Sexting, texting, websites and webcams. These words have become integral to the modern lover's lexicon (and I'm not talking about The Modern Lovers' vocalist Jonathan Richman; when he penned a song about dancing in the lesbian bar, he probably didn't picture a crowd using smartphones).
This shouldn't come as a surprise though. We've been a 'plugged in' society for a while now, spending twice as much time on the internet compared to a decade ago. Instigating romantic relationships through screens and swipes is an inevitable byproduct of this shift. But with the advent of virtual reality porn that can be synced with sex toys, the concept of 'plugging in' is about to gain a whole new meaning.
There's no doubt the internet and technology have challenged and changed the boundaries of relationships and fidelity. Pornography and sex toys have always been a grey area for those in relationships; they offer pleasurable experiences, but without pretending to be real or emotionally demanding. A bit like The Office post-Steve Carell. But what happens when pornography becomes interactive, immersive... intelligent?
What actually counts as cheating in the digital age could become highly subjective. We need to reconsider what it means to be monogamous in a world of VR porn and internet-controlled sex toys.
Turn off the telly, turn on teledildonics
Sex toys have been around since the dawn of time. Even your nan read Fifty Shades of Grey and bought a dildo. These fairly inanimate objects aren't usually considered cheating; the toy is a long way from human and there is no meaningful connection to be had.
But what if someone else is controlling said sex toy remotely? What if both parties have synced sex toys. Is this adulterous? If teledildonic technology is marketed towards couples in long-distance relationships, the adult entertainment industry didn't get the memo. As the technology becomes widely available, people could share sexual experiences with other singles, sex workers or people in relationships.
This marks a major leap for dating websites. The possibility arises of users logging on and having 'sex' together. In terms of commitment, it is not as intense or serious as physical human relationships, but there could be a serious long term impact on our attitudes towards sex.
Apps already make us less likely to be committal. After this 'upgrade' people will be able to have virtual sex in a casual way which could nurture an unhealthy outlook and threaten to creep into real life behaviour. If this were to happen, any benefits of teledildonics providing safer or better sex for couples in long distance relationships would be heavily outweighed.
Relationships in virtual reality
The BBC documentary VR Virgin raised provocative questions about what VR technology means for the future of our sex lives, and our love lives. This year, an estimated 9 million headsets will be shipped out across the world, the majority for an audience of gamers seeking an immersive experience. But once they get bored with the current slate of VR games, they may move on to the hard stuff.
Pornhub, (a porn website - for those pretending not to know), has already launched a VR channel, enabling viewers to be the 'protagonist' in a 360-degree pornographic experience. New porn site Holodexxx VR has created photorealistic avatars of famous entertainers for users to 'interact' with - an ethical minefield in itself.
As these experiences become more realistic, they will change how we view human sexual relationships. The intimate nature of the interaction will affect notions of fidelity - would you be upset if your partner was spunking emotional bandwidth down the drain on an avatar?
The synchronisation of VR porn with sex toys takes virtual sex to yet another level. As CGI and technology improves, the experiences will feel more like real sexual encounters. Again, there is a danger of promoting damaging ideas about sex. There is little limitation on what or who can be involved in the VR visit, intensifying the harmful effects of pornography. Already strained by internet porn, romantic and sexual relationships with other humans could be entirely shafted.
Does internet + technology = polygamy?
The combo could be making us more depressed: 48% of Britons think being more connected has made us lonelier, and romantic relationships less rewarding.
But perhaps it's all not as bad as it sounds. If we're so interested in building a whole industry around VR sex, maybe the real thing isn't so great for a lot of people.
Some studies have already shown that porn may actually have a beneficial effect on men's sex lives. Furthermore, it could be argued that, if sexual satisfaction is the only issue in an otherwise healthy relationship, then VR sex could be the answer... for at least one of the people involved.
Thoughts on a postcard, readers.