The Influence of Technology on the Sex Industry

I recently was assigned to write an essay for my “special topics in computer science” senior class.  The essay was to be on an industry that had been affected by technology, so I chose the sex industry – after all, what industry has been driven so dramatically by technology as the sex industry?!  It was an interesting topic to research and a fun one on which to write so I figured I would post it here for the world to snicker at :)  Enjoy!

The Influence of Technology on the Sex Industry

What pops to mind with the question “what is one of the oldest professions?”. To many, ‘prostitution’ is an answer that springs to mind. Perhaps it is because this cliché has been used countless times in modern history or perhaps it is because most everyone knows that professions such as this have been here, and will likely continue to be here, whether the moral majority likes it or not. Perhaps because of this taboo nature of sex and sex related topics, rarely will one hear the mention of sex industry related material on C-Span or the nightly financial brief. Despite this social candidness, this sector of international business has likely seen some of the largest growth of any industry over the previous decade – due large in part to technology.

Exactly what has brought about this growth in the “sex industry”? Without debate, the largest contributing factor to the growth seen in the sex related industry over the previous decade has largely to do with the aggressive growth observed in technology; notably the Internet. Since the early nineties, the advent of the Internet has been playing a large role in the growth and development of many seeming unrelated industries – the sex industry is no exception. Because of the bridging of distance that has come about with the Internet, the world, once a mysterious place to anyone who could not afford to travel it, has become a smaller place in which anyone whom chooses may conduct business with anyone else around the world. Just has always been the case in the industry, sex-based entrepreneurs, seeking to expand business as rapidly and profitably as possible, embraced the internet immediately and began peddling their wares to anyone wishing to take interest in it. Once confined to their immediate locale, business people were now able to sell the sex related merchandise and services to demographics that had previously resided well outside the scope of their reach. Not only this, but individuals residing in areas, such as Alabama, where certain devices and materials were deemed unfit for sale, were able to purchase goods and services once forbade and unavailable.

Another related area of the sex industry that has experienced drastic changes via technology is that of video and picture – a.k.a. ‘Porn’. As has traditionally been the case in the sex industry, when a new video/picture medium comes along, the industry rapidly adopts it and begins production of materials for it – this happened when printed media became affordable, when the home based projector and reel was marketed, when video and DVD made their way into homes and most recently when home PCs and the Internet came onto the scene. Where traditionally individuals were required to travel to the local Seven-Eleven or smut parlor, with the advent of the internet people were able to purchase adult oriented material from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Not only was this found convenient for the conscientious customer, but proved to be likely more beneficial to the marketers and sellers of this material as they were able to offer these materials with little overhead and production time associated with them – driving profit margins on this material to unprecedented levels. It is estimated that revenue generated by the porn industry is now in excess of 57 billion dollars worldwide – 14 billion of which is in the U.S. alone (Forbes).

A recent media frenzy and pop-culture citation of this topic of sex and technology is the case of NY’s late Governor Spitzer, who became entangled with an online high dollar prostitution operation. Known as “The Emperor’s Club VIP”, this high dollar prostitution rink was able to operate “secretly” online, away from passing patrol cars, for an unknown period of time. It is believed that much of N.Y.’s prostitution has moved in a similar way from the physical streets to the information super-highway. From what was believed to have operated for only a matter of months, it is estimated that the Emperor’s Club brought in over one million dollars, which was divided between four individuals. Although likely one of the most well known in recent times, the Emperor’s Club was far from the only operation of this sort. Although it is unknown how many operations of this sort are in business today, it is estimated that thousands of such operations are operating within the U.S. alone today; a number exponentially larger in countries where prostitution is legal. Also related, recently in the news for prostitution were sites such as MySpace and CraigsList, from which prostitution arrangements and deals were being struck practically in the open, further showing the impact of technology, notably the Internet, on the sex industry.

Clearly, not everything is glitz, glam and money as far as the technology hyped sex industry is concerned. Recently being brought more to light is the exploitation of woman and children via the Internet. Show such as “How to Catch a Predator” have brought the usage of the Internet for the exploitation of children to light, though this type of activity only scratches the surface of what is really taking place underneath. Where traditionally black market sex-based operations had limited demographics to which they could appeal to for fear of being apprehended by law enforcement, modern exploiters are able to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet while orchestrating the exploitation of fellow human beings. Child pornography rinks are able to operate online by hiding in the mass of sites that populate the Internet. Because of the sheer volume of sites and traffic online, law enforcement agencies often find it an overwhelming task to track down those participating in the exploiting. Also, as a result of the widespread growth of technology and the Internet, documented cases of such exploitations of children were found to have quadrupled from 1998 to 2000 (UCAP); a number that is believed to have grown exponentially since. Also, it has been documented that illegally arranged marriages and sexual relationships that were once localized and statistically marginal pre-Internet, have exploded into a multi-billion dollar industry; an industry that continues to experience international growth.

Another negative cited in relation to the rapid tech-aided growth of the sex industry is the impact of the sex industry’s prevalence on the moral fabric of society. Many anti-pornography religious movements have cited the prevalence of pornography online as the leading cause for infidelity and sexual dysfunction in the institution of marriage. It has also been noted that due to the widespread availability of pornography online, that many young men and woman have developed unhealthy perspectives on sex that can last a life time. Although the dreaded “violent, sex-craved beast of a man” never appeared as was predicted in the early nineties as a result of porn, generations of males with the expectations of sex created by porn have been brought forth. Within the minds of the individual, these expectation may yield no ill results, but when these expectations are brought into the new relationships that are forged in high school and college, the negative consequences may become more apparent.

Whether ultimately good or bad, one thing is certain in regards to the technology driven sex industry – technology and sex have become so intertwined that the two will never be separate again. For the years to come, more tech driven sexual products and services will be unleashed online and on society. With technology advancing faster than marketers can sell it, it is no doubt that there will be innovations that relate to both sex and technology that will come forth in the years to come. Recently in the March edition of Scientific American, an article titled “Not Tonight, Dear, I have to Reboot” discussed the very real and near possibility that not only will AI (artificial intelligence) endowed robots serve to meet the sexual desires of people, but also will likely supplement the love demands for individuals unable to find love in a human counterpart as well. David Levy, renowned computing pioneer and author of “Love and Sex with Robots”, speculates that human-robot marriage will be occurring by mid-century. Regardless of the popular public perception of the modern sex industry, a couple of things are certain, technology served to drive its growth and exposure exponentially, and not only will it not be going away any time soon, but it may very well be attending a future family reunion!