From bathhouses to Reddit: Bluetooth-enabled toys help people have anonymous sex online

The decision to buy a sex toy was an impulsive one. He saw YouTuber Tawney Seren review a male stroker, also known as a male masturbator sex toy, and was impressed with the advances in male sex toy technology. After doing some research, he went with Kiiroo’s Onyx+ Interactive Male Masturbator. 

The “interactive” part refers to the toy’s ability to connect to Kiiroo’s Feel Connect App, which allows anyone in the world to control the toy’s speed and vibration pattern once its user invites their desired partner. He’s 33 years old, lives in Texas, and asked to remain anonymous.

Kiiroo markets their toys as the “future of intimacy,” but he just sees them as a safer alternative to in-person sex during a pandemic. He’d rather be dating and having a physical, in-person connection with his sexual partners. 

“But when you live in Greg Abbot’s Texas during the pandemic you have to make do and go with a safer option,” he told the Daily Dot.

Soon after he bought the Onyx+, he paired it with interactive porn videos that synchronize the toy’s motions to the actions shown in the video. Then he found the remote play community online—and found strangers to control his toy.

He is just one of the over 21,000 people who use the r/ToyControl subreddit to find partners to control their Bluetooth-enabled sex toys. Some have turned to the online forums for safe sex during the pandemic; others use them to introduce virtual group play into long-distance relationships that rely on Bluetooth-enabled sex toys for regular intimacy. Still others use the online forums to find partners because in-person sex isn’t something they want to engage in. 

No matter the function, the groups serve users who enjoy the specific intimacy and connection only made possible by recent advances in sex tech. And for some, controlling each other’s Bluetooth-enabled sex toys is about so much more than an orgasm; it’s about asserting agency over one’s sexual pleasure.

r/ToyControl isn’t the only place that those looking for sex toy partners online gather. Lovense, another company that makes Bluetooth-enabled sex toys, has a subreddit with almost 24,000 members and a Discord server with over 6,000 users. Kiiroo has a Discord server, as well, with almost 700 users. Lovense’s app Lovense Remote has chat functions that allows users to mingle, form group chats, and create vibration patterns to be used by the wider Lovense community.

The subreddits function much like personal ads. Most of the posts state the poster’s age and gender and the gender of the people they are interested in connecting with. 

For example, another anonymous source who is 30 and living in San Francisco, titled a post in Lovense’s subReddit “29F4F—let me edge you and make you cum?” The post stipulates that she would like to connect via Discord and calls for “ladies/femmes only.”

“Reddit is a bit more anonymous,” whereas Discord’s voice functionality makes play easier, she told the Daily Dot in a phone interview.

Discord servers for Bluetooth-enabled toys connect users to each other by showing the server which users are currently online. Discord users can also list whether or not they want to be directly messaged in their profile. She said that she prefers to use Lovense’s Discord server because it’s more intimate than Reddit.

Both Reddit and Discord are heavily watched by moderators to ensure the safety and comfort of all members. The anonymous source also told the Daily Dot that she has the ability to immediately shut down her sex toys if she is in a partnered scenario where something she doesn’t like is happening.

Gabrielle Kassel, a sex educator and writer, told the Daily Dot in a phone interview that Blueooth-enabled sex toys allow users to invite others who aren’t with them in person into sex toy play, creating a partnered sex toy experience. And just like in-person sex, everyone defines what sex means for them differently. For some, partnered control of each other’s Bluetooth-enabled toys counts as sex. For others, it’s more of a masturbation aid. (For the purposes of this article, the term “sex” refers to mutual control of Bluetooth-enabled sex toys.) 

But Bluetooth-enabled sex toys weren’t always used to engage in partnered sex with people who sex toy owners met through internet forums. Dan Liu, Lovense’s CEO, told the Daily Dot in an email interview that he became interested in teledildonics (also known as virtual sex using technology) and sex tech after experiencing “a lack of physical intimacy” in a long-distance relationship in 2009.

