Author: Kaira van Wijk for Self Studies
The future of sex is fluid, says futures-anthropologist Roanne van Voorst. That is, from the vantage point of sexual preferences and gender neutrality (which she feels doesn’t need to be so strictly specified) to how we define our relationships. Love drugs, polyamory, AI-driven vibrators for long-distance love: she went in deep to discover what the future has in store for us when it comes to intimacy and partnership.
Your new book is boldly titled ‘With 6 in a Bed’. Please enlighten us?
(Laughs): ‘Of course that immediately sparks interest, but strictly speaking that will not be a future scenario for all. When talking about one of the prominent topics in my book that is polyamory (people who have multiple romantic relationships at the same time), I do think there’s a fascinating trend unfolding. Think of it as “polyamory light”. We are moving to a lifestyle where people get to define their own relationships – whether that be with six partners, two marital spouses, solo or you name it. There’s another movement called sologamists: people who choose to marry themselves and happily go through life alone. There’s more of a sense of freedom, being able to choose entirely what is right for you at any given moment and how you want to present yourself to the world. Of course, consensual non-monogamy isn’t a new concept. Before people might opt for an open relationship, but it wasn’t that likely that, say, the neighbours would know about it. I feel that now there’s more of a willingness to proudly put in your bio that you are sexually fluid, attracted to different types of people, you name it.’
Why do you think society is ready for this now?
‘Let’s put things in a historical context: monogamy was introduced with the rise of agricultural communities (12.000 years ago) when humans began to domesticate plants, animals and consequently families to transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In other words, it was convenient. (Since property rights came with inheritance rights, and thus you would want to ensure your children are yours and your wife faithful.) Then there was the church, which preached monogamy and marriage. Especially in the last century, people have tried to escape this social construct. Just think of the sixties and seventies, which was fairly disappointing in the end; if you look at the many children from hippie communities who now make documentaries about how it wasn’t all that fun. At the same time, about 40% of marriages fail and affairs are common. To answer your question: we have learned from this period, have broken with certain taboos (like women choosing to stay single) and hold less unrealistic expectations about relationships in general. Yet we do want to thread lightly, be deliberate about it. So that’s the next phase of polyamory. Where people might register at a notary who looks after the kids if there are multiple partners at play and middle-aged women who, when their husband passes away, choose to buy a house with dear girlfriends and live together in harmony. My idea of ‘polyamory light’ doesn’t have to include sex, it’s about how we choose to live together. If the pandemic has told us anything it’s that we really want to be together, but maybe not in a romantic or traditional way. I think that’s really cool and beautiful, something to experiment with, which gives people more ownership of their life.’
I’m thinking about this Spike Jonze film Her, in which the protagonist falls in love with his voice-controlled AI-partner.
‘I have tried a few but let me tell you, they aren’t all they are cracked up to be. I think AI (artificial intelligence) even needs a new name, because it’s not that intelligent no matter how advanced it might become in the future. At the end of the day, we must trust our intuition. So, my AI-partner for the sake of experiment was certainly amusing to chat with, but it will never reach the level of depth you have with friendships and romantic partners. These are humans who care for you, who want you to grow. Sometimes it might be tough when someone holds up a mirror and you don’t like what you see. Though this is what gives these real-life relationships their value; it helps us with our social skills and prevents us from becoming self centered. You can turn an AI on or off whenever you like. In the meantime, it steals all your attention and collects your data. Not to mention, algorithms in general aren’t objective. I therefore wouldn’t even vouch for AI’s controlling our dating life’s. Maybe computers can give us some guidance, but humans need to make the final decision. That would be a solid combination. I’m now talking about warning signs, but of course there’s fun to be had with all the new technology coming out too.’
What fun are we talking?
‘For instance, Bluetooth technology to have sex when you’re in a long-distance relationship. I’ve had a few long-distance loves myself. Anyway, this Bluetooth-invention can be a quirky solution for the time being. Take a vibrator and a fake vagina and have them respond simultaneously from a distance. Will it be real or great sex? Not quite. Yet it will for sure be a good laugh and that’s what you need in these instances sometimes. AI, as it develops, can be super fun that way.’
You also tried love drugs. What’s your verdict?
‘If you do it right it can be valuable. Life, relationships, we sometimes forget it can be hard work. And drugs can help you soften, get closer physically and emotionally, open up to a conversation that you otherwise might be reluctant to have. Nowadays, couples therapy is becoming increasingly popular. That’s where I see a role for so-called love drugs as well. A yearly check-in with love drugs like oxytocin or MDMA. To strip away fear and all you are left with is: love. Of course, you should be wary of overconsumption. These drugs aren’t addictive but they can harm the brain when taken too frequently. Don’t turn it into a “party drug” but be mindful about doing this together with intention. Just make it a nice little outing occasionally. It’s the same dynamic as lighting candles or putting on lingerie to set the mood.’
‘There’s also a lot of nonsense out there on the black market, like so-called love medicine with names like “Horny Goat” that include some herbs. Maybe it will help the blood flow in certain areas, but it has nothing to do with love. Just like women’s Viagra, a fabrication of the pharmaceutical industry to make money while solving a non-existent problem. Better yet, we should be addressing the orgasm gap (in heterosexual relationships, women on average are having fewer orgasms than men). I think we’re at a moment in time where women finally get to know their own bodies, their vulva’s, better. And not just them, but men will follow suit to meet their partner’s needs.’
How will today’s gender fluidity evolve and influence our relationships and sex lives in the future?
‘It’s an interesting development, but right now there’s about sixty (and counting) different gender options; boxes you can tick but that also leave you “boxed in”. We are rightly questioning male and female stereotypes. Though eventually I think we’re moving to a space where we can let go of all that, where we can be more fluid. One time we might fall in love with a woman, then a man (or whatever someone would like to be referred to). It shouldn’t matter; why hop from one box to the next. Of course, there’s a tiny group that’s very unhappy in their own body, but there’s a larger group that doesn’t really know where they fit on the spectrum. High school teachers tell me that almost all the girls in their class identify as pan-sexual or bisexual. It’s turning into identity politics: look who I am, this is my sexuality! I believe those ideas are all in your head and we wouldn’t need to have to label them. That, in the end, is where real freedom lies when it comes to sexuality.’
Read more in Roanne van Voorst’s new book With Six in a Bed, published by Park Uitgevers.