Elena Scotti/FUSION

Imagine you’re in bed with someone you’re really into. Things are starting to heat up, when suddenly, the object of your affection reaches for their phone. And not because they’re about to score a snapshot of the action, but because they’re hoping to show you a hot new app. In most scenarios, this would be an automatic moodkiller, right?

But what if the app was actually a remote control for a pleasure device your partner wanted to use on you? Would that warm you to the idea of having phones out during sexy time?

A growing number of sex toy brands are hoping the answer is yes.

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Perhaps foremost among them is PicoBong, which is about to launch a fancy new line of phone-controlled sex toys called REMOJI. Unlike the gadgets that came before it, REMOJI promises to be an entire pleasure ecosystem, complete with four different toys—a bullet vibrator, a cock ring, a butt plug, and a masturbation sleeve—all of which can be remotely controlled through a brightly colored cartoon app.

Practically speaking, REMOJI works like this: When you want to introduce a sex toy to coitus, you open the app, choose which device you want to control, and if all goes according to plan, bring your partner to orgasm remotely. Possibly without even touching him or her.

With this technology, PicoBong claims REMOJI will allow couples to get intimate whether they’re in the same room, thousands of miles apart, or even out in public. REMOJI, the copy proclaims, is fun! REMOJI will make sex better! REMOJI, a press release informed me, will usher in “a world where everyone could orgasm outdoors in public and no one would know!”

From REMOJI's Indiegogo page.
PicoBong/Indigogo

REMOJI, I think, looks god-awful. While its makers argue that high-tech sex will allow us to discover more intense levels of sexual intimacy, I fear they will instead lead to the sacrifice of close connections in pursuit of a cheap technological thrill.

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Are app controlled sex toys the beginning of the end of great sex? In order to understand their danger, it’s helpful to know how we got here in the first place.

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It’s not uncommon for an industry–any industry–to be driven by trends.

As fitness tracking has become popular, its ethos has influenced all sorts of unlikely products: not only wristbands and smartwatches, but enhanced scales, cups, and even cutlery. This philosophy permeates all sorts of markets. If something is popular, might as well incorporate it into what you’re selling.

So it’s not a huge surprise to find sex toy companies hopping on the app bandwagon: “Since mobile technology already touches most parts of our lives, rather than be turned off by that, we say bring it on!” the REMOJI campaign exclaims. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em–or at least beat off to them.

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(Full disclosure: I am currently a consultant for and investor in the sexual health tech company Minna Life, which produces "smart" kegel products, and I have worked with the brands MysteryVibe and Orgasmatronics in the past. But my views on app controlled sex toys evolved independent of—or perhaps in spite of—these projects.)

PicoBong’s REMOJI isn’t the only sex product line to go down this path. The sex toy line OhMiBod, which got its start with vibrators designed to connect to an iPod and pulse to the beat of your music collection, has the blueMotion line. BlueMotion’s NEX|1 panty vibe and NEX|2 g-spot vibe connect to, and are controlled by, a smartphone app—one that can set a toy’s vibration patterns from anywhere in the world (in case your beloved, or be-lusted, happens to be half a world away).

Other sex apps claim to enhance sexual pleasure with a focus on quantifiable data. There’s Lovely, an app-enhanced cock ring that promises to provide data targeted at improving sexual performance. In a similar vein is Spreadsheets, an app that serves up graphs and stats about how long, how fast, and how frequently you’re sticking it to someone you love (or lust after).

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But whatever their algorithm, the driving force behind these app-enabled devices seems to be an ill-thought-out strategy of combining two great tastes into one theoretically better combo. People like sex, and people like apps—surely combining the two into one can only lead to some sort of sexy synergy. The only thing missing from this plan is a fundamental understanding of the very thing that makes sex great.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not entirely opposed to tech-enhanced sex. Vibrators and other sex toys have helped countless individuals achieve new heights of sexual pleasure. Even smartphones can help enhance intimacy, provided we’re talking about sexting, X-rated Skyping, and the numerous other ways of using modern technology to remotely foster sexual connection with a partner (or partners).

