BattleBots in the bedroom

At a San Francisco porn studio, industrial sex toys run rampant.

Published February 12, 2002 7:27PM (EST)

In a San Francisco loft, a guy who gives his porn name as "Tony Pirelli" brandishes a buzzing power drill with a huge dildo twisting on the end. The Drilldo's technical specs: 18 volts of power producing as many as 1,400 revolutions per minute.

Gesturing with this tool of titillation -- or torture -- Pirelli explains, "Some girls really need a good solid performance."

This is what passes for a technology demo in San Francisco in February 2002.

The BattleBots have invaded the bedroom, courtesy of a pornographic Web site that streams videos of women having sex with monstrous machines. It's a twisted garage mechanic's fantasy of what sex would be like if all the men had been replaced by mechanical bulls.

"This is the grown-up version of Legos!" says Pirelli, the Web site's clean-cut producer, as he shows off a fleet of fornication machines at the site's South of Market porn studio.

The studio is the former headquarters of a now defunct dot-com, complete with hardwood floors, brick walls and exposed wood beam ceilings. But where computers once hummed are couches covered with white sheets and potted plants -- all easily movable for scene-staging. A wire rack holds bottles of lubricant, condoms and dozens of dildos -- each with a hole drilled in the end for easy attachment to the love machines.

Here, sexual prowess is measured in torque and horsepower. And compared with the more menacing machines, the Drilldo is a baby-faced sweetheart.

The Hammer, weighing in at 80 pounds, looks like a recumbent exercise bike bucking backwards. The Intruder could have been a rowing machine belonging to a good family in Greenwich, Conn., before it went AWOL from prep school to pursue porn infamy. And the Trespasser is literally a KitchenAid mixer gone bad, with assistance from some obliging plumbing pipes.

Maybe the most absurd of all is the Goat Milker, which happens to be an actual goat milker bought from an unsuspecting farmer in Oklahoma, now repurposed for repetitive nipple stimulation. Are we to believe the goats miss it? In any case, so far no adventuresome woman has deigned to be the guinea pig for that barnyard perversion.

At FuckingMachines' headquarters, everything begins to take on a naughty cast. That squat, hulking black machine with the long tube twisting out of it? What's that for? You pervert! That's not for sex. It's just an industrial vacuum cleaner used for nothing more erotic than cleaning the floor, Perilli explains, almost apologetically. "Mind you, we could probably turn it into one," he adds.

Along with the Internet came no shortage of frisky sexual cyborg gadgets, as adventures in teledildonics and Real Dolls prove. Technology would make everything better, even sex.

But post-dot-com blowout, there are no true believers anymore, so, for 2002 we have a tech-sexuality stripped of artifice: machines that fuck. No need to dress up them up with false eyelashes and painted-on lipstick. They're just jittering, gyrating, rotating, rumbling masses of raw thrust.

"The eroticism of the big gizmo is undeniable," says local sexologist Carol Queen, who has featured similar monster machines at her own play parties. "It's a variant on robot sex."

There's a certain perverted nerd logic to it. If Survival Research Laboratories made watching humongous machines blow each other up the pinnacle of geek art, isn't bedding down with massive machines just the next step?

"To me, this is like the next-generation of vibrator or dildo," says Susie Bright, the sexpert whose cred includes being the editor of "The Best American Erotica" series. "Somebody just thought of something even wackier, even weirder, even nuttier."

Machine-lusters have been looking for more love than a dildo can give since at least the 1980s. One of the more diminutive machines modeled on, the Sybian, has been around for 15 years, according to Bright, who remembers trying out a demo of it as an editor at the pioneering lesbian sex magazine "On Our Backs." Apparently, sex machines comprise a niche of technological innovation where Moore's Law does not apply.

But the site isn't for women searching for that perfect inhuman partner who won't ever go soft or quit (unless the power fails). It's a subscription service for gearhead men (and some lesbians) who pay to see women go at it with these larger-than-life mechanical lovers. The site isn't selling the machines themselves, it's selling the machine dream.

The porn bunnies in the videos streamed here act -- some more convincingly than others -- like they're delighted to have the sex toy equivalent of cranes and streamrollers pounding into them. Still, to the squeamish, may look more like a gynecological torture chamber than a turn-on. Misogyny goes mechanical?

But wait, the machines have no sexual orientation. Soon, gay men will get their own chance to ogle mechanized molestation. is on the way.

