By: Jenn Coulter
“Welcome to ‘cyberspace,’ the waycool, red-hot new arena of autoerotica or ‘cybersex,’ as it has come to be called by the denizens of today’s high-speed data networks.”
– “Foreword”, The Joy of Cybersex
Remember how wild people thought the turn of the century would be? Back to the Future promised us flying cars by now, Neon Genesis Evangelion said we’d all be orange goo by 2015, and even Trapper Keepers thought 2020 would be full of zero-gravity food and floating gamepads. For some reason, when computers and the Internet entered the picture, everyone also thought we’d definitely be having robot sex. As our glorious leader Ben puts it, “90’s kids were CONVINCED that cybersex was gonna be just like it was depicted in Demolition Man.” I love how when new technology comes around, someone inevitably asks themselves, “how can we use this in a horny way?”
These early visions of cybersex were chronicled in the 1993 book, The Joy of Cybersex: The Underground Guide to Electronic Erotica, which can be found in its entirety on The Internet Archive. The guide was written primarily by Phillip Robinson, a columnist for magazines like Byte, MacUser, and MacWeek, alongside fellow author Nancy Tamosaitis. This was actually Tamosaitis’ debut as a published book author, and this book signifies her “[embarking] on a mission to explore the outer erotic limits of the digital domain.” Believe it or not, the book was published by Brady – the company who put out all those BradyGames strategy guides. Yes, your The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time walkthrough guide was written alongside this horny cyber book.
Now, this guide is a whopping 366 pages long, and a decent chunk of it consists of a fairly straightforward guide on how to connect your computer to the Internet and where to buy erotic software. It also includes various full-color stills of various porn games (including Cobra Mission!), reviews of erotic software, and even a guide to Bulletin Board Services (BBS) that were dedicated to sexual roleplaying (i.e. random phone numbers!). These bits are a pretty interesting look at the world of pre-Internet porn – this book came out in 1993, and the World Wide Web only went live in April of that year – but the REALLY fun stuff comes in Part 4: Cybersex Visions. “But what of the future?,” it asks. “How will we exercise our erotic urges in the year 2000, or 2010?”
This section predicts that we will be able to don a “Head-Mounted Display,” or HMD, and get busy in ways we never thought possible. It predicts that the “right programming” will make it possible for you to feel titties in your hands, and that scents and perfumes would be pumped into your helmet for maximum immersion. Then, it details a shit ton of virtual reality scenarios to consider. Here are a few questions/scenarios it proposes:
- “Does the idea of making love as a dolphin or snake thrill you? If you are going to do it doggie style, why not become Fido and experience the real thing?”
- “How does lovemaking as a pod person strike you?”
- “If you have a foot fetish, now you will be able to equip them with new hot spots.” (I guess computer programming will let you digitally grow G-spots in this scenario???)
- “You can take on the guise of a traditionally inanimate object, such as a couch, a chocolate cake, or a vibrator.”
- “…30 years from now portable sex through “telediddlers” will become common place.” For reference, that means that they should be here by 2023!
- Have a “hot night in the virtual village” by climbing “into a lightweight bodysuit like a body stocking, but with the snugness of a condom” that is decked out with “sensor-effectors”
- This section also features an interview with Jill Hunt, who produced the “cybersex love scene animations” from The Lawnmower Man.
- There’s also a snipped about UCLA computer scientists claiming that “robot sex could produce robot progeny” if cybersex expanded to actual computers having sex. I want to know how I can get a PhD in some shit like that.
The section is basically just a big ol’ fanfic about virtual reality sex and simulations. Specifically, when this section talks about cybersex, it’s talking about “teledildonics.” These days, that term is sometimes used to refer to those Bluetooth sex toys, but back then, it referred to any type of simulated long distance robo-fucking.
Teledildonics was supposed to be “the next big thing” in the world of sex. In 1993, Chicago Tribune ran an article called “HIGH TECH SEX” that amusingly starts off with the sentence, “some day your sex life could be shut off for failure to pay your electric bill.” It goes on to describe, “the virtual-reality technology that may one day allow people wearing special bodysuits, headgear and gloves to engage in tactile sexual relations from separate, remote locations via computers connected to phone lines.” Mmmm, there’s nothing hotter than your orgasm travelling digitally through dial-up!
There were companies that went so far as to make prototypes of these teledildonics machines. One company in San Francisco, Algorithm, reportedly released a CD-ROM game titled Cyborgasm that came with a “Cyber-condom” and a pair of VR “eco-goggles” (basically just cardboard goggles). Meanwhile, a magazine called Future Sex worked with a company called Reactor create a fucksuit prototype for their second issue. Below was their speculative idea for the “CSEX 2 SYSTEM.”