But inherent in PicoBong’s pitch is the idea that incorporating smartphones into sex fundamentally makes the act better. Sex with just your bodies? How boring! What you really need is music and animation and weird little cartoon avatar to inject a bit of whimsy into your sexy times. Why have sex the way people have been doing it for millennia when you could have sex that incorporates cartoons?

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Last month, I met with the head of a different sex toy company, who noted that—on trend as PicoBong might be—app-enabled sex toys weren’t on the corporate agenda.

The company’s rationale? In short: Phones in the bedroom are already a threat to intimacy. Incorporating phones into sex play would undermine the very thing they were trying to achieve. Rather than bringing couples closer together, my colleague mused, they’d likely just create more distraction and distance.

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You don’t have to look hard to find justification for this viewpoint. A quick Google search turns up dozens of articles with headlines iterating on the theme of “Smartphones are killing your sex life!” Though there’s an undeniable element of tech/sex panic to many of these pieces, at their core is a legitimate concern. “[T]he more we resort to digital intimacy, the less fluent our actual intimacy becomes,” notes a writer for The Daily Mail.

Not surprisingly, PicoBong disagrees. According to Steve Thomson, the company’s CMO, couples who tested REMOJI “claimed using an app controlled sex toy actually helped them communicate more as they explored the different strengths and modes together. They became more aware of the sensations they could give to their partner at their fingertips… [W]e don’t think anyone would find [REMOJI] more engaging than the pleasure their partner experiences as the app and toy are in use.”

He may be correct on that last point, but it leaves me wondering what, exactly, REMOJI’s tech is bringing to the table (or, bed). It is one thing to mediate intimacy through technology when it’s the best available option: when we’re miles away from the object of our affection, for instance, or when some technological assistance is required to achieve (or enhance) sexual pleasure or orgasm. But to insert high tech flourishes into sex just because we can misses the point–and the promise–of innovative, technologically enhanced sexual experiences.

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When we’re having sex with another human, a toy that is overly complex is likely to distract from the main event. If it doesn’t engage both partners’ attention, it can leave one party feeling more like a spectator than a participant.

The tech that improves sex, meanwhile, is the kind that seamlessly integrates into the sexual experience without distracting from the intimate connection between two partners–not tech that attempts to make sex about itself. The Eva by Dame Products enhances penetrative sex with the addition of hands-free clitoral stimulation, the Jimmyjane Hello Touch transforms a partner’s touch into a source of vibrating pleasure. Both of these products make sex better by building on what couples are already enjoying without distracting from the pleasure that already exists.

REMOJI never seems to ask what benefit there is to introducing a cartoon character into the bedroom. It just assumes that the ability to create such a sex toy is reason enough to do so.

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But just because we can envision and market a concept, that doesn’t mean that it’s actually a good idea. While, in the best-case scenario, app-driven sex toys allow for more nuanced interactions than the standard multi-button setup found on most vibrators, in the worst, these products create a barrier between two paramours–right at the moment when they should feel most connected to one another.

There are so many ways that sex toys and technology can enhance, rather than detract from intimacy–by helping to incorporate sensations that transform coitus into an orgasmic experience, by facilitating pleasure for the differently abled, even by enabling people with vaginas to (kind of) experience sex with a penis—so it’s a shame to see resources devoted to a product unlikely to truly improve anyone’s sexual pleasure.

We deserve well-designed tech that actually understands how sex works, that functions thoughtfully to bring partners closer together rather than distracting them with a bunch of bells and whistles just because the bell and whistle factory happens to be open. We deserve better than REMOJI—and we all deserve partners who’ll use bedroom time to focus on us, rather than on an app.

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Lux Alptraum is a writer, comedian, and consultant with one thing on her mind. Follow her on Twitter at @luxalptraum.