When Durex launched their remote controlled vibrating device for couples in long distance relationships, the internet was amused. But they tapped into what designer and psychology MSc Cassie Robinson sees as potential for digitally-facilitated intimacy. These are devices that, in their most elegant forms (see Alex Deschamps Sonsino’s ‘Good Night Lamp’), allow two people to be aware of each other at a distance – the technological equivalent of a gentle touch on the arm.
Similarly, Intimate Objects and Intimacy Lab (both part of Open Source Sex) create a space to design for emotional as well as physical closeness. An individual or couple (or friends) are prompted to answer questions about their desires, their emotions, their bodies and their relationships, one of the results of which can be transformed into a 3D-printed object, to purchase if they wish. It’s a generalisation, but this emphasis on the process rather than the payoff feels rooted in female sensibilities, relying on gently suggestive cues rather than crass exposition. This is not necessarily the same realm as Make Love Not Porn, or the feminist porn awards. This is a shift away from thinking only of the body to the place where the deeply sexy or deeply intimate happens.
“I really care about the difference between sex and intimacy’, says Cassie Robinson, founder of OSS. “You can share an intimate moment with someone you’ve only just met because you’ve seen something in one another that’s just connected and that might not be sexual at all. Or there’s the intimacy of caring for someone when they’re passing away. Intimacy occurs in different moments and experiences, and it’s much harder to define – which I think is what’s really beautiful.”
In the case of Intimate Objects, the focus is definitely more on sexual intimacy but Cassie wanted to expand beyond the normal cultural associations and definitions of what sex is and broaden minds, showing that it can encompass much more than the physical act. Cassie is interested in “Eudaimonic wellbeing”, and ultimately the ripple effect of healthy sexual expression and intimate connection on other areas of life. “There are so many amazing things that can come out of being expressive around your sexual and intimate desires”, she says.
Robinson got the idea for the project when her friends took her to the Glasgow MakLab for her birthday. “The values, the language, the mindset that underpins the maker movement around experimentation, openness, play and invention – all those are really great to transfer over to the world of sex.”
“Can we build a community in the same way that projects like the NounProject or the WikiHouse or SketchChair [have done]? I love the idea of there being this growing bank of objects online that people can adapt and customise- an archive of our desires. But also even just the idea that you might want to keep it [to yourself] and come back and adapt it later, because with age your desires and your relationship with your body changes.”
Cassie is working with anthropologists to make sure there’s some insights into broader culture. Take the LGBTQ community, for example – generally speaking, the starting point for a sex object will be vastly different, but still just as capable of bringing the female body pleasure. And that really would start to disrupt the phallocentric power balance.
“The idea is that an intimate object could be an extension of your body but it might be nothing to do with the body at all” Cassie says. “There’s a whole world to discover which is not just about the dildo or butt plug.”
Intimate Objects is part of OSS (Open Source Sex) and a new website is launching shortly: www.oss.industries
Intimacy Labs are events that include the Intimate Objects experience.