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    How Did Cyberpunk Porn Mag ‘Future Sex’ Ever Exist?

    Written by Lux Alptraum

    Image: Internet Archive

    In the early 90s, when the internet was still in its infancy and PornHub wasn’t even in a glint in a smut-crazed developer’s eye, a team of San Francisco-based writers, pornographers, and sex futurists came together to create a publication that was one part Wired, one part Hustler, and crammed to the gills with ads for phone sex hotlines and CD-ROM porn (which apparently was actually a thing).

    Future Sex was a short-lived project, lasting a mere seven issues. And though it’s largely been relegated to the dustbin of history, a few dedicated nerds are taking it upon themselves to make the magazine’s full run available online for free.

    Image: Internet Archive

    Kyle Machulis, aka qDot, the creator of sex tech blog MetaFetish, has teamed up with a few other tech minded pervs to digitize and archive all seven issues of the magazine, scanning every single page and stitching them together into an online version of the paper publication. For Machulis—who describes Future Sex as depicting “the San Francisco I wanted to move to, not the San Francisco I got”—the contents of the magazine have been something of a revelation. “[This project] was going to start as the retro future of sex, but now it’s ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same," he said.

    Despite the garish color scheme and outdated tech, much of Future Sex feels incredibly prescient. In an interview featured in The Joy of Cybersex, Future Sex editor Lisa Palac, who cut her teeth at lesbian porn mag On Our Backs, explains the motivation behind the magazine in the exact same terms used by many a burgeoning web pornographer. “Everyone wants something better from porn, but nobody does anything about it,” Palac complains.

    Image: Internet Archive

    For Palac, better porn seems to be thoughtful commentary about sex culture and technology—which, Palac accurately notes, is bound to change both how we live and how we engage with sex—mixed with arty photos. The vibe is something along the lines of a geekier version of turn-of-the-century Nerve.com.

    If the tech obsessions seems confusing, it’s helpful to remember that Future Sex wasn’t merely a product of the tech fueled Bay Area, but also peak AIDS crisis. Years before advanced medical treatments (and decades before PrEP), HIV was still a death sentence, and tech-enhanced sex seemed like a respite from fear-laced sexual encounters. Imagining a world where VR sex would replace IRL encounters wasn’t merely the manifestation of geeky jerkoff fantasies. In many ways, it literally felt like a matter of life and death.

    Image: Internet Archive

    If there’s anything surprising about Future Sex, it’s how limited the scope of sexuality depicted is: Despite its roots in diverse, queer as fuck San Francisco, the photo spreads largely showcase straight, white, cisgender couples. But that lack of diversity may have been as much a reflection of the readership as of staff’s ideas about sex. In the pre-internet era, it was difficult for creators to connect to audiences with niche interests like tech-enhanced sex. Keeping the Future Sex photo spreads relatively “mainstream” may have served to make the magazine more popular with the straight white dudes most likely to find ads for it in the back pages of publications like Spin.

    As compelling as it is to leaf through Future Sex’s editorial and photo spreads, in some ways, the advertisements that line the publication’s pages are equally (if not even more) enlightening. Mixed in with the dated-feeling pitches for phone sex lines and interactive sex CDs are a number of ads for high tech sex toys—toys which, in a number of cases, are still on the market today, almost entirely unchanged.

    Image: Internet Archive

    “There are ads for what at the time was called the Venus 2, which became the Venus 2000, which is now the Venus for Men,” said Machulis. “It’s the same fucking toy 23 years later." The same goes for the Sybian, the electrostim equipment, and a number of other products featured in the pages of the magazine. “There’s all these ads in Future Sex for things we still have the exact same, no iteration, version of.” For all the advancements we’ve seen in sex toy tech over the past two decades, the high sensation toys most likely to appeal to the sex futurists of Future Sex haven’t budged an inch—and, alas, we’re barely closer to the virtual reality sex suits depicted on the cover of issue 2.

    If you need one more reminder that, even as we dropped "cyber" for "i" and CD-ROMs for smartphones, the cutting edge sex community hasn’t changed that much, just make your way to the letters section of any issue of Future Sex. Prominent among the commenters are vocal perverts frustrated by the fact that their specific sexual interest hasn’t received the attention they feel it deserves. As Machulis puts it, “It’s like reading a fucking Reddit thread.”

    Image: Internet Archive

    Why does Future Sex feel more relevant than most other forward looking publications from decades past? Perhaps because, no matter how techy it gets, the fundamentals of sex itself don’t really change. We can jack into the matrix before jacking off, and transform our naked bodies into collections of pixels traveling through internet tubes, but we’re still just sacks of meat looking mash our bodies up against one another. And that’s unlikely to ever change—even if we do one day get those long promised VR sex suits.