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(Some of the links in this story may be NSFW.)

If the last decade has seen major changes to legal and social attitudes towards sex and sexuality, a question that will have commentators engaged for some time to come is what role has been played in such change by technology.

Does technology lead the way, encouraging and enabling behaviours that would have had a previous generation blushing? Or does it merely follow on, reflecting trends that are already deeply embedded in society?

As we reported previously, the past ten years have been a mixed bag when it comes to legislation in the sexual arena. In the UK, the government has obsessed over the right to say no – and paid rather less attention to the right of an individual to say yes.

Nannying is definitely the order of the day – unless you have some "unnatural" predilection for being treated like a naughty schoolboy, in which case stop it this instant, young man.

Richard Longhurst of online sex toy purveyor Lovehoney is highly upbeat about what has been happening to the market, arguing that it is beginning to show "dangerous signs of maturity".

Durex has transformed itself from boring contraceptive manufacturer into a sex lifestyle brand. Ann Summers has gone from 12 stores in 1997 to 120 today. Longhurt's own organisation has gone from a standing start to shipping more than a thousand orders a day.

In other words, sex and sexual gismology is now mainstream as never before. Of course, when it comes to the mainstream, a great deal of everyday product is now manufactured in China.

However, the West – and Japan – continue to make waves when it comes to innovation. One notable feature of the adult trade is the appearance of "inventors" – often, men in their middle age, with degrees in engineering and a burning desire to resolve some issue of erotic ergonomics. Hence the "sqweel", a new and frankly scary multi-tongued rotatory device and the we-vibe, which allegedly sets up "an erotic carrier wave" between clit and g-spot.

While women are now increasingly regular visitors to sex shops as purchasers of sexual gadgetry, men have benefited greatly from developments through the decade which, in turn, reflect a new approach to male eroticism. At base, most sex toys are about masturbation. A decade ago, the majority of male sex toys appeared to be designed as though such a purpose was quite incidental, with the primary focus being the creation of inflatable female shapes that fooled no one.

For those who really do like the idea of simulating sex with a partner who lies there and does nothing, it is now possible to up the erotic ante (and the price) by investing in some form of Realdoll. Even there, the technology is moving on apace, with German company First Androids announcing, late last year, the creation of a realistic sex android that has a pulse and appears to breathe.

Earlier this year, it was the turn of American inventor Douglas Hines, of True Companion, to introduce to the world Roxxxy, billed as the first sex doll with artificial intelligence. A pulse vs intelligence? It is reported that the manufacturers of the German doll have already received four million advance orders at just over £2,000 apiece.

For those unable to afford the four or even five-figure ticket for such items, it is now possible to purchase an anatomically correct blow-up sheep for a fraction of the price.

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