What will queer sex in the future be like? Will I meet the sex pig of my dreams in a virtual reality club, go to a virtual hotel room with him, or steal away to a digitized backroom? Will I get railed by a synthetic -- but no less fabulous -- XXL penis? Will he be a real person s avatar or a bot, one catered to my every desire, reading my biochemical signals and knowing what turns me on without me saying anything? Will I get to customize the appearance of his member, his eye color, his body hair?
It's fun to fantasize about future sex, because the science fiction stories of the past are looking increasingly less like fiction. Tech experts say the metaverse -- VR Facebook, something like that -- is coming. When I think of the drawbacks of these visions, I come back to the same feeling, one that's painfully familiar. It sounds cold and lonely. Along with the rest of the world, I've learned one thing under COVID: profiles arent people, and facsimiles of human connection dont replace the real thing.
Loneliness isn't going away, and according to most data, it's gotten worse in the last few years. Dr. Jessi Gold -- director of wellness, engagement, and outreach for the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis notes, "We don't talk enough about the impact of loneliness on mental health in the pandemic, but it has had a tremendous impact on rates of anxiety and depression across the board." Gold says it has most impacted people in the 18-to-24 age group, which has had "some of the highest rates of negative mental health outcomes in the pandemic. Queer youth have particularly struggled, reports the Trevor Project, as many are already culturally and geographically disconnected from our LGBTQ+ family.
Sophia Anfinn Tonnessen is a transgender poet whose work focuses on the complexities of sex, kink, and gender and as a Gen Z queer person, she has thoughts on this. We have more awareness of our own mental health than past generations, she says. But Gen Z struggles with "medical systems that have not caught up to the current need our generation has for professional mental health care, and a lack of affordable insurance doesn't help."
In 2017, Dr. Julianne Holt Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University, presented research linking loneliness and social isolation to various health risks. The results are shocking: social isolation and loneliness correspond to a higher likelihood of early mortality (29 percent and 26 percent, respectively). And pivotally, there was no difference between objective or subjective isolation. This means that loneliness is lethal if you feel isolated, regardless of whether you actually are.
This is not surprising. I answer sex questions on my blog (LoveBeastly.com) and one of the most common questions I get is also one of the hardest to answer: "Where/how do I meet people?" Countless queer men of all ages feel extremely disconnected from our community. These questions are hard because there s no one size fits all answer -- everyone's resources and situation are different.
Future sex will have to address this, and I don't think virtual reality is the solution. On a biochemical level, humans need to be around other humans -- IRL, not VR -- and you can't get that on social media. "There is mixed research on the role of social media and mental health," Gold says, "but for groups that are separated from each other, [social media] can be helpful. But Gold believes the most important step to combating loneliness in the future will be...just talking about loneliness. Loneliness can be decreased with vulnerability and people openly and honestly discussing what this experience has been like for them, Gold says. We don't do that as much as we should, and it builds deeper connections. Even one deep connection could prevent feelings of loneliness moving forward.
Social tech can't synthesize our biological need to be around others -- but other industries might someday be able to. With the widespread use of mind altering substances and performance enhancers, it's not unreasonable to posit that our biochemical needs won't someday be hijacked by pharmaceutical companies for profit. (If this sounds like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, it is.) We know what chemical compounds make people happy. In my future VR hookup, who's to say I won't pop a pill to give me all the pleasure of sex and connection with my hot bot daddy -- no actual human needed?
But maybe tech won't go this way. A certain sector of tech is pushing for technology to be "warmer" -- to be utilized to foster IRL life. Smartphone apps like Meetup recognize that human contact will always be needed. No Isolation is an Oslo-based company that develops "warm technology," products that support in person experiences, like a robot that helps children feel connected to teachers and peers while schooling at home. I asked No Isolation's chief technology officer, Simon Oliver Ommundsen, if he felt technology will increasingly aid IRL life over the next decade.
"One important lesson we all should learn from the pandemic is that nothing can replace actual real human contact, not even a virtual world," Ommundsen says. "Technology is merely a tool to help people connect, not the connection itself. That's why, personally, I think a concept like metaverse is taking it too far." He says the metaverse could be great for certain groups, like folks with long term illnesses who might be unable to leave the house for long periods of time. But he cautions, "It could potentially become like a really uncomfortable episode of Black Mirror. While the planet is burning, we are sitting inside our houses with VR glasses. Metaverse is not our planet B."
Gen Z folks are the most tech inundated generation in history. Several studies in recent years have shown that Gen Z is markedly less sexual than millennials and Gen Xers (pejoratives like "puriteen" have circled the internet). Data shows that Gen Z is having less casual sex, staying celibate longer, and experiencing more sexual anxiety than past generations.
Our generation has come of age in the #MeToo era, Tonnessen says, "in an age where Roe v. Wade and abortion access are threatened, and discussions of consent and sexual assault are coming up constantly in the news. Who wouldn't be more cautious in approaching sex, especially casual sex? Who wouldn't be anxious, either as a woman or femme approaching sex with an eye for potential harm, or a man or masc person hoping to avoid being seen as a predator?
Nevertheless, Tonnessen is optimistic about the future. Thanks to "increased freedom in sexuality, identity, and relationship structure," she says, "the scripts that heterosexual couples used to build their relationships are no longer relevant. I don't think everyone in the future will be queer, but I think even straight relationships will need to adapt and borrow from queer and nontraditional relationships to fit the world as it is."
I am optimistic too. I'm looking forward to that VR hookup, that customizable cock, and all the lovely pills to make me happy, horny, and more. But I'm looking forward more to the lightspeed airplanes and teleportation devices, because there's a world of people out there to date and have sex with. I need them, and they need me.