Sitting in my bedroom (as most of us have been doing for the past year), I begin to wonder about the drastic lack of intimacy and enjoyment so many people have lost during isolation. And for many, some have become more reliant on new technologies and innovations to bring that satisfaction as well as improve our self-awareness.
I stumble upon an event with Touchy-feely Tech, a D-I-Y Sex Kit and workshop organisation that creates “educational kits and experiences that combine electronic hardware, software skills and hands-on craft.”
The sex-tech industry is growing and with this Unicorn Magazine Issue of Cyber, I want to explore how LGBTQ+ people, sex and innovative technology are creating space for everyone to appreciate.
With the general lack of inclusive space in the cyber and tech industry, many fail to understand the effects of toxic environments in the tech world. The lack of LGBTQ+ inclusive sex products, services and open conversation is very clear within society, however with the market right now there is a huge space for creative innovators and tech stars to bridge that gap in the market and bring pleasure to all.
Tatiana: Hi Alice, Thanks for joining me today, let’s get to it! I would love to know more about your background and what exactly is Touchy-feely tech?
Alice: Hi Tatiana, that’s a great question, I have a background in art and design, I went to art school and did the whole classic art school gig, however, I was always fascinated with tech and sci-fi.
I was never really able to make technology myself, so I was sort of getting into open source tools like Arduino, which is a great tech tool to help create sense. It helped me towards my final year degree and develop as a completely self-taught creative technologist.
Nevertheless, I wanted to create something which brings community but also improves the lives of others and
so I thought, why not a vibrator!
In the beginning, it was sort of tongue and cheek however, I realised it takes a big operation to make this kit and just send it to the world. So we combined sex education and STEM research to create new perspectives in growing communities.
That is so important and to see that you have grown within your creative community and develop your work is inspiring, what made you want to start within the sex tech industry?
Alice: With the tech industry I sort of fell into it, the sex tech industry is huge and from my perspective, the community I work in is trying to push things in the right direction. Our product is for everybody and that’s important to me.
Many of the people who turn up to our workshops identify as female and work within the tech industry, or work in non-tech roles and want to meet other people.
We create a space where they can feel validated and not have this ‘bro culture’.
It’s important to make them feel like they can explore their identity without fear and shame.
I completely agree, as someone who has worked in tech I can relate, however as you talk about equality, how is your work impacting the LGBTQ+ community?
Alice: A lot of the people that come to the workshops are part of the LGBTQ+ community from Amsterdam, London and Berlin – where there is a thriving sex-positive environment.
It is within our ethos and mission to be as inclusive as possible, from all different backgrounds, ages, gender identities and ethnicities. At the centre of Touchy-feely tech, our goal is not to create products that mimick sex toys but
change the perspective on what a sex toy has to look like and more importantly feel like.
With community and with the support of people we can try out new things and possibly change the trajectory of non-toxic tech environments.
U: This is such a brilliant way to put it, I suppose the next idea I am interested in is the idea of cyber and the sort of narrative into tech and creativity, how have you found the combination?
Alice: I have never worked in a traditional tech office, such as Facebook or Google. I know how difficult the culture can be for people, I feel like combining tech and creativity has saved me from working restraints without this toxic stuff.
U: So you mentioned you are a self-starter, who are your role models?
Alice: A lot of my teachers have been great mentors and supporters. Ubi de Feo is an amazing contact because he is very much about amplifying people getting into the industry with non-traditional ways.
Another cool person is Bryony Cole, she runs Future of Sex she’s amazing and started a school called sex tech school where she is trying to boost and amplify people to create mutual support.
Glenise Kinard-Moore is also an amazing sex-tech founder and has founded a new piece of sex tech that is wearable and accessible prosthetic devices that enhances the adult sexual experience that has changed lives. She is amazing and is a huge inspiration to me.
Sophie Holm is also a great speaker, her podcast introduces the concept of financial health and how it should be treated as your regular health. Also touching on why wealth is more accessible to men than women. This helped me understand how important wellness and sexual wellness is within the tech industry.
U: Those are great examples, I love to see solidarity within the community and how important it is to support other organisations and members of the community. Have there been any other new pieces of tech that you have been working on?
Alice: Just nerdy things! I am always interested in little tiny connectors and cool wires! I’ve been developing a residency with Space 10 where I have recently worked with great people including ‘It’s complicated’, which is a new app centred around finding the right therapist for you, including race, gender and other factors.
I have also developed a piece of wearable jewellery that can connect you to another person over the internet. I was trying to reinvent this idea of exchanging thermal energy, like an actual virtual hug, creating this intimate and important thing where we are lacking so much of with the pandemic and pre-pandemic on our computers. Think of teleconnection jewellery!
U: That is amazing, a virtual hug brought to life! It’s cool to see how products are being developed in new ways to help connect us in our everyday lives. Have there been any challenges with touchy-feely tech?
Alice: I think the risk of being shadowbanned on Instagram, which can affect your business and audience, censorship is not great.
For example, Mail chimp has changed the terms and conditions to make them more strict and anti-sex. They can take away your entire mailing list without you being able to make a backup and ban your account. And some people rely on mailing lists and Instagram because it is safer and easier.
U: That is awful, in that sense, technology and development does have political restrictions then?
Alice: There are typical challenges like raising money, business organisation, protecting yourself and trying to keep yourself sane and healthy, especially in this very intense industry and the world!
With the industry centring around white cis straight males it can be difficult, however, the workshops are open to everyone. I think many people are open to safety and inclusivity, however not a lot of products that are dealing with sex attract their interest.
However hopefully people who feel like they cannot participate, realise that they can use their power to support underrepresented groups in the tech industry and beyond to bridge that gap – which we already do through our language and code of conduct.
At the end of the day what we are trying to teach and share is our work and products, that are built by yourself and for yourself, and impact wellness without toxic environments.
U: If you had one piece of advice for your younger self what would it be and why?
Alice: The feeling of confusion that you have is normal. And it’s not a bad thing. Learning can feel confusing by not understanding something. But I think the confusion is the understanding of learning something, you’re making progress especially with subjects and areas that are so alien to you.
It can feel so much like an endless struggle, and when you look back that confusion is key in productivity.
Touchy-Feely Tech will be launching their D-I-Y Sex Toy Kits soon and regularly hold workshops.
Sign up to get your hands on the kits when they are out, and check out all things touchy-feely on their Instagram. Please also help Alice! She has been nominated to win a £5k development grant for Female Founders, voting takes a few seconds and the grant would help her a great deal, please vote and share with everyone you know!
She / Her
Alice is the owner educator and founder of Touchy-Feely Tech: A DIY Vibrator kit and workshop series combining STEM and Sex Ed. Her work seeks to demystify technology and encourage DIY attitudes towards hacking and making, especially within the field of intimate technology.
Alice was interviewed by Tatiana Yusuf