The Quantified Self movement—the trend empowering individuals to track trends in their vitals and other personal data—has long had its place in the bedroom. Self-quantifiers have used devices from the now-defunct Zeo Band to the UP band to the SleepTracker monitor to apps like Sleep Cycle to gain insight into their sleeping patterns and wake feeling more rested.
But the new app Spreadsheets heats things up by giving users a tool to apply Quantified Self principles between the sheets. Created by Danny Wax and Tyler Elick, the co-founders of Ardenturous Labs, Spreadsheets uses an accelerometer and analysis of coital sounds to track the data of your sex life. Having first set its calibrations based on the type of mattress you own (inner spring? memory foam?), it measures the duration, number of thrusts (if applicable), and loudness of sex. But Wax and Elick, who met through a mutual friend at the University of Denver and started developing the app in March of this year, are quick to clarify that they’re not trying to tell people how or how often to have sex.
“We’re not saying louder is better, or more sex is better, bigger is better,” says Elick. “I think that’s kind of a mind-set that I grew up with in our culture—but that’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is—hey, we want to provide a thermometer. We’re not here to tell people what their sex lives should look like.”
On launching the app, users are asked if their ideal love life is “Sophisticated,” “Cosmopolitan,” “Flirty,” or “Randy,” and the selection determines how “spicy” the app is in its feedback.“We decided to make it witty and fun and humorous to make it accessible, but this isn’t a spoof app. We really think there is a bigger story here,” Elick said.
“Sex is so diverse and so personal that we don’t have a target market. We are just providing this app with features and we want to see how people use it and what they like about it and tailor it accordingly. I think that’s pretty fun. It could be couples trying to get pregnant, it could be a vast array of people,” says Wax.
The entry of apps into the realm of intimacy isn’t just limited to sex, like Spreadsheets, or meeting potential sex partners, like Grindr and Tinder. The San-Francisco based app Kahnoodle has received attention for its attempt to turn a relationship into a game where thoughtful gestures are recorded and users are rewarded.
Where Spreadsheets tries to track existing trends, Kahnoodle is more normative. In the account-creation process, Kahnoodle asks “how you prefer to be shown love” by ranking seven categories: “Affectionate Touch,” “Thoughtful Acts,” “Spontaneity,” “Quality Time,” “Gifts,” “Verbal Praise,” and “Sexual Intimacy.” These ratings affect your “Love Tank,” which you are prompted to fill by giving “Kudos” (descriptions of sweet things you or your partner did) and “Koupons” (relationship-related IOUs that you can issue and redeem). Kahnoodle allows you to create custom Koupons, but it also comes preloaded with existing ones that run the gamut from the wholesome (“Amuse Me: Good for one trip to an amusement park to get the adrenaline pumping”) to the frisky (“Ties That Bind: Good for one lovemaking session using bondage items like handcuffs and blindfolds”) to the realistically mundane (“Hi and Dry: Good for one pickup from the dry cleaners”). The app has a score of other features: a shared wish list, a “Dates” tab that uses location services to browse nearby deals, a “tip” generator with suggestions for nice gestures, and a “Vital Info” tab to store clothing sizes, favorite things, birthdays, and anniversaries.
Wax says he wants to avoid the Kahnoodle model for Spreadsheets, because “No one needs to be told what to do,” but he is a fan of the app Avocado and says it has “absolutely improved my relationship.” Avocado, so named because avocado trees don’t self-pollinate and the fruits grow in pairs, creates a mini-social network for two, where users can share lists, photos, calendar items, drawings, videos and messages with their partners. Its advertising focuses on its potential to help couples stay close at a distance, in a way that is “fun, fast, reliable, and private.”
On average, millennials have the most positive views of technology, the highest rates of most kinds of technology use, and the most socially liberal views of any generation. According to the Spreadsheet founders, feedback they’ve received has been in line with those trends. “It’s been 50-50 good to bad, but where the good has come from say, the younger-generation blogs or publications and the older generation seems to misconstrue the message as, ‘How is this app going to tell me if I’m good or bad at sex?’” says Wax.
“Apps are very individual-oriented, and this is actually an app that connects you with someone else in the room,” says Elick. “I took that from reading one of our reviews. Someone wrote that, and I was like, ‘Yeah!’”
At the very least, these apps could mean the start of healthy conversations. Says Elick, “We talked to an older friend, a late-thirties career woman and she said ‘I would download it just to talk about sex—to talk to my husband about sex.’ That’s where I think it gets interesting.”