I’ve been a long time student of sexuality. Starting back in 2003 I started taking a lot of formal training around sexuality, gender, STI & HIV prevention, harm reduction, and more. Pleasure was not talked about as often as it should have been, though. As my curiosity grew I began seeking out university courses around the biology of sexuality and in 2007 took the SFSI sex educator training which touched on many of the things I had been studying intensely for years.
A lot of amazing orgasm research took place in the 60s and 70s but then it seemed to drop of the map for a long time. I found this disappointing because technology had progressed so far beyond the tools used in earlier orgasm studies. It now longer took an entire room to store one computer. Tech went mobile but orgasm research started to get dusty.
I knew that it was possible to engineer something smaller, sleeker, and faster that could measure quantitative data about orgasms but I didn’t know how. I proposed the idea to my partner. Ned is a physics graduate student. He spends his days working on science and technology far beyond my knowledge could ever hope to be. He seemed a bit skeptical at first but I gradually won him over to tinker around with the idea and help forge an engineering plan.
We made our version 1.0 from a “Clone-A-Willy” kit ordered from the internet and a female condom. That was as far as my own vision could carry me. Nevertheless, it worked. Ned had actually put the pieces of my idea into something tangible that was actually recording the pounds per square inch exerted by the pelvic muscles. It wasn’t well calibrated at this point in time. That’s when Ned went about innovating.
Although I’m by no means the tech wizard that my partner is, the data was exhilarating to look at. The mobility of the device allowed for us to travel and find people in real world sexual environments rather than having them come to a cold and sterile lab. I could follow fluctuations in the body’s response and joked that we had created a sexual lie detector test. I remember watching it use on one subject while her partner whispered into her ear and bit her neck only to watch all of the sensors make a sudden spike in intensity. It was desire codified in quantitative data about her body.
The version 2.0 was more of a layover on the way to version 3.0. In the new edition, the sensors were more properly calibrated and capable of detecting even more data. A light sensor could read the vasocongestion (amount of blood accumulating in the genitals) as and there were sensors to detect radiative heat from the skin. We realized that we could also take more standard data through the device as well. Plans were made to record blood pressure and pulse. The completion of the 2.0 made it clear that we could do even more and propelled us to jump on our technical findings.
The PSIgasm is a computer inside a buttplug and moreover it is wireless. It’s nice to create the freedom for someone to move or thrash. Ned began using his 3D design software to create the 3.0 and the model is being formally produced. Our project was about something more than just building a new tool.
Whenever people told us to copyright everything we announced that we wanted it to be fully open source. We wanted to be 100% transparent with our work and that included showing people what it was we built and how we built it. We want to teach people both the science of orgasms and what one needs to do in order to build something similar. We want to reduce the gap of knowledge that people have about their own bodies. It’s a chance to see the orgasm as a process of the body rather than something scary or supernatural.
It’s been an amazing exercise in teamwork. The more projects my partner and I take on the stronger our relationship seems to get. Sometimes things become a whirlwind of madness around us and it’s hard to keep up with it all. There’s always something in the air waiting to be caught.
We’re also juggling the things between the two of us. We each have our own individual lives and projects afoot as well as the PSIgasm and a developing porn site. Sometimes it seems so surreal that this is happening. I don’t think I ever would have guessed that I would meet a man, go with him to volunteer in Haiti, fall in love, and start a porn site and build sex technology. I never considered it an option until I made it one.
I call myself a sex hacker and people ask me what that means all the time. The definition is ever changing and imperfect but I’ve always liked it. Part of it is about being one of the first generations in the world to develop sexually with the internet close at hand. So much of what I know and who am came about because of my access to information. It was a different internet then and there will be a different internet than the one we have in 5 years from now but I remember the wild west nature of it all. The internet has always been pretty populist but in the 90s it was predominantly nerds. The one internet accessible computer in my city’s library was the literal manifestation of freedom to me as a child.
I also study models of sexuality with great interest. I read everything in my path and ask intimate questions of strangers. In testing people for HIV I got to take a snapshot of the real world sexuality of the people around me and the way they challenged my assumptions. I could never anticipate what someone would tell me about their sex life. All I could do was listen. I still carry those stories with me. I have an insatiable hunger for more information about this strange happening of humanity and it is never dull.
Although my note taking I have made modifications on my own sexuality. I built my own relationship based on my needs and desires the way one might construct their own computer hard drive. I am picky about the software I run and when in doubt I’ll take the time to build something new. I can’t always bring my vision to life but I’m always on its trail. Why rely on what has come before when we are finally tasting the limitless? We all have the opportunity to build our dream machines and I advise people to consider the notion carefully. Think of the resolution and the file size of just one human memory here on Earth: how could you want to miss even one pixel of the grandeur of it all? I just don’t have faith in a one size fits all model for life, especially not one that was constructed somewhere far away by a mega corporation.
There’s always more to know and just the thought of that makes me wild with desire.
This PSIgasm project is about opening information about sexuality wild open. What happens when you bring ivory tower rigor into real bedrooms? What if you teach people how to build their own and start asking questions about what they see? I’m positively dying to know.
When I demonstrated the version 1.0 in front of a live crowd for the first time I could see something in the eyes of the audience I have felt so many times in myself. It’s all of those little things we feel but have difficulty articulating from time-to-time. I can’t imagine how amazing it must have been for the first researcher to look at a graph and see in the math what we traditionally describe as “toe-curling.” It’s exciting to see what brain scans are showing about our arousal processes and I promise that if we ever figure out how to build one of those in our garages that we’ll be the first to share.
Information about sexuality doesn’t belong to some people and not to others. It’s part of the human record and that science should be accessible to everyone. Doing live demos of the PSIgasm are by far the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done and I sometimes use liquid nitrogen in my sex life to spice things up a bit. The future of sex science looks so great I have to wear a splash guard.