A subculture within the subculture of hacking, making, and DIY, bodyhackers are devoted to altering their own selves to make them better, faster, stronger with things like camera eyeballs and bionic limbs. Sex gets the maker treatment often, too.
It’s less often, however, that we see someone making cyberpunk creations that embrace the human aspects of sexuality: hearts that pound, skin that’s sensitive, flesh and fat that moves in unpredictable ways.
But that's exactly what Las Vegas-based artist and maker Sarah Petkus is doing. She’s creating an exosuit to read, interpret, and react to how sexually turned-on she is—complete with tentacles that wrap around her buttcheeks, winches for her hips, and propeller nipples that spin when she’s aroused. She calls the whole setup SHE BON.
It’s tempting to call this an Iron Man suit for sex, but the concept is much more nuanced than that. It doesn’t augment her body and make her more eroticized or give her superhuman sexual prowess, like a sex cyborg, but reads and responds to her unique levels of arousal.
The suit is controlled by a custom circuit board Petkus designed that's shaped like a heart and is housed in a transparent backpack. That heart-shaped circuit board controls several peripheries that correspond to different parts of her body. She wears a salmon fillet-shaped speaker called the “Beat Box” over her panties, and it pulsates with sound waves at a volume that matches her heart rate. The “Propeller Pasties” attach to her breasts and sense how erect her nipples are, spinning the propellers fasters as her nipples rise to meet the sensor. A belt with winches, called the “Hot Spot,” mounts around her pelvic bone and uses straps across her butt to pull her thighs apart in response to the temperature between her legs.
Petkus told me in an email that this is her way of documenting her own human experience, and critiquing how we talk about sex in our society.
“Throughout my life there has been a lack of positive, honest communication about sex and intimacy, which has been somewhat damaging to my own development as a sexual being,” she said. “SHE BON is my way of combating the lack of communication. I am using my skill-set to create something that describes who I am and what I’m feeling in a way that empowers honesty, and should hopefully encourages self reflection in others; enabling the shift I’d like to see take place in the world.”
It’s also an exercise in vulnerability: Each of these augments are highly personalized, and therefore highly personal to blast to the world on YouTube and Hackaday. Instead of hiding behind technology, Petkus uses it to enhance a much-needed conversation.
“The engineering problems behind the augments I’m building are a gateway to the topics which underpin them; a buffer of separation where followers can acclimate to the water before getting into the pool,” she said. “I find that by using myself, my body, as the focal point of the project, this also makes me vulnerable in some way. I see that the honest vulnerability helps to make the content more relatable. That honesty also creates a platform solid enough for me to shout my message from.”
So much of current science fiction and cyberpunk culture focuses on how robots are becoming more human-like, or people that strive to become more like robots. Petkus’ SHE BON might seem like just another cool piece of DIY sex tech at first, but it also shows a different way to think about the future. It uses technology to highlight the biological wonders we already possess—the sensitive, changing parts of us—and call attention to what makes us human.