Commentary Sexuality

A ‘Fitbit’ for Your Penis: Is It a Good Idea to Track Sexual Stats?

Martha Kempner

I'd like us to question not just whether such a device is necessary—given that people have been boning for millennia without tracking their genital data—but if it's even wise.

Earlier this year, British manufacturers announced the “i.Con,” which they’re billing as the first “smart condom.” This, despite the fact that it isn’t a condom at all, but a ring worn around the base of the penis and over an actual condom.

According to the creators, British Condoms, the wearable device—which is still in prototype form—has a nanochip that records data during sex and sends it to an app on your smartphone so you can keep track of your performance, share stats with a friend, and compare your sexcapades to those of other people around the globe. It can track the number and speed of thrusts, the number of times you change positions, and the length of the sex session. It also measures the girth of the penis and its skin temperature, and tells you how many calories you’ve burned (don’t get excited, on average sex burns fewer than 100 calories in 25 minutes). And though they have not revealed how, the manufacturers promise the final product will be able to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in partners.

Based on this description, it sounds like a Fitbit for your penis.

The manufacturers say that more than 96,000 people have preregistered for the i.Con, which will reportedly be available in Britain later this year. Before thousands of people shell out $74, I’d like us to question not just whether it’s necessary—given that people have been boning for millennia without tracking their genital data—but if it’s even wise.

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Testing for STIs in the Heat of the Moment

Let’s start with the STI testing component. Two years ago, British teens made headlines when they won a contest for designing a condom that would theoretically change colors when it came in contact with STI antibodies in semen or vaginal fluid. Like the i.Con, this condom was not actually market ready—in fact, it was nothing more than an idea at the time of the contest. At the time, I suggested for Rewire that it might be better if such a concept remained theoretical:

I don’t think the heat of the moment is the best time to find out whether you or your partner has an STI. It’s a very vulnerable time to give or receive that kind of news, especially unexpectedly. At a minimum it could be painfully embarrassing; in the worst-case scenario, I fear it could provoke a potentially violent reaction.

The same concerns hold true for the i.Con, but this one seems even worse. Though the i.Con mechanism may also test the person wearing the device, the implication would be that it’s working for them by testing their partners. This is actually a little backward, because in general, the penetrated partner is far more at risk of contracting an STI than the insertive partner.

More importantly, it feels very one-sided. Instead of a condom’s joint effort in prevention, this feels more like an alarm that goes off if the wearer’s partner is found to have an infection. Plus, if a person is wearing it over a condom as the manufacturer suggests, it’s not entirely necessary, as they have already protected themselves and their partner from many STIs.

Of course, that’s only true if the technology works. And it is not yet clear how the device would test for STIs, which STIs would be included, and how susceptible the test would be to false positives. All we have is the word of the manufacturers, who promise that it will “have built-in indicators to alert the users to any potential STIs present.” This feels suspect to me as no one method can test for all potential STIs; some, such as syphilis and HIV, are found through blood tests.

It Seems to Always End Up on the Internet

Just last month, Canadian sex toy maker, We-Vibe, settled a lawsuit for $3.7 million after it was accused of violating wiretap and eavesdropping laws by collecting data from users. As Rewire reported when the suit was first filed, the We-Vibe Connect allowed couples to text, video chat, and control the device from a distance if they downloaded a corresponding app. What some users didn’t know was that the app also allowed the company to collect data on the device use—including speed of vibration and temperature of the device—in real time.

The i.Con is different because users will be fully aware that they are sharing their data with some chosen people—it’s one of the selling points. Still, the We-Vibe situation is relevant because it calls into question the safety of sharing and storing sexual data, and it shows how these apps can be less secure than promised. Even before the lawsuit was filed, the We-Vibe Connect made headlines when hackers announced that they had found a way into the app that allowed them to control the vibrator from afar.

In the ongoing war between hackers and cybersecurity experts, hackers are pretty much winning. Whether it is nude photos of celebrities, Democratic National Convention emails, credit card numbers of Target shoppers, or Ashley Madison’s client list, it is clear that our digital information is not nearly as secure as we would hope.

Putting sexual data out there has the potential to embarrass everyone involved when it leaks. Maybe your girlfriend finds out that you burned a lot of calories having sex when she was out of town, or your boss realizes that you reached your personal best thrust speed on a day you called out sick.

We live our lives out loud and online these days, and it can be hard to reconcile the ease of the digital world with potential invasions of privacy. Never shopping online again would be extreme, but this one seems easy: Just don’t put the information out there. Better yet, don’t collect it at all.

Tracking Our Sexual Performance

The i.Con is essentially promising to answer the age-old question, “Am I good in bed?” The ads ask: “Ever wondered how you stack up to other people from around the world? Welcome to the future of wearable technology in the bedroom. Welcome to i.Con.”

I’d like to think that most people don’t lie awake wondering if they’re good lovers, not because the answer is irrelevant but because they’ve already checked in with the person (or people) they’re sleeping with—the only ones whose opinions really matter.

I’d also like to think that we’ve all gotten past the notion that bigger, faster, or harder is the way to measure good sex. Sure, the i.Con can tell you how many times you thrusted or how long sex lasted, but this data isn’t going to tell you whether a good time was had by all. Many women, for example, need direct clitoral contact to have an orgasm. Thrusting harder than the next guy does not mean that you even found your partner’s clitoris, let alone stimulated it in just the right way. Changing positions over and over again might be a sign of a marathon session where you couldn’t get enough of each other, or it might just mean that one of you couldn’t get comfortable. And I have no idea why skin temperature of the penis would ever be relevant.

Tracking sex stats also doesn’t just perpetuate inaccurate ideas of what makes a good lover; it promotes the idea of sex as a contest. Wanting to be “better” than a friend or even than yourself the last time appeals to the most competitive parts of ourselves. This is where wearable fitness devices made their mark—their intention was not just to track your fitness habits, but to change your behavior. If you set a 10,000-step goal for yourself but fall short by only getting 7,500 today, you will likely be that much more motivated to top 8,000 tomorrow.

By prompting similar urges to compete with ourselves and others, the i.Con promotes goal-oriented sex at its worst. The goal isn’t even getting to orgasm, it’s taking a path that beats the stats Phil showed you last night or the ones you recorded last week. Instead of concentrating on your partner’s verbal and physical cues, you could easily get wrapped up counting thrusts, changing positions one more time, or watching the clock to make sure you last just a little bit longer.

Sex is not about data: We can’t use Nate Silver algorithms or Moneyball trading tactics to make it better, and this is not the place to look at the big picture or play the long game. We have to take it moment by moment and just try to feel good. If we want to know how good it really was or if there’s anything we could do better next time, we don’t need to look at an app—we need to talk to our partner. What felt good? Did anything hurt? Did you like it when I did that?  Was it better than that time in Cabo?

A Fitbit for your dick cannot answer any of these important questions, and I assure you, it will not make you a better lover.

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