Technology

Can An App Create The Ultimate Sex Mix? We Put It To The Test


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It’s a well-known fact that the majority of streaming music is put up as background to something else. And that something else is usually sex. So condom company Skyn, in an admirable attempt to cut out the middleman, has set up a new Alexa skill that lets you skip the guesswork, put on some music and get right to the romance. But can an app really offer the ultimate (or even passable) playlist for seduction?

If you’re unfamiliar, Alexa is Amazon’s personal voice assistant, and powers its Echo devices. Alexa, in addition to the abilities it ships with, can have apps (which Amazon insists on calling “skills”) added whenever you want. Skyn’s skill lets you say “Alexa, set the mood,” choose one of five playlists, and (hopefully) get it on. (That song is not on the playlists, just in case you were wondering.)

I have a personal stake in Skyn’s success. My inability to properly score any event, let alone a romantic one, is a running joke. When I was first dating the woman who would become my wife, we retired to my room and, since streaming music services at the time were largely de facto pirate radio stations mixing metal anthems and theories on how jet fuel couldn’t melt steel beams, I’d set my iTunes to random and proceed to get busy.

The problem? My taste in music trends less to sexy, stylish jams and more towards… well, hear for yourself. I’ve reconstructed exactly what the random function decided to inflict on us that night.

Yes, I had the Pokemon theme. Worse, it was in Hebrew, which in my defense is really hilarious when you download it in college, drunk, listen to it once (also while drunk), and then promptly forget that such a thing exists and allow it to squat in your music folder forever. I have never, ever lived this playlist down. I fully expect my wife to engrave “Accidentally Used Pokemon Theme For Sexy Times” on my tomb. At the rate technology advances, it might play softly over the gentle grassy hills where my corpse lies, my soul eternally cursing Apple while the music urges me to catch them all in a language I’ve never spoken.

I could use Spotify or Pandora, but here my inherent cheapness thwarts me with advertising. Ads, in of themselves, are not sexy, and for reasons unknown to me, every streaming music service I use is convinced that I’m interested in a baffling mixture of monster truck rallies, political scare ads, and herpes medication. So an ad-free skill that actually had some curation and didn’t rely on my taste for Scottish pastoral techno and Deep South surf punks was a great relief.

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The playlists, all put together by LA and NYC area DJs — DJ Lezlee and DJ Morsy are among the curators — are solid uptempo mixes. They tend towards the electronic and dance end of the spectrum; you won’t find “November Rain” or “Cherry Pie” on here. Needless to say, the playlists all stick to, shall we say, a specific theme, featuring cuts like “Deep In” by Inland Knights and “Touch My Body” by Don Benjamin feat J. Oliver. Skyn’s skill oddly lacks the ability to tell you which song is playing, although to be fair you’re supposed to be too distracted to wonder who’s crooning you to planet pleasure.

The one issue Skyn can’t overcome, though, is timing. While I made an effort to set the mood, my wife and I simply couldn’t take the playlists seriously. Perhaps it was the knowledge that each mix was “inspired” by lube. Perhaps it was the fact that now and then some of the lyrics were a bit too on-the-nose. Or maybe it was the fact that I forgot to turn the skill on, like an idiot, and had to yell at a machine to “set the mood,” making my erotic mode less “seductive lover” and more “fumbling engineer.” Unless you’ve got a pocket protector fetish, turn the skill on before your partner shows up.

But I suspect the real factor is that playlists you don’t moderate yourself are inherently impersonal, and my wife is familiar, she would say “painfully,” with my musical taste. True, the playlist is just one factor in a romantic night, but it can be a mood-killer. Just like the right song can make any moment magical, one that doesn’t quite fit can throw everything off. In the end we wound up turning it off and using her Pandora instead.

This isn’t Skyn’s fault. Music is one of the first things any couple gets to know about each other, their likes and dislikes, the bands they love and the songs they can’t stand, and I think this is more pronounced in couples who don’t share many musical interests. My wife interned at a hip-hop station in college and can sing the entirely of Big Pimpin’; my musical taste is pretty much “songs I heard from an ad that sound sort of cool.” That makes playlists all the more important. If you can put together a playlist from the few songs your significant other likes, it says you’re listening. No algorithm can substitute for emotion, and that’s what music is, to many of us. The longer a couple stays together, the more important and powerful that is.

But you don’t need a partner to enjoy the playlists: I’m a grown man who lives in a densely packed urban area where, in the summer months, my neighbors can hear everything I do. So, even when performing a flute solo, I need some cover. Yes, maybe going it alone wasn’t quite in the spirit of the app, but, take a moment. Imagine yourself in the shoes of my neighbors. I think you’ll agree a playlist of upbeat club anthems is a much better choice than, say, “muffled grunting.”

So… there are drawbacks. Still, Skyn does a tough job admirably: It sets the mood without being distracting. I even found myself using a few of the playlist during my morning workouts because they were upbeat enough to keep the blood rushing while letting me focus on what I was doing. If you suffer from the playlist curse, as of Monday, your Echo can help out.

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