As well as being a sexual visionary, British science fiction author Charles Platt was somewhat of a lazy so-and-so.
In 1970, the editor of science fiction magazine New Worlds, imagined tech-based sex of the future through the medium of coital 'labour-saving' devices: "a metal 'vagina' lined with sensors which would feed an artificial 'phallus'… mimicking the operator's pelvic movements and contractions" with both partners only requiring minimal movement "for the mechanical 'genitals' to simulate violent coitus."
By 1974 Platt's vision had a name: teledildonics. A term invented by Ted Nelson for his book Computer Lib/Dream Machines; a new and exciting sexual technology that the 1990s cult cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000predicted would be ubiquitous by 2020.
Four years out from that fabled year and 'ubiquitous' is pushing it even if there are a handful of teledildonic brands on the market.
Lovense's founder spent years away from his partner in his late 20s. Finding it tough to connect on a sexual level, the pair looked for options to help them stay intimate, a personal quest that led to the creation of Lovense's teledildonic tech: allowing for long distance lovers to feel the thrusts, strokes and vibrations of a non-present partner in real-time.
Eddy Olivares, marketing manager, told me that since launching in 2013, Lovense products have helped long distance couples strengthen their relationship. "Instead of focusing on the separation, they're planning special dates and looking forward to a sexy night," he said, adding that he expects the LDR segment of the market to "grow rapidly as more and more long distance couples turn to technology to solve their intimacy problems."
It's potentially a huge market. An academic paper from 2005 reveals that as many as 75 percent of US students report being in a long-distance relationship at some point during their college years.
Plug in and play
Likewise, the Kiiroo brand markets itself as 'Interactive Pleasure Products'. Ashton East, communications manager, told Wareable he knows from personal experience that if you lack a physical connection in a relationship, your mind starts to wander and tensions starts to build.
"Mainstream ways of communicating get tiresome, and emotions tend to take over, and no matter how much you love your partner, things become difficult," he said. "With devices like Kiiroo's, we are changing this dynamic, helping people who are far apart, be closer together."
Producers of teledildonic devices will argue that they enable couples to explore their own bodies whilst pleasuring their partner at the same time and, paired with immersive video chat or VR (something Kiiroo offers its solo members at present in the form of interactive adult videos), bring the whole experience one step closer to the real thing proving, as East says, that you "now don't need to be together to be intimate and feel a connection."
Long distance loving
Mark and Jane* are members of the Loving from a Distance forum. As much as they haven't tried teledildonics, they both say they're keen on the idea.
"It's the norm for my partner and me to crave each other when we're apart. We're always talking dirty and sexting each other and we always try to satisfy each other's sexual needs, despite the distance," says Mark. "If teledildonics provides us with another avenue to explore and fulfil those needs, we'd give it a go."
"I imagine such devices can help couples maintain a sense of sexual excitement," Jane adds, "but just like with sexting, I suspect teledildonics won't be a substitute for real intimacy."
As any one who's ever had sex knows, inserting and receiving someone's bits and bobs is only one small part of the whole experience. When it comes to our libido, what stimulates us most of all is our senses.
In a 2001 study on heterosexual attraction, Dr Rachel S. Herza, a world expert on the psychological science of smell, revealed that "women ranked body odour as more important for attraction" over looks and various social factors when it came to seeking out a male mate. Indeed, "liking someone's natural body odour was the most influential olfactory variable for sexual interest for both men and women" proving that the Lynx effect really has no grounding in reality.
What's interesting here though is that despite teledildonics offer an odourless experience; they are not entirely deprived of sensory merit. In fact, curiously, teledildonics may even supersede the current sex-and-senses status quo.
Think outside the box
Dr. Trudy Barber is a media studies senior lecturer at University of Portsmouth. She's been studying teledildonics for over 25 years.
She defines teledildonics as "some kind of synesthetic experience" and cites the groundbreaking work of cybernetics expert Kevin Warwick and his development of a neuro-surgical implantation as pivotal to where this kind of technology is going.
A bizarre family heirloom - the orgasm in the cloud
"If you've got a chip in your head that stimulates the arousal process, that's a synesthetic experience that's crossing over with the senses," she told me over the primitive method of the telephone, adding that when your partner's got one too, these "internal pleasure chips" will enable us to sense when our lovers are aroused, circumnavigating our need for smell and all the other sensory cues of sexual attraction.
These chips she said could also be used to store our sexual information, something techno-fetishists have been experimenting with since the 1990s, "trying to recreate the orgasmic experience, not just through our fingertips but our orgasmic frequency too."
Dr Barber even envisions a world where we could record our sexual frequency and leave it for a relative in the will. That most bizarre of family heirlooms: "an orgasm in the cloud."
This, I'm not so keen on. Don't get me wrong, I love my dad but I'm not sure I'd want his orgasm handed to me in a dongle on his deathbed.
And teledildonics will go to another level when social media integration is achieved, allowing for advances of another kind: massive haptic online orgies. And there's huge potential for sexual health benefits too, Dr Barber believes.
"With things like menopause or vaginal atrophy, which is not really spoken about or when sex becomes painful it becomes difficult to maintain relationships, having control over some kind of teledildonics equipment it can be a form of therapy," she said.
As is often the case, advancements in tech are sexualised through a prism of heterosexual and conventional sexual practises; when we consider teledildonics we all too often think of penis-in-vagina (PIV) simulated sex as provided through companies like Kirroo and Lovense. But talking to Dr Barber reveals that we have always, and will continue to, reach beyond such simplistic boundaries.
Indeed, the vibration and insertion equipment is the very tip of this technology. Especially with the potential for pleasure chips, mass haptic connections, and sex-tech inspired empowerment, teledildonics could have a real, positive impact on couples of all kinds, not just those in long distance relationships, and not just those with PIV physicality.
As Dr Barber wrote in her seminal 2005 paper on sexual deviation and technology: "When consumers create their own technological innovations inspired by their personal predilections, arousal and preferences, new and unanticipated uses for technologies are being born."
'The role of deviation as a key to innovation must not be overlooked," she concluded. "As it will contribute to our understanding of new intimacy, culture and the future of developing information and communications technologies."
* (names changed)