In fact, to hear "Peter Rogers," 31, tell it, FuckingMachines is his bid to go mainstream. Since 1997 Rogers has run a niche bondage porn site. But FuckingMachines is going after a broader base. He says videos of machine humping women are not for machine fetishists, they're for everyone!

"Anybody who likes female porn is into the site," says Rogers. He argues that it's the women who are the stars and the machines are just a novel means of eliminating men. "In a lot of pornography magazines, there are no men," he says. "The dudes don't like to see it." Pirelli chimes in, supportively, "I don't like to see another guy."

Besides, Rogers contends, you can see a lot more of the action without an extra pair of butt cheeks blocking the view. "You've got a rod with a dildo going in and out. The machines don't get in the way like the guys do." He has a point. The images here are so clinical, so stark, so under the microscope -- just flesh and machines -- they make the close-up crotch shots in hardcore pornography look romantic.

But erotica pundits disagree that the machines are only props. They see the machines as taking starring roles. Queen places the Trespasser, the Drilldo and their throbbing kin in the grand erotic tradition of using household appliances as sex toys.

"Everybody knows about leaning up against the washer during the spin cycle, right?" says Queen. "There's something about the idea of getting sexed up and just finding things around the house."

It's like an X-rated version of a children's story where the lamps, the blender and the hot-water heater come alive and run riot.

Susie Bright believes that the newness of the big machines is the real turn-on. "The unfamiliarity is 90 percent of the excitement or the revulsion." What makes the machines look horrifying to some is exactly what makes them titillating to others: "It's about the fear of being fucked by a machine," says Bright. "It panders to that fantasy or nightmare, depending on your point of view. Taboos that are fearful are also exciting. This is the nature of taboo sexual fantasies."

In the great tradition of zillions of obfuscating Internet pornographers before them, the guys behind refuse to say how many people use their service or how much money they're making or losing. But someone gets turned on by this, judging from the discussions on the site's forums. Sample request: "Show the machines being adjusted for the girls, and show the girls getting ready to take the machines."

There's an element here of naughty boys getting out of hand with hardware. It's horny gearheads run amok! "You almost expect Tim Allen to pop up on 'Home Improvement' with one of these," says Bright. "It appeals to guys who love tools." The machines themselves seem more handyman than high-tech. The manufacturers sell them for between $1,500 and $4,000, but most of their parts can be found at Home Depot.

Isn't it just like the guys to take a perfectly good technology that does what it's supposed to do -- the vibrator, the dildo -- and reverse-engineer it to make it bigger, flashier, more expensive and not even work that well? That's the comic aspect to all this humping stainless steel. Like any sexual partner, it has its own performance quirks. The Trespasser, the one that gets its thrust from a KitchenAid, comes with this product warning: "not a real smooth stroke." Another one just can't hold still: "At top speed, the Intruder must be strapped to a massive object. Otherwise the energy of the bar jolts the entire machine."

That just won't satisfy the true tech-fetishists. Violet Blue, a member of Survival Research Laboratories and the Good Vibrations sex store collective, finds the roughshod workmanship a turnoff: "If you look at them, they don't look particularly sturdy or well-constructed. They're just these things that are C-clamped onto boards and pipes."

Is it possible that the machines found here are the primitive ancestors of robot love slaves of the future? Peter Remine, the founder of the only partially tongue-in-cheek American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots, sees nothing to worry about -- yet. "At this point, the machines aren't sentient, so there's no cruelty involved, just creepiness." But he is concerned about the fate of the droid sex slaves that these machines foreshadow. He foresees the sad day when a joke e-mail with the subject line "50 Reasons that a Robot Makes a Better Lover Than a Man" will be nothing to laugh at.

Already robot fetishists show their devotion by taking existing pinups and morphing them into robots and cyborgs, according to M. Christian, the editor of "Eros Ex Machina," an anthology of stories about "eroticizing the mechanical."

Queen sees the robot lover as a given, if the robots ever get their act together and come alive: "I'm sure that there are people standing in line right now willing to mortgage the house to get a love droid."

But that's what makes the love machine dream exciting -- the sense that technology has already gone too far, and there's no going back. "They said the same thing about the Hitachi Magic Wands 20 years ago," says Bright.

More conventional sexual machines, like vibrators and dildos, have become too commonplace for their own good. "They're practically like tea cozies now. There's not much shock about a vibrator anymore," says Bright.

Perhaps one day the gigantic sex machines may suffer the same fate, leaving jaded thrill-seekers searching for their next outlandish orgasm. "If these things became common, they would feel the same way about them as they do about patio furniture," says Bright.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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