The article even included a timeline of when they thought such a suit could be made – according to their predictions, 2020 should have brought us THE ORGASMATRON – an “all-in-one helmet with direct brain feed” that has multiplayer communication abilities for “advanced group telesex.” All with “broad bandwidth” and “memory recording ability,” included too! Looks like we haven’t quite gotten there yet, but to the magazine’s credit, they did predict that we regular folks wouldn’t actually get commercial access to these systems until 2050. Here’s hoping we can finally crank it virtually by the time we’re 70!
Despite all these glorious visions of having a mechanical penis or becoming wrapped up in sexy electrified and vibrating cables, all these speculations about cybersex were nothing but pipe dreams. While the advent of the Web did give us plenty of Flash porn games out there where you could bang aliens, as well as plenty of PornHub videos starring animated copyright violations, we haven’t quite reached “digitally become a chocolate cake so a hot lady can eat you” levels of virtual reality. The actual act of anonymous cybersex never went too far beyond janky Second Life furry orgies, traumatizing Omegle video sessions, or chat rooms where everyone is lying about their age and gender. Heck, even The Joy of Cybersex’s prediction of digitally growing multiple pairs of genitals fizzled out when Cyberpunk 2077’s genital modifications turned out to be little more than the option of “Penis 1” and “Penis 2.”
I will give these guys credit for their prediction of VR porn. Granted, it doesn’t look, uh, quite what these 90’s folks envisioned, but to their credit, it does exist. You can plop an Oculus Rift on your head and stick your dick in a fleshlight, which is pretty close to a cybernetic fucksuit, right? As of right now, there doesn’t seem to be much beyond just regular POV sex videos available – at least not in any mainstream way. The sheer expense of making these VR videos seems to be a big hurdle, and most consumers can’t really afford to buy a $599+ headset for the dedicated use of jerking off, either.
I suppose we’ve come kiiiind of close to the cybersex vision of “telediddlers” with those aforementioned Bluetooth sex toys that can be controlled by a long-distance lover or made to sync up to your music library. Still, that’s not quite in line with the predictions of cybernetic gloves and REAL FEEL erectile touch receptors.
A few of the entries in The Joy of Cybersex seemed to accurately show how insane it is to be a woman on the Internet, so I’ll give the 90’s credit for anticipating that. Some of the exchanges in the BBS section are definitely…a lot. The book describes the act of “hot chatting” and suddenly receiving opening messages like, “are you currently lactating?” Another story tells of a time a random person found Tamosaitis’s number in a chatroom and randomly called her and opened with, “what are you into?” It seems that even when the Internet was in its infancy, the road to “unsolicited dick pics” was still being paved. Of course, back then, pictures would take a good hour or two to even load up on the screen, so the horndog creeps had to settle for unsolicited phone calls.
On that note, the Chicago Tribune article mentioned earlier points out that the disparity between male and female software developers would likely lead to a more male-gaze oriented teledildonics. It mentions that gay men and straight women had already been complaining back then that there was only a “Virtual Valerie” and no “Virtual Victor.” Reactor special projects manager Norm Dwyer responded to the criticism by telling dude lovers, “hey, you develop it and we’ll publish it, because we wouldn’t pretend that we would know what to do.” So, essentially, he was saying, “it’s just a buncha straight dudes working here, so do it yourself.”
While these days, there are plenty of erotic computer games (namely visual novels) aimed at female audiences, there are still way more men in software development than there are women, and (generally speaking) the world of big porn sites seem to be more catered towards men. That disparity between what content straight dudes get and what the rest of the world actually wants is still there, though the gap is starting to close. Basically, the 90’s correctly predicted that heteronormative views and sexism would still dominate whether we had invented robo fucksuits or not – go figure, they were right.
To be completely fair, many of these cybersex marketers were aware that their predictions were a long ways away. Palac told Chicago Tribune, “”if you have a crummy, disappointing, boring sex life, a machine isn’t going to change it,” and she even admitted that there was no guarantee that some cyberspace utopia would ever be achieved. And, alas, sex on the Internet is still not quite as techno-horny as folks once hoped. Future Sex and Brady failed to account for things like OnlyFans or the onslaught of things like My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic vore. It is fun to reflect on just how exotic and foreign the concept of cybersex was to the earlier (and far more primitive) generation of computer users, though.