This Week in Sex: Gadgets and Apps, Oh My


This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

New York Health Officials Blame Grindr for Increase in Syphilis

Health officials in New York’s Onondaga County say the popular app Grindr is at least partially responsible for a local increase in cases of syphilis.

Grindr uses global positioning technology to help users meet other users nearby who are interested in getting together, presumably for sex. Grindr is marketed to men who have sex with men, but similar apps exist for heterosexual couples and women who have sex with women. Grindr was released in 2009 and now boasts seven million members in 192 countries.

The rate of syphilis has been going up in Onondaga County for a number of years, but it nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013 alone, going from 15 cases to 29. Almost all cases are in men and more than 70 percent of the people with syphilis reported having sex with other men. Moreover, according to the local health department, many of the people reported using Grindr to find partners. Dr. Cynthia Morrow, the county’s health commissioner, told Syracuse.com, “It’s alarming to see the number of people who use these apps. They are significantly contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted disease.”

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated it can lead to numerous health issues, including blindness, neurological problems, and even death. At one point in the 1990s, so few cases of syphilis were reported in the United States that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it could be possible to eliminate the disease entirely. Unfortunately, in recent years cases have been rising, especially among men who have sex with men; and in 2013, the CDC’s national campaign to eradicate the disease ended. 

Implant Could Help Women Who Can’t Orgasm

For some women who have trouble reaching orgasm, the issue is neurological. Jim Pfaus, a neurobiologist at Concordia University, told New Scientist that some women’s brains essentially confuse the increased heart rate, nerves, and sweating that come with arousal with fear, which prevents them from having an orgasm.

Pfaus has designed an implant that solves the problem manually, but it is invasive because in order to work electrodes need to be fitted to specific nerves in the patient’s spinal cord. As Lucia Peters writes for Bustle, “These electrodes connect to a small signal generator roughly the size of a packet of cigarettes, which gets implanted under the skin of the patient’s buttocks (fun!). The implant then uses a hand-held remote control to trigger it. Just push the button, and voila! Instant orgasm!”

Another Reason to Go to Spin Class?

South African sex toy company Passion Fruit is selling a new gadget for you and your bicycle. Called the Happy Ride, it is being billed as “a discreet yet powerful” vibrator tucked into a bicycle seat cover.

Though it is relatively inexpensive ($37), we are not convinced it’s the best invention. First, most bike riding is done in public—either outside or in a gym or in spin class—which doesn’t seem like the best setting for an orgasm. Plus, it seems like it might be hard to remember to keep pedaling while getting more and more excited. Also, a lot of people we know find bike seats uncomfortable for their vulva to begin with, and we’re not sure if adding a vibrator will help or hurt.

Practice Oral Sex on Your Phone?

A new app, appropriately titled Lick This, aims to help users improve their techniques for providing oral sex to women. This virtual reality app includes three exercises: Users flick a light switch on and off with their tongues to practice the “Up n Down” move, spin an old-fashioned pencil sharpener to practice “the Circles” motion, and bounce a beach ball in what’s called “Freestyle” play.

We have nothing against tongue exercises but are skeptical that licking the smooth glass screen of an iPhone or Android will really improve someone’s cunnilingus methods—no matter what is going on behind the screen, it won’t feel anything like a real-life vulva. Plus, licking your phone screen sounds kind of gross.

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