last February gives some insight to what unfolded.

This year’s theme was Sex and Technology. It was hard to know what to expect from the schedule of four days of programming over three different venues, with intriguing titles like “Phallic Home Economics,” “Make your own Mind Controlled Dildo,” and “It’s Wankie Time!” But we are not complaining, we had to see it.

The entire conference had a natural leftist perspective, expressed in the sub theme, “Screw The System.” Kink was commonly understood, appearing quite abundantly in many presentations and all over the walls of the San Francisco Center for Sex and Culture, one of the 3 venues. Technology, the Internet, and hacking were also well represented. The last day of Arse Elektronika was held at one of the country’s biggest hackerspaces, Noisebridge. (Here is Jack’s brief video walk-through of Noisebridge.)

The first night was at author-rac0nteur Chicken John‘s legendary warehouse, a multi-media opening introduction made up of summaries of the previous 5 conferences in San Francisco, previews of talks to come during the following days, lots of high jinks, and some very enjoyable entertainment from “song a day guy” Jonathan Mann (who has made a song everyday for the last 1,000+ days.)

What Does It Mean To Love A Machine? (buy for $1)
Until The Vulcans Call (free download)

The presentations were extremely wide-ranging, and showed the creativity possible as a new age of sexual freedom emerges. Each one incrementally stretched the group or “hive” mind in real time.

Among the dozen+ offerings, we heard from Kitty Stryker in her frank talk, “Sex Work, Disability, and Stigma”  and Maymay presented “A Class Analysis of Social Status in the BDSM Scene” (also available on YouTube). David Fine, who vaguely describes himself as “a Sex Robot from the 25th century” spending his time in our era guiding technology in useful, or at least interesting, directions, brought us his reimagining of the Mindflex kids’ toy (available on Amazon) which he modified to activate a vibrator, simple and perhaps the first attempt we’ve seen to apply an EEG headset  to a sex toy; The future possibilities are endless.

Most expressive of the intersection of sex and technology, though, is the impressive work and activism of Ned and Maggie Mayhem.  Their  PSIgasm (that’s Pounds per Square Inch, pronounced, sci-gasm) is one of the first legitimate, fully engineered entries into the nascent science of teledildonics. As they describe it . . .

PSIgasm was conceived in 2010 by an HIV prevention specialist and an experimental physicist, both of whom moonlight as queer porn performers and are active in the Bay Area sex positive scene. The project revolves around measurement devices that can be used as sex toys, simultaneously getting people off and monitoring physiological responses correlated with arousal and orgasm.


Considering themselves citizen scientists, the Mayhems prompted the assembled to start thinking about other commercial grade sex toys that might emerge and use their application and the sensors they’ve engineered in this device, and the ways that data on your heart rate, anal contractions, other statistics recorded during orgasm will prove beneficial.

Besides the PSIgasm project and being so damn cool, the Mayhems are HIV and sex educators, and among many useful things for society that they advocate for, they  campaign to empower others to produce and star in ethical and sex positive pornography to escape financial hardship. The pair are coming to DC in March to participate in the Momentum conference, and hold other events we will be promoting soon. For now, they are headed to the next phase of substantial testing and data collection for the PSIgasm under their slogan, “Come for Science.”

Overall, we assert that the teledildonics field hasn’t received the attention it deserves. These breakthroughs will lead to better and safer sex practices and extend to people often excluded from traditional social connections.

The toys being made right now are mostly DIY (do-it-yourself), and have very little financial backing. Technology will continue to be applied to sex, and as society grows out of its strangling sexual repression and we move further into an interconnected world, there is no doubt in our minds that the future of teledildonics will be exciting. Want to contribute yourself? Check out The Sex Prize, a new competition announced at this year’s conference challenging entrants to develop open source teledildonics software for f#^king machines. Entries will be judged by a Turing Test, meaning your program has to preform so well that it is indistinguishable from a human operator. With countless people willing to test such devices, we can’t wait to see what people come up with.