February 16, 2024

Talk dirtAI to me: how sextechs are getting intimate with artificial intelligence

AI is helping sextechs turn a profit, but is automated intimacy good for society?

Sadia Nowshin

7 min read

Image: Midjourney / Lexie Yu

When Mike and Hannah Albertshauser wanted to spice things up in their relationship after 10 years of marriage, they turned to the inspiration of romance novels. But, from a bit of personal experience in the bedroom, they quickly learnt that a 300-page hardback isn’t the ideal medium when you’ve… got your hands full, so they began listening to audio erotica instead.

The couple enjoyed their audio-accompanied moments of intimacy so much, they decided to turn the idea into a business. They launched Bloom, a platform for erotica stories narrated by voice actors and aimed towards couples, in 2020. But for some users, simply listening to an immersive audio track wasn’t enough. 

One common request was “the need to have more connection with a character, more personalisation and more customisation,” Albertshauser says, as he describes how AI began working its way into his sextech product.


With half a million users on the app, it was logistically impossible to offer custom stories to every user. To cater to this demand for more intimate interactions, last year Bloom trained AI models (with permission) on the voices of its actors, as well as the pre-written stories on the app, to create a roleplaying chatbot feature. 

Users can guide the audio stories to fulfil their fantasies in a choose-your-adventure style narrative or have a private conversation with an audio or text-based chatbot featuring the voice of their favourite character. 

It’s the latest sign of how AI is entering the world of human intimacy, with AI girlfriends that offer easy-access companionship storming the internet, and other sextechs considering how else this technology can be used to make money in the realm of romance.

But is AI helping people embrace new forms of intimacy and bringing more investors to a still-taboo sector — or could relying on a bot to augment our most personal of human connections do more harm than good? 

Up close and personal

Another startup that’s planning to use AI to develop interactive audio erotica experiences is Stockholm-based OhCleo. The company offers a platform for creators to produce and monetise audio erotica — and AI could offer their users a private chat with their favourite content makers, without them needing to be involved. 

“Creators don’t have time to interact with everyone,” says cofounder Celine Fierro. Offering fans AI-generated voice notes and messages in the voice and style of their desired person could open up a new revenue stream for creators.

Both Fierro and Albertshauser note how realistic the cloned voices sound — but only if used in moderation. Bloom’s roleplaying format “lends itself really well to masking the shortcomings of AI,” says Albertshauser. To keep the spicy conversations flowing, users prefer shorter messages to long paragraphs — and it’s the latter where voice-cloning AI can start to stumble. 

Stockholm-based text erotica startup Pirr uses an open-source AI model that’s trained on the company’s own proprietary data. The AI assistant helps users write their own romance or saucy stories by taking a prompt and generating sentences from the idea. Users can then edit these sentences to match their fantasy. 

Mike and Hannah Albertshauser, Bloom AI
Mike and Hannah Albertshauser

Romance fiction is only getting more popular. Last year, it was reported that sales of romance and saga fiction in the UK rose by 110% over the three years to 2023, generating £53m a year — the highest figure in a decade. Over in the US, it’s a similar picture: sales in the 12 months to May 2023 were up by 52% year-on-year. 

While the market is “huge,” current romance literature is typically “homogeneous and stereotypical”, says Pirr cofounder and COO Beatrice Bushati — “and our mission is to change that.” Users can prompt the AI to create relationships that aren’t heterosexual, for example, or represent different gender identities in characters. 


After creating their AI-assisted story, users can choose to publish their creation to Pirr’s platform for others to read. “Our plan is to build the world’s largest library for romantic and spicy stories,” says cofounder and CEO Anna Wallander; “we want to make it cool to consume this kind of content.” 

Tempting investors

Despite the size of the market, sextech remains a grey area for many VCs: in 2023, just $29m was invested in the space according to Dealroom, a 35% decrease year-on-year and 85% less than 2021. 

Pirr has managed to bag external investor cash — it raised a $430k round from angel investors in October last year, and has been awarded two grants from Vinnova, the innovation agency of the Swedish government. 

Being AI-native drew investors to the startup, say Wallander and Bushati — especially when the risk of incumbents muscling in on the market is slim. “OpenAI and Alphabet and all the big American companies will not go into this area,” they say, leaving a gap in the market. 

The Pirr team
The Pirr team

“I think [AI] makes investors more curious,” says Dominnique Karetsos, partner at Amboy Street Ventures, particularly when it comes to sextechs that are content-based. "It’s able to bring down costs,” she adds. Companies no longer have to rely on the productivity rate of people alone, and can boost how much content is created through voice cloning and AI chatbots. 

“The pathway to profitability for a lot of these companies from a commercial perspective is 10x”, she says. “In our space, there aren't a lot of companies that are profitable.” 

But some founders have decided to stay away from VC capital. 

Since launching in 2020, Bloom has remained bootstrapped and Albertshauser says it’s been profitable since the middle of its first year. “It seems like a rookie business model and we might not have had as much hyper growth as some of our competitors, but we're kind of happy with having a more healthy, slower growth rate and making all of our decisions ourselves,” he says. 

It’s also down to the mission behind the company. “My wife and I founded this company to create a product for women and couples to better their sex lives —  for us, this is not a four or five-year exit plan.” 

Unhealthy relationships

While AI can help provide intimate companionship to those seeking it, there are concerns that people could become too attached to a bot without the complexities of a human relationship. It’s already happened: when US-based app Soulmate suddenly shut down, some users were left “heartbroken and devastated" at the loss of their AI companions. 

Despite the risks, Albertshauser says that Bloom’s AI bots can be used to encourage healthy relationships, as some users have used the roleplaying feature to regain confidence after the loss of a partner or a bad breakup. The chat offers a space, he says, where “if the chat doesn't go as [users] want, they can delete it and go back in to start the conversation again”.

While he acknowledges that the ability to restart an intimate conversation if it doesn’t go to plan could set harmful expectations for real relationships, he maintains the control could offer this confidence-building assistant for those in need. 

It’s also an opportunity to educate users on consent and boundaries, he says. “We