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Sex Tech: Adopting the Brain's Plasticity

Some while ago, I read an article about a gizmo made of a black and white video camera attached to a grid of electrodes. The idea is that you wear the electrodes on your tongue. Images from the video camera are converted into patterns of electric signals on the electrode, so you "see"--with your tongue--what the camera sees.

Early users of the prototype gizmo would wear a blindfold and then try to navigate around just by the electrical impulses on their tongues. What's most interesting is not only were they able to do this, but they reported that, after a while, their memories were not of sensations on their tongues, but of seeing a fuzzy, black and white image.

The brain is wonderfully plastic, able to interpret new kinds of sensory input in amazing ways. It can rewire itself to accommodate the new input; in fact, the tongue-electrode thing is being commercialized as a device for the blind.

As I do, when i first heard about this, I naturally thought "how can this be used for sex?" And I think it has fantastic potential.




Imagine, if you will, a wearable dildo, rather like the Feeldoe, that's designed to have one end inserted in the vagina. Only imagine that we take the same kind of electrodes used in the tongue-camera device, and send signals to the electrodes not from a video camera, but from small touch sensitive sensors mounted just below the skin of the dildo.

These sensors would be mapped onto the electrodes so that when something touches the sensor, you'd feel a corresponding signal from the corresponding electrode.

I'm not an artist, but I made a couple of crude animations to illustrate the idea:





What would happen?

I believe that after a period of adjustment, this dildo would be incorporated into the brain's somatosensory perception. The brain would, in essence, modify its model of the body to accommodate the dildo--it would, rather quickly I suspect, cease to be perceived as a thing and become perceived as a part of the body. Stimulation of the dildo would begin to feel like stimulation of yourself.

And isn't that an interesting idea.

The neural density in the walls of the vagina isn't as great as the neural density of the tongue. I don't think that's a problem, though; the neural density of the shaft of the penis isn't as great, either.

One potentially interesting twist on this notion is to map the most sensitive part of the penis, the underside just below the glans, onto the most sensitive part of the body--the clitoris. The sensors of the shaft would map onto electrodes in the bulb worn inside the vagina, except this part, which would map onto the clitoris--mapping the sensitivity of a natural penis.

Another potentially interesting thing to do is to make the sensors on the dildo pressure sensitive, with firmer touches creating stronger impulses from the electrodes.

Now, there's a lot of experimentation between this idea and a real device. I don't know the neural density in the walls of the vagina, but it would impose a limit on how many electrodes could be placed on the dildo. Would there be sufficient density to be able to create a fine tactile sense? I think the answer is probably "yes," but I'm not sure.

I'm also not sure how much processing would be required. I'm guessing not much; certainly much less than is required with the vision sense. The tongue-vision thing is trying to do something far more complicated; it's trying to register sufficient information to allow you to navigate a three-dimensional world. A circle seen by the camera might be a lollipop right in front of your face or a billboard far away; because the tongue has no way to represent stereo imagery, there's no way to tell. So the processor has to allow the operator to be able to zoom in and out, to give the user a sense of how far away things might be. It has to be able to adjust to different lighting conditions.

The dildo, by way of contrast, merely has to respond to physical touch, which maps much more easily onto the array of electrodes. It's pretty straightforward; if something's not touching a particular sensor, its electrode isn't producing a signal. The amount of processing might be low enough to allow the processor to be housed inside the dildo, making the device compact, and not requiring it to be tethered to any electronics.

I think this thing could be hella fun. It would allow people born with vaginas to have a remarkably good impression of what it's like to be born with a penis.

In a world where I had infinite free time, I'd put together a crowdfunding campaign to try to build a working prototype. Even without infinite time, I'm considering doing this. Thoughts? Opinions?

Want to keep up with developments? Here's a handy list of blog posts about it:
First post
Update 1
Update 2
Update 3
Update 4
Update 5
Update 6
Update 7
Update 8
Update 9


Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jun. 14th, 2014 02:03 am (UTC)
you are a fucking genius. as a woman i've always envied gay men the ability to top or bottom with full sensation. this idea is perfect, a real female-male adapter, its what we've always wanted! to hell with surgery, what's better than two functioning sets of genetalia? i can't tell you how this would do as a product but i would pay like a small car for my own dick if it really worked. it would literally be the dildo of my dreams.
freefall127
Jun. 14th, 2014 05:03 pm (UTC)
my only quibble with an otherwise perfect idea is the way you have this animated. stimulation on the underside of the penis should correlate to the front face of the bulb where the g spot is. the clitoris, as you've mentioned, is mostly an internal organ and most of the nerves are on the front side. that little button you have at the neck is perfect, the rest of the electrodes should be stimulated in a wave that runs up the bulb not down when the dildo is stroked top to bottom. maybe i should draw this. also someone mentioned having a flexible neck, that's a good idea. i find most sex toys are too stiff.
tacit
Jun. 15th, 2014 03:28 pm (UTC)
Actually, that occurred to me after I made these animations--the mapping of the shaft onto the electrodes is backwards. :) The underside fo the shaft should map to the front of the vagina, and it should go bottom-up, not top-down.
the_leaky_pen
Jun. 14th, 2014 02:07 am (UTC)
Yessssss. I would love to try this out personally. I know a lot of trans people (of various genders) for whom this would go a long way toward easing physical dysphoria.
likethewatch
Jun. 20th, 2014 01:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, this!
petite_lambda
Jun. 14th, 2014 03:15 am (UTC)
OMG!! This is an amazing idea!!
danjite
Jun. 14th, 2014 05:37 am (UTC)

