CES 2016 wasn't a show packing a lot of surprises — but the end-of-show awards dropped one whopper.
Engadget's top honors for the digital health and fitness category went not to the latest Fitbit or smartwatch, but to OhMiBod's Lovelife Krush, a kegel exerciser that doubles as an adult novelty.
The fields of sexual health and sexual pleasure are entwining as the adult novelty business continues to grow. The global sexual wellness market, which includes everything from condoms and lingerie to sex toys, is currently worth around $16 billion and expected to reach $21 billion by 2019, according to research firm Technavio.
It's a field that in just a few years has gone from the corner of adult stores to the shelves of Walmart and CVS, and has begun attracting private equity attention. Now, manufacturers are looking beyond simple stimulation devices; wearables are gaining traction, though they're a bit different than the wristbands so many people associate with wearable tech.
OhMiBod's Krush, due out this spring at a price of $75, is a device women can insert vaginally to help strengthen their pelvic muscles. And as a "reward" of sorts for completing exercises, the system has vibration patterns that allow it to also be used as a pleasure device.
"It's the gamification of sexual health," said Brian Dunham, co-founder of OhMiBod. His company is a leader in the wearable sexual product field. Its OhMiBod Remote, a vibrator worn in a user's clothing and controlled remotely by other people, was one of the first products to explore the space.
Nuelle's Fiera is a different sort of sex wearable, designed to help women focus on arousal and boost their libido. The $250 hands-free device is designed to increase blood flow to the clitoris, using suction to attach. The product is targeted at women who mentally desire to have sex with their partner but have trouble getting their bodies to respond accordingly.
"The idea is you wear this for five to 15 minutes before you want to have sex," said Nuelle founder Karen Long. "It's not just for fun, it's a part of life."
Other sex wearables are in development, including SexFit, a Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-equipped device that helps men achieve and maintain erections and tracks their sexual performance using a device akin to a pedometer.
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And for the past several years there have been wearable sex toys that allow couples who are separated by distance to stimulate each other — such as the We-Vibe 4 Plus or Durex's Fundawear experiment.
While there's certainly a push by some adult novelty makers in this direction, the jury is still out on whether wearables are, in fact, the next big thing in sex toys. Steven Hirsch of film studio Vivid and a longtime veteran of the adult industry, remains a bit skeptical.
"My feeling is it's probably a small market," he said. "People always get excited about new technology and Internet-connected devices — and I do think there's a market for it — but I don't think it's the primary market."
But Chauntelle Tibbals, a former visiting scholar at the University of Southern California and author of "Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society and Adult Entertainment," says sex wearables are a logical extension for the adult novelty industry.
"It makes sense in this world where everybody has a Fitbit or an app to track their exercise that they'd track their sexual activity, too," she said.
Manufacturers are showing several new adult novelties, including some wearable ones, at this year's ongoing Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. But some company representatives say that while the advances of today are exciting, the potential for what's to come is even more so.
For instance, Maurice Op de Beek, chief technology officer of Kiiroo, a wearable sex toy for men that recreates the sensation of the adult film they're watching on screen, says it's entirely possible that wearables could monitor the heart rate and excitement level of people as they watch a film, noting exactly what sort of content stimulated them the most. That could then be used to put together a very personalized recommendation algorithm.
"I don't know if people are ready for that," he said. "And I'm not saying we're going to make something like that, but you could have an auto-recommendation system — one that will give you exactly what you want without you having to explain what that is."