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Illustration by Jeremy Russell

High Voltage

By Annalee Newitz

AFTER A SPENDING a few psychotic days at DefCon, the hacker convention in Las Vegas, I returned to my office to find a hefty package waiting for me from blowfish.com. Inside I discovered a low-amperage, high-voltage generator, one large unipolar electrode and one small bipolar "shield." Various Y connectors had been tossed in too. Anyone watching me unpack these components, might have asked: Is she making some kind of robot? Does she need an oscilloscope? What's the point of a low-amp generator anyway?

To truly comprehend the meaning of my special delivery, however, one would have had to do something no self-respecting techno-geek would ever do: read the instruction booklet that lay nestled beneath the generator in its bed of Styrofoam peanuts. The cover read "Guide to Electric Sex."

This was a collection of electronic components that only a geek could love--quite literally. Created by Folsom Electric Company for the devious mad scientists at Blowfish, electric sex toys are an underground fetish phenomenon that appeals to the sorts of people whose first sex fantasies were inspired by science fiction. I'll confess I'm one of those people. I mean, who wouldn't get hot watching Barbarella stuck inside a machine that rips off her clothes and gives her seemingly hundreds of orgasms? Or watching Julie Christie being molested by an AI in Demon Seed (a.k.a. Proteus Generation)?

Let's face it--there's something sexy about the idea of dosing people with pleasure using machines. We live in a culture that adores technology, that sucks up alternating current as if it were a drug. And given our total dependence on electricity, it makes sense that eventually somebody would start associating electricity with the kind of raging, brutal, uncontrollable desire we call erotic.

Needing something intensely--the way we need electricity--produces a fear of losing it that is akin to arousal. What if we had a blackout on deadline, resulting in chaos and economic doom? Or a blackout that lasted for weeks, creating a Mad Max world of leather-clad mutants and criminals? The vague tingles of terror these thoughts inspire aren't that different from the shivers of lust you get when the person you desire seems on the verge of abandoning you, but instead returns with a shocking kiss.

All right, enough philosophizing. Looking at that generator made me want to electrocute the hell out of myself. I wanted to be like the porn version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, becoming my own depraved experimental subject.

Setting the thing up was as satisfying as building my own computer, except a lot easier. There was no CPU to install, no exposed motherboard to pore over, no concern that the various devices involved would mess each other up. I used my primitive knowledge of electrical engineering--how to make a circuit, for example--to figure out how to make my muscles tense up using the unipolar electrode with the bipolar shield. Actually, I could use the shield on its own, since it created its own circuit. I ran the flat shield over my arms and hands, changing the intensity and frequency of the current on the generator so that the sensations ranged from throbbing to biting, burning to seething. Using the electrode with the shield, I created circuits that ran through my thighs, my lower arm, my belly. (You have to keep the current below your waist, because if it runs through your chest it can cause a heart attack.)

For obvious reasons, it was titillating to have a device that combined two of my passions: sexual and scientific experimentation. And the sensations it produced were certainly unlike anything I'd ever inflicted on myself before. But it wasn't technically sexual. In fact, I found the device inflamed my imagination far more than my body. I liked the idea that I could use it to make somebody's muscles move outside their control. And I was very keen to play electrodes and dials with another hapless victim in my lab.

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From the July 26-August 1, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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