TAKE MY MONEY!!!

TAKE MY MONEY!!!

TAKE MY MONEY!!!

TAKE MY MONEY!!!

TAKE MY MONEY!!!
danjite
Jun. 14th, 2014 05:41 am (UTC)
That noted- Yes, Kickstarter or equivalent, etc.

Problems expected:

Several varieties of quality control due to device complexity and need for manufacturing supervision, including the standard "Materials used in manufacture not actually matching spec".
sylphon
Jun. 16th, 2014 02:33 pm (UTC)
though plenty of willing product testers at least!
ashbet
Jun. 14th, 2014 06:16 am (UTC)
I can certainly envision a great deal of interest in such an item -- very intriguing!

-- A <3
pyrategrrl
Jun. 14th, 2014 02:24 pm (UTC)
as some one who utilizes temporary external genitalia fairly regularly, my number one issue is having it pop out of the receiving person, and my not having a clue. I've often wished for something that would give some sort of sensory *tingle* to me to let me know it was successfully inserted, so that i would have some sort of *clue* weather it was in or not.

It doesn't even *have* to be insertable at the other end. A curved flat pad that fit over the vulva, and sent electro impulses thru the whole clit[1]and labia area would be fabulous.

I've found feeldoe's to be somewhat problematic for my body type. (the upward angle is too acute for me, and the bulb seems to require the skills of a highly trained sex sideshow performer to keep in place.)


[1] it's bigger than that little button at the top!
tacit
Jun. 14th, 2014 02:47 pm (UTC)
The clit is quite large, but most of the structure is buried deeply enough that I suspect surface electrodes wouldn't be able to stimulate it well.

It'd be possible to make a version of this with a pad that had electrodes, rather than an insertable bulb, but that raises a host of challenges. The neural density on the vulva is quite low, and because it's not a nice warm mucous membrane, it's a lot less sensitive to electrical stimulation. You'd have to use a conductive gel, and even then I suspect the quality of stimulation wouldn't be high enough to really let your brain incorporate it as part of your somatosensory perception.

There's a trick that one of my partners uses with the Feeldoe to make it stay put: Take a scarf. With the Feeldoe inserted, drape the scarf over the Feeldoe at the base so it hangs down on both sides. Take each end of the scarf, pass it behind your leg and up over your waist, then tie the two ends in a knot on top of the Feeldoe. Presto, it won't accidentally come out! That doesn't solve the problem with the angle, though (which I admit is quite steep). There's a knockoff version of the Feeldoe floating around with a much less acute angle.
margareta87
Jun. 14th, 2014 04:49 pm (UTC)
The problem with the angle seems like it could be fixed by having the neck be somewhat flexible. Which I'm a little surprised it isn't, actually...
yarrowkat
Jun. 14th, 2014 09:01 pm (UTC)
i've always found that the feeldoe works a lot better with a harness.

+1 on freefall127's comment about the stimulation on the underside of the penis correlating to the g-spot internally.

and i would TOTALLY contribute to a crowdfund for this, and get the word out, and i bet you'd find a ton of support for the idea!

and -- have you seen this?
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ambrosia-vibe-world-s-first-bionic-strap-on-that-vibrates-when-touched
tacit
Jun. 15th, 2014 03:29 pm (UTC)
Yep, the mapping on these animations is backward. I realized that shortly after making the post. :)

I saw the Indiegogo "bionic strapon" after I'd made this post. It's an interesting, though limited, idea--as near as I can tell, it just vibrates faster the harder you press on the dildo.
emanix
Jun. 15th, 2014 07:55 pm (UTC)
I think the harness trick Franklin's referring to is this one (his description missed out a couple of steps, though, which might have made it rather tricky to use!): http://fd-midori.livejournal.com/368756.html
khall
Jun. 14th, 2014 02:49 pm (UTC)
Keeping it short(er) would limit problems based on undesirable movements, like side-to-side that could eject it. Still would probably need a harness or something. Or a second bulb for the rectum? Might be a more biologically...genuine way of anchoring it. You might even make it stomach mounted, and then have a secondary interface that attaches to the genitalia. Thinking strong mount, basically.

