Allen Stein, of Everett, is the creator of the ThrillHammer, a 700-pound sex machine that sells for a minimum of $2,000 and is notable not only for its intimidating heft and expense but also for its pioneering use of teledildonics.
What's teledildonics? Basically what you'd guess it is: Using new telecommunications technology to control a dildo. In this case, a large, high-powered dildo attached to a gynecological exam chair and connected to the World Wide Web. Not long ago, the Museum of Sex in New York acquired a ThrillHammer on the basis of its claim to being "the world's first internet-controlled sex machine."
This business of creating ThrillMachines is not a lark for Stein: It's an industry. He is 39 years old, a graduate of Arizona State University (major: business marketing) who worked in Seattle for a technology company during the dot-com boom until, as he puts it, he got "dot-bombed." Searching for a new career, Stein tried marine waste disposal, which seemed to have a comparatively large degree of job security, since boats will always have waste to dump. It turned out, not surprisingly, to be a stinky business and Stein didn't last long. The experience taught him something, however: "I figured, you know, bodily functions were the way to go. I looked at the market and thought, well, I like orgasms."
He bought a 1920s gynecological exam chair, went to work, and the rest is sex- machine history—and, Stein hopes, the beginning of a lucrative teledildonics empire. "A lot of the kids growing up today are having a lot of their first sexual experiences on the computer," Stein explained. "Because of that, the whole niche of sex machines and computers is going to keep getting bigger—because computers and sex are so intertwined." Teledildonics, he says, "is providing another level of intimacy to online sex, where users can actually reach out and get someone off."
So far, the price point for the ThrillHammer is pretty high, but that's by design. Stein is for the moment focusing on the high-end sex-toy market, where his motto has become: "You can't put a price on pleasure." Thus, it is possible to purchase a ThrillHammer that costs as much as $50,000. At that point, you're dealing with leather upholstery, perhaps hand-blown glass attachments, maybe a pure-oxygen machine to heighten the experience, possibly built-in aromatherapy, or even built-in vaporizers for pot, as one customer recently requested. He explains: "When people come to me and say they want the ultimate pleasure machine, I say, 'Well what gives you pleasure?' And we go from there."
Who is buying these? A lot of professional women who make six-figure salaries and don't have time to date. "That's a key market of mine," Stein says. "They're usually older professionals making a couple hundred grand a year." Condoleezza Rice would be a good candidate for a ThrillHammer, he says, laughing. "She could use one."
Stein's video for HUMP! is called, naturally, The Rise of the Machine. But he actually doesn't see machines ever getting so good at producing orgasms that they take the place of human-on-human sex, à la the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen's Sleeper. "There's no energy exchange," he explains. "The ThrillHammer will never have the soul of a human."
But, he adds: "It sure can fuck good."