Between March 23rd and March 25th, 2018 I was lucky enough to attend Australia’s First Sex Tech Hackathon at Academy Xi in Sydney. Presented by Future of Sex and the Disruptor’s Handbook, the event brought together hackers, hustlers, hipsters and humanitarians to collaborate on sex tech challenges spanning sex education, safe sex and sex and disability.
I attended with a media pass and was not affiliated with a particular team or project. Thank you Bryone and the team for having me along for what turned out to be an incredible weekend. This is the first of three posts about my experience at #sextechoz.
Here are my five biggest takeaways from my time at Australia’s First Sex Tech Hackathon!
Sex tech thrives on interdisciplinary cooperation
Sex tech sits at the peak intersection of the technological and the human and this was the reflected in the mix of skill sets represented at the Sex Tech Hackathon. Not only was there an incredible mix of health promoters, medical professionals, designers, developers, therapists, marketers and social media experts, educators, artists, animators, coders and more but each person contributed something unique to their project.
The hackers needed the humanities and the humanities needed the hackers, which is something I think is so often overlooked in the sexuality and tech fields in general.
Women are leading the way in Sex Tech
The gender mix was unlike any tech event I have ever attended and it was wonderful. Among coders and non-coders alike, women were the dominant presence and it really defined the energy and attitudes of the space. People worked hard and were incredibly focused but not aggressive or self-damaging (no Redbull diets or illicit Ritalin in sight) or unwilling to help others.
The majority of pitches came from women, most of the mentors were women and it was wonderful. In fact, pretty much anything problematic came from cis men. Shocking I know.
I want next year to be less cis, to be queerer, to involve more sex workers, to be less white… but I’ll take a room of brilliant motivated women as a damn good start!
The Hackathon is its own organism
Yes, I said organism, no awkward Year 9 science word slips here.
Something I found fascinating was how the participants of the Hackathon completely reshaped it. A structure was provided, including challenges and mechanism like other hackathons but the unique blend of skills and personalities took that structure and expanded it into something more. Rather than workshopping existing projects, most teams started from scratch and while that made the journey to final pitches much longer, it meant ideas were informed by a spectrum of ideas and experiences.
They also defined the pacing and the pressure – no one was into aggro, down-to-the-wire countdowns or pushing themselves to their limit – and that is something wonderful. Toxic startup culture is obsessed with a “hustle at any cost” mentality and that does not align with a field dedicated to wellness and empowerment.
I learnt that the success of these collaborative events requires you to surrender to the beast a little, attempting to confine it to arbitrary constraints only limits its creative potential.
Specialists have a vital role to play in the future of sex tech
Something I have noticed in a lot of sex tech startups is major issues that could be avoided with appropriate community and specialist consultancy. Blockchain companies for sex workers who don’t know that sex workers have been using crypto out of necessity for years. “Feminist” oral sex panties to “save” your partners from the taste of your pussy parading shame as “empowerment”. Companies partnering with PornHub with no thought for their highly unethical business practices. These are just the tip of a gargantuan iceberg of cases just like these.
Whether your project is sex toys or porn or sex education or helping a marginalised community, you need to talk to people who understand the nuances and needs of your audience. Sex educators, activists, sex bloggers, community organisers, academics and researchers, people with lived experiences you don’t have… You need to be speaking to them and paying them for their labour.
When I profiled participants for a piece that will follow this, the key question I asked was how they would integrate this consultation into their process and few had a comprehensive plan. Specialists need to be part of your research, your development, your testing, your marketing… they need to be part of an ongoing dialogue to make sure you are still doing the right thing by your consumer.
One thing I loved about the Hackathon was the inclusion of so many people from outside of the tech sphere. We need to encourage people with that knowledge and experience into these spaces to help shape and define the future of sex and technology.
I am passionate about connecting people and workshopping their ideas
I’m a firm believer in balanced interactions, so in exchange for the interviews for the upcoming profile piece, I offered each team I spoke to my professional advice on various areas of their projects and it was amazing. Being able to take so many incredible ideas and use my knowledge to workshop them to make them even better or point them in the direction of further research was really invigorating. I do this for companies and organisation in my consulting work and this really affirmed that I really want to do more. I was so inspired by everyone I was able to speak with over the weekend and I can’t wait to see where they take their ideas.