If you made this same thing for a man, reversed obviously, do you think it would equally provide an accurate sensation of having a vagina? I don't, necessarily. Does that reflect on how much like having a 'real' penis it would be? I'm not sure it's an equivalent task, or the same 'reversed' like that. Just a thought I had about it.

For the heck of it...you need to create a version with a built in turkey-baster. I have a lesbian couple as friends, who were trying to get pregnant with her brother's sperm. They'd have killed for that. They asked if I knew of anything like it, a long time ago.

K.
tacit
Jun. 14th, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC)
Making a reversed version of this for a man offers a number of engineering challenges, not the least of which is finding a place to mount the bit that can be inserted into. My suspicion is that it would be rather more difficult and rather less successful to apply this idea to folks born with a penis, which seems par for the course--we have fewer options for sex toys across the board, it seems.

The idea of a harness mount with a secondary insertable bit is quite good. :)

I have a partner who has a Feeldoe modified to be something like a turkey baster. We got a long drill bit normally used for drilling through subfloors and made a hole through the length of the Feeldoe--which is rather harder than it sounds, because silicone has a fractal stress geometry (put simply, it doesn't drill smoothly, it crumbles). Then we threaded a plastic tube through it--also harder than it sounds, as the aforementioned fractal stress geometry means the hole was anything but smooth--and attached the other end of the tube to a reservoir with a squeeze bulb. It works quite well.
khall
Jun. 15th, 2014 02:20 am (UTC)
I've noticed with those rabbit vibes with 'pearls' in them, that they eventually tend to shape to the girl's inside shape. Might be a good idea to consider putting the sensors/anti-sensors on a 'bag of marbles' (some kind of low temp thermal plastic?) kind of thing. Because not all women are the same shape inside. And it could start out in a phallic-ish shape. And then, ideally, over time, they'd shape it to fit better to themselves. Which would help with nerve ending connection too. I don't think one-size-fits-all is going to be as useful, because women vary in size and shape the same way (sort of) that men do. So something malleable to their internal shape would probably be a lot more useful, form a stronger bond, a better connection, and feel more authentic. Just an idea. Though, the 1st gen way to get around that might just be to make sure the inserted end is 'big enough' for everyone.

K.

Edited at 2014-06-15 02:22 am (UTC)
terryo
Jun. 14th, 2014 08:01 pm (UTC)
This is a groaner, but how about making the penis end of it inflatable, with a pump and reservoir built into the vagina end so that squeezing the PC muscle pumps up the erection......
emanix
Jun. 15th, 2014 11:54 am (UTC)
Love love love the idea, but I also think the 'movement' is wrong on the device. I suspect it would be more easily understood if the movement along the bulb started from the front of the vagina and moved backwards, so as you thrust deeper, you feel the sensation deeper as well (esp as there are more nerve endings at the vaginal entrance, which would mean the point at which you wanted to get most feedback - initial penetration - would be most guaranteed to be felt).

I also wonder whether the sensors on the external 'cock' part could be piezoelectric, or otherwise pressure sensitive, rather than conductivity based, so that one could still get full benefit of the toy while wearing a condom over it. (Because my cock travels with me in my backpack and I can't afford the space for one toy for every partner I'm going to use it with...
tacit
Jun. 15th, 2014 03:32 pm (UTC)
Finding the right way to design the sensors is, I suspect, going to be the most challenging part of making this work from an engineering perspective. Piezoelectric sensors are relatively insensitive to light touch, if I recall correctly, and only provide a signal when the pressure is changing.

The sensors need to be highly sensitive, to respond to constant touch, and to work when the toy is covered with a condom (and through a thin layer of silicone--in my envisioning of the device, they're actually just beneath the surface of the dildo, not on top of it). I'm not sure what the correct technology for this application is yet--it's going to take some research.
emanix
Jun. 15th, 2014 07:52 pm (UTC)
Very happy to help with the research... and the testing! :D

BTW I think on your diagram the 'clit' stim is actually on the wrong side of the inward curve: you're currently stimulating the urethra. Ow!

Edited at 2014-06-15 07:52 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Jun. 16th, 2014 04:36 am (UTC)
http://io9.com/new-bionic-dildo-allows-you-to-feel-things-you-never-1590564376
prosthetic_lamb
Jun. 16th, 2014 07:40 am (UTC)
This is all extremely fascinating, and I'm very impressed by your knowledge and the comprehension of all of this, to be honest. Didn't know you were such a smarty pants! ;) @tacit
stabbity4678467
Jun. 18th, 2014 02:39 am (UTC)
That is such a cool idea! I would absolutely love one of those.
thenanerbananer
Jun. 19th, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
I...I...I'm pretty turned on right now. Not gonna lie.
durapills
Jul. 5th, 2014 10:25 am (UTC)
Nice idea! It won't be easy to do!
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )