Data-driven intimacy: The rise of quantified sex
Would you track your sex life the way you track your steps? You may be straining to hit 10K a day but there may be some benefits to sex metrics.
Around seven years ago, Lisa started using an app to monitor her menstrual cycle and gain a better insight into what was happening with her body. As well as tracking her cycle, the app also allowed her to input a whole host of other data. Like whether she’d had sex that month, if she was experiencing discharge (and what kind), and how her mood changed.
Then, after being diagnosed with a neurodiverse condition, she felt her libido and sex drive diminish dramatically. Not only did she feel it, the app confirmed it. It began to show a pattern.
An unspoken and unwelcome routine became the norm between her and her partner; one marked by rejection. He began to anticipate his advances being rebuffed while she hated feeling like she was always pushing him away.
In an effort to regain some intimacy and get in touch with their own needs, and each other, they began using the BlueHeart app. Positioned as the “relationship happiness” app, offers user-guided sex therapy, mindful touch sex techniques and ways to overcome loss of libido, among other features.
Lisa is far from alone in this endeavour. She is one of the many thousands of Irish people who have embraced the trend of ‘quantified sex’. The term refers to the practice of using various technological tools, such as apps, wearables or devices, to collect and analyse data related to sexual activities and experiences.
This data can cover a wide range of metrics, calculating everything from how frequently you get frisky and performance, to mental and physical responses and all kinds of other details. If it can be captured, it can be analysed.
The overarching goal behind it all is to boost awareness of your sexual health and pleasure, and your overall state of wellbeing. It’s about using data-driven insights to level up your bedroom game and tackle any sexual health or satisfaction concerns head-on.
As a tech-obsessed society, we’re already well versed in using apps to monitor our health. Whether that’s counting our steps, monitoring our calorie intake or even tracking our sleep. Now, we’re taking it one step further and monitoring intimate activities like sex. And while most health apps can generate generic advice and algorithms – eat less crap + exercise more + get enough sleep = feel good –sex apps face a more complex challenge. The age-old question remains: Is there a flawless formula for great sex?
Certainly, there are plenty of startups hard at work trying to figure that out. More apps are popping up all the time, designed to help you figure out what will get you going between the sheets, whether alone or with a partner.
The uptick in people using these apps is a welcome departure from Ireland’s legacy reputation for being sexually repressed. We’ve become more au fait with the intersection of technology and intimacy, embracing the role it can play in our personal lives. Whether we’re using our devices to access adult content or swiping through potential matches on platforms like Tinder Hinge, and Bumble, the boundary between our personal lives and our personal devices has become increasingly blurred.
For years, it has been pornography that has held the distinction of being at the intersection of technology and sex. Now, a plethora sex-positive apps are hoping to challenge its dominance.
And while we’re not shy about bringing technology into the bedroom through the use of porn and sex toys, or feeding our health trackers with all kinds of information, the adoption of data-driven insights for sexual pleasure has been a little slower.
So, why the sudden surge in sexual wellness apps? For starters, across the board, millennials and Gen Z have embraced more open attitudes to sex and relationships than the generations before them. No longer limited to monogamous relationships, these generations have a greater choice about the kind of sex they’re engaging in. Whether that’s casual interactions, more meaningful sex with a partner (or multiple partners) or forgoing a traditional relationship in favour of a situationship, the emphasis is now on personal pleasure and enjoyment.
And our digital sidekicks have got quite the toolkit to offer. From providing contraceptive autonomy to giving low libido a swift kick, and even providing a helping hand with sexual anxiety and stress, fertility matters, or embracing neurodiversity – there’s an app for that.
SLog, for example, is a sex activity tracker, allowing users to document and reflect on their sexual encounters. Reliant on user input, it tracks metrics like intensity, duration and performance over time.
For those of us who feel like we were thrown into the world of sex without any coaching (shout-out to the extremely poor and limited Irish sex education system), there’s Juicebox, an app that connects users with certified sex coaches for anonymous enquiries about sex and relationships.
Menstrual tracking app Flo not only predicts periods and associated symptoms but also identifies patterns in sexual desire throughout the menstrual cycle. For many, this can be as simple as realising that, yes, they are in fact at their horniest on day 15, 17 or 25 of their cycle. While it might seem trivial, these insights can dramatically improve rejection cycles in relationships.
For Siobhan, her journey into the world of quantified sex also began with a period tracking app. Her initial use was driven by curiosity about her menstrual cycle while she had an IUD, although pregnancy wasn't a top concern. As she contemplated starting a family, Flo provided valuable insights into her monthly ovulation patterns. Once she became pregnant, she relied on it religiously and found satisfaction in the app's accurate predictions.
Now in the postpartum phase, Siobhan continues to use the app, but this time for contraception after removing her IUD. Beyond its role in cycle and fertility predictions, she appreciates how the app has empowered her to regain control over her own body, a sense of ownership that she felt was often beyond her reach.
And it bears mentioning that quantified sex apps aren’t only reserved for the tech-savvy or data enthusiasts amongst us. Apps such as Emjoy, an adults only Audible-like app, claim to help you boost your libido and climax more consistently through hundreds of erotica stories. Dr Caroline West, sex Educator and host of the Glow West podcast, says this can be a great way for couples to introduce what they like into the conversation in a safe way.
“It's easier for people,” she explained. “Instead of having to go into a bookstore and buy a book on what a healthy relationship looks like, they’re more willing to use an app that's interactive. … It’s a nice private way of doing things.”
Amorous, another app that acknowledges the importance of good communication for good sex, is a sexting app it allows couples to play games, flirt and seduce with best practices for conversation, all while keeping messages completely private.
And sex-tech goes beyond the apps with connected toys such as Lioness, the self-titled “smart vibrator for smart women”. Heralded as a high-tech vibrator with an app that visualises arousal and orgasms using AI and sensor technology, it can help you to really understand what adds to your pleasure.
But, like everything in life, where there are positives, there can also be negatives. And just like ‘helpful’ sleep apps can actually have an adverse effect on our sleeping patterns, sex apps can sometimes negatively impact one’s sex life.
For Siobhan, she found her obsession and overreliance on finding the right date and conditions for conception began to erode all of the elements she actually enjoyed about sex. Being present in the moment and her emotional bond with her partner took a back seat to a looming sense of pressure and a checklist mentality.
Sex, with its inherent vulnerability, remains deeply personal and intimate, and no app can replace that. For Lisa, the apps couldn’t bridge the gap in communication between her and her partner. While the apps offered some help, the root of their issues lay in the inability to openly discuss their desires and needs, something technology can’t fix.
When it comes to great sex, finding the perfect formula remains elusive. Caroline compares the sexual exploration process to cooking. “You might know how to cook up to now. You might have done a good job – you’re still alive! You’ve learned to feed yourself but you might not necessarily know how to cook a five-star Parisian dish. So, you look up a recipe, you buy a cookbook or you go to a cookery class. Sex can be the same thing.”
It's like knowing the basics but yearning to explore further. Mistakes might be made, but the journey to discovering your own perfect recipe for sexual satisfaction is all part of the fun.