“Our first toy was developed to solve an unmet need and my idea grew into the company I run today,” he told the Daily Dot. 

Similarly, We Vibe, another company that produces Bluetooth-enabled sex toys, told the Daily Dot in a statement that its goal in manufacturing the toys “was to give people more access and increase intimacy regardless of whether people were together or apart physically.” Kiiroo told the Daily Dot that the company “encourage[s] remote connections” and facilitates safe spaces for users “to connect, interact and explore alone together.”

Brian, 51, and Katie, 21, told the Daily Dot in email interviews that they both purchased Bluetooth-enabled sex toys to enhance the long-distance relationships they were in. 

“We wanted to play just to feel closer and so we could make the best use of our long distance,” said Katie, who asked that the Daily Dot not use her last name, about purchasing Lovense toys with her boyfriend. Brian, who also asked that the Daily Dot not use his last name, initially bought the toy for a long-distance relationship he was in with a domme so she would be able to better control his orgasms. He said his Lovense toy enables him to further explore his “dominant and submissive inclinations.”

Now, Katie uses Discord and VRChat, an online virtual reality game that syncs with her Lovense toys, to meet new partners online. Brian has turned to Reddit, but he told the Daily Dot that he’s had a hard time finding people to control his toys, which he thinks is due to his age.

Bluetooth sex toys allow people to have sex using the internet in similar ways that people engage in-person sex: with a partner, or with someone they aren’t in a committed relationship with, which could be a stranger. Plus, Kassel told the Daily Dot that compared to 30 or 40 years ago, people have less opportunities to have sex with strangers.

“If we took a time travel machine back to the 80s, there were bath houses and there were these sex cinema clubs and glory holes and people cruising on boardwalks,” she said. “Public sex with strangers was a lot more common.”

She also noted that many find sex with strangers very arousing. Because many spaces that facilitated sex with strangers mostly no longer exist—and if they do, less so amid the COVID-19 pandemic—she’s not surprised that people have turned to the internet to scratch that itch. 

Interviews with people who have sex with strangers using Bluetooth-enabled sex toys revealed that sex with strangers through online forums is not only arousing; it can also encourage sexual introspection and liberation. 

Before transitioning and meeting her boyfriend, Katie identified as both asexual and aromantic. She told the Daily Dot that sex using Bluetooth-enabled sex toys with him and others help her express herself sexually and feel like a woman. 

“[Using Bluetooth-enabled sex toys] was such a massive change from who I used to be,” she told the Daily Dot. “Someone who was so afraid of sex and just being close to someone in that way.”

The anonymous source from San Francisco, who is asexual, categorizes the sex she has using her Lovense toys as separate from her “real life” because it’s not at all connected to people she knows.

“It’s connected to the person I am online,” she told the Daily Dot. “I don’t feel the need to impress anybody online.” 

She said she uses a fake name when connecting with online sex partners. “It’s completely separate from me,” she said. “But I get to enjoy it.”

And through exploring sexually with her Lovense toys and new online partners “without hesitation,” she discovered that she’s a lesbian—which is now part of her real life.

“It can feel scary to [explore one’s sexuality] in real life,” she said. Doing so online was much easier for her because she could “try on” labels for her sexuality and see how they felt before committing. 

Kassel explained that “anytime you’re removing stressors around sexual situations, you increase the pleasure potential of that sexual encounter.” 

For the anonymous source from San Francisco, sex with Bluetooth-enabled toys was more pleasurable than in-person sex because she felt more comfortable exploring what she liked. For the anonymous source from Texas, the sex he has with Bluetooth-enabled toys is more pleasurable because he doesn’t have to stress about COVID exposure and/or transmission. Kassel said the same goes for those worried about the risk of pregnancy or STI transmission and/or exposure.

“Just masturbating is fine,” the anonymous source from San Francisco said. “But I will never go back.”