When we talk about the future of sex machines, the conversation often turns to the options available to men: sex robots with eerily human appearances; mechanical glory holes designed to simulate the experience of getting a blowjob; entire brothels full of fembots. But we rarely talk about sex machines for women, or if women are even interested in copulating with a robot, to begin with.
That’ll likely change, however, with the debut of The Cowgirl, a high-tech, ride-on sex machine. It’s roughly the size of a microwave and features a saddle-like seat topped with a rubber rumble strip. Customers who prefer G-spot stimulation can also swap in a dildo attachment with 360-degree rotational capacity.
“This is the ultimate vibrator,” its creator, sex educator and sex toy maker Alicia Sinclair, told Men’s Health. After trying out the Cowgirl at the product launch at New York City’s Museum of Sex last week, I’m inclined to agree: when I commandeered the machine’s palm-sized control box and dialled the motor up to half speed, my hand jumped from its body. This thing is powerful.
The Cowgirl is essentially a higher-tech version of the Sybian machine, a rideable vibrator that was introduced in the mid-1980s. Sinclair wanted to update the idea for 2018, adding a smartphone app for remote play and a more luxurious appearance. With a $2600 price tag, the Cowgirl is not for everyone, but Sinclair is (perhaps unsurprisingly) already seeing interest from women. When she pitches it to straight couples or male buyers, however, she’s noticed one comment comes up a lot: “She won’t even need me anymore. This is going to replace me.”
When she hears this, Sinclair says she can’t help but chuckle. “It’s a machine,” she says. “It provides an extremely pleasurable experience, but nothing will ever replace a human connection.”
But as the sex tech industry rapidly evolves and more machines like the Cowgirl flood the market, who’s to say that won’t change? Are these men right to be concerned? Can sex toys replace men in sex?
Of course, not every guy will view the contents of his girlfriend’s bedside drawer as an existential threat. In a 2011 survey published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, which polled more than 2,000 women and 1,000 men ages of 18 and 60, most men saw their partner’s vibrator use as healthy, and about 82% agreed that a vibrator can enhance a sexual relationship. However, 35% thought women became too dependent on their vibrators for pleasure; roughly a quarter classified women’s vibrator use as “embarrassing”; and about 30% said a woman owning a vibrator is intimidating.
Vibrator anxiety is real, and it’s not exactly uncommon. David Ley, a clinical psychologist and author of Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them, attributes this dildo distrust to “traditional, rigid expectations around gender roles” that assess men’s worth based on their ability to provide for their partners — not just financially, but also sexually. The ability to get a woman off is often viewed as a badge of masculine achievement. “The more manly a man is, the more women have orgasms with him, goes the belief,” says Ley.
“It’s a machine. Nothing will ever replace human connection.”
There’s also the problem of “genital self-esteem,” says Ian Kerner, a psychotherapist and sex therapist, says. “[Men] worry that their penises aren’t big enough, thick enough, that they don’t get hard enough, that they don’t last long enough before ejaculating.”
These worries can erode men’s confidence in their own sexual technique — especially when they’re up against a machine engineered to do what they fear they can’t. “It makes an awful lot of sense that men would feel threatened or challenged by this external device being able to independently provide women with an orgasmic experience,” Ley said.
But even if men are anxious about their partners using vibrators, sex toys are working to solve a very real problem: closing the orgasm gap. According to a 2017 Archives of Sexual Behavior study, only 65% of heterosexual women say they usually or always have an orgasm during sex, compared to 95% of straight men. “Female sex toys fix the problem with regular sex for women, which is that about two-thirds of them can’t have an orgasm during intercourse,” says Hallie Lieberman, a sex historian and author of Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy.
That’s in part why many sex toy manufacturers are shifting away from dildos and phallus-shaped vibrators and more toward genderless, abstract shapes. These new designs are a clear indication that straight women have not been working to engineer dick out of their sex lives. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the products Kerner says tend to inspire a lot less anxiety in his straight male clients.)
It’s worth noting, too, that as long as women have been using vibrators, they have also continued to pursue relationships with men — even as they enjoy more orgasms from their Hitachi Wands. That’s because the sensation of using a vibrator and the sensation of having sex with another person feel completely different. Think of it this way, says Lieberman: “If your girlfriend banned porn, you’d probably think that that was not fair. If you’re freaking out about your girlfriend using a vibrator, it’s the same thing.”
If you do grapple with vibrator anxiety, you should face your fears, says Kerner. “Play with [the vibrator], look at it, read about it, ask your partner about it, ask her to show you, ask her to include you, ask her to put your hand underneath hers and to guide you,” Kerner suggests.
You should also keep in mind that sex toys might be beneficial to your own pleasure as well: ultimately, research suggests women who masturbate in partnered relationships report higher levels of sexual satisfaction and more frequent intercourse. As Ley put it, “If a guy’s female partner has more orgasms from these toys, she’ll probably want to have more sex with you, dude.”
Reports of a future filled with sex robot brothels and orgasm machines aside, the jury is still out as to whether sex tech will ever become advanced enough to replace the actual experience of having sex. But Sinclair is sceptical that we’ll ever reach that point.
“Your sex life is important. But what about your intimate relationship overall, your partnership as a couple, or your family life or your friends?” she asks. “Do you really think you can replace all of that with a vibrator?”
By Claire Lampen