The Orgasm Button: Is technology making sex as we know it obsolete?

What if it were possible to give yourself an orgasm simply by pushing a button?

It would mean having special simulators implanted in your hypothalamus, but this could be done in seconds without surgery, involving only a relatively painless injection. This orgasm button could be something you carry with you at all times, perhaps available as a standard feature on a futuristic smart phone. You could download an orgasm app and use it whenever and wherever it happened to be convenient for you.

It doesn’t seem all that unrealistic, does it? If such technology existed, most of us would be very enthusiastic adopters of it.

However, if it were possible to give yourself an orgasm by simply pushing a button, would you be willing to give up sex? Most of us would say not a chance. Brain-induced orgasms couldn’t possibly be an adequate replacement for sexual intercourse. But what if, just for the sake of argument, you had to?

Recall that scene in the 1994 science fiction comedy film, Demolition Man, in which Sandra Bullock asks Sylvester Stallone if he’d like to have sex. He answers in the slightly surprised but definitely enthusiastic affirmative, as yet unaware that he has woken up in a time when a series of increasingly devastating sexually transmitted diseases have caused traditional sex to be banned by the government. Therefore, having sex in this version of the future involves using a kind of orgasm brain-stimulation helmet.

After Stallone insists that they nevertheless do it the old-fashioned way, Bullock’s character reacts with horror and goes on to explain that “fluid exchange” and similar behaviors almost ended civilization. This lead to the outlawing of everything determined to be unhealthy for the individual or society, including smoking, drinking, eating meat, even using profanity. Though draconian, such measures were deemed necessary in order to prevent mankind from destroying itself.

In this fictional scenario the prohibition of traditional sex leads to the development of technology designed to enable people to get around the problem of not being allowed to touch one another. Yet, this is certainly not a new idea. The 1973 Woody Allen film, Sleeper, features a similar orgasm-inducing device called the “Orgasmatron.” How it works is not explained in the film but it’s essentially an orgasm booth; one simply steps inside it and comes within seconds.

It has replaced sex entirely in a future where, as Diane Keaton’s character explains, “everyone is frigid.” One can see hypothetically how the Orgamsatron device could have been developed in order to solve the pervasive frigidity problem. Then again, maybe it actually caused it. Perhaps people had been using the device for so long they lost their ability to have sex the old fashioned way. Or maybe they forgot how.

After all, high tech manufacturers of today know that we’re basically goldfish when it comes to new technology, and they frequently dangle shiny objects in front us, which we are told we absolutely must have or else our friends will think of us as uncool. With this in mind, if such a device existed today it’s easy to see it becoming as standard a piece of household equipment as a vacuum cleaner.

Furthermore, if it worked as efficiently as portrayed in the film, then one can see it entirely replacing sex. If one’s Orgasmatron happened to break down it would be as just as aggravating as losing one’s internet connection. Whether the over-use of such a device would cause us to lose our natural ability to have sex is another question entirely, but it seems unlikely. Maybe we just wouldn’t want to anymore, since using the device would be much more efficient and convenient than doing it the old-fashioned way.

The idea of a sex-free future may seem far-fetched, but it’s entirely plausible. Woody Allen certainly thinks so, and he isn’t the only one. Despite its deliberately tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the future, Allen wanted the film to be as scientifically accurate as possible, while still maintaining its comedic tone. In fact, while he was working on the screenplay for Sleeper, he consulted with science fiction icon and futurist Isaac Asimov, as well with the leading science fiction writer Ben Bova, and confirmed the “scientific feasibility” of his futuristic predictions

But how far away are we, really, from this sex-free future? From our perspective, light years away. A biological crisis necessitating the development of bodily fluid free sex-replacement technology has not yet occurred. Thankfully, sex is safe (provided one uses protection) and science-fiction is not the same thing as science. Moreover, if one takes a quick look at some of the devices currently available, then it’s abundantly clear that we won’t be abandoning sex any time soon. In fact, we’re still pretty excited about it. This is demonstrated by the myriad of devices and toys on the market that were obviously never meant to replace sex. Rather, they substitute for it and enhance it, as such devices have always done.

One invention that has gotten a lot of attention over the past year is the Japanese “French Kissing” machine. It was developed for couples in long distance relationships who wish to do something a little more intimate than just chat online, but a little more innocent than engaging in cybersex. The concept seems so sweet and almost quaint, until one learns how it actually works. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t really imitate kissing. Using it involves fellating a little plastic straw like thing, while the movements of one’s tongue are recorded by a computer. Later on, one’s long distance partner puts their own straw, hopefully inside their mouth, and plays back in reverse their partner’s previously recorded tongue swirlings.

As can be expected, the reception for this kiss transmission machine has been mostly chilly. People are finding it anything but sexy, and many of the articles written about it have been derisive and dismissive. Yet, the “bi-lateral control” technology used in this device is simply amazing. There are so many applications, both sexual and not, for a machine that records movement in real time. Doctors could record surgeries, for example.

However, the kissing machine inventors have something far more superficial in mind. They’re thinking that pop stars could record their “kisses” and such recordings could be downloaded onto people’s home devices for a small charge. Just imagine being able to buy a kiss from somebody famous. Then again, one could never be absolutely certain that the downloaded kiss actually came from Justin Bieber or Katy Perry. And of course there’s the inevitable problem of illegal kiss downloading.

However, this still leaves the question of the orgasm button. There actually is one, or at least there was about sixty years ago. In 1953 Dr. John C. Lilly , who was then working for the National Institute for Mental Health, did an experiment in which he implanted electrodes into the orgasm centers of the brains of monkeys. He then gave the monkey a button to stimulate itself every three minutes. When the monkey wasn’t sleeping, guess what it was doing all day?

Of course, we’d like to think that our brains are slightly more sophisticated than those of our lower primate cousins, but, come on. Our lives are definitely more complicated. We’ve got jobs and yoga classes and deadlines.

But if we didn’t have other stuff to do, you just know we’d be pushing that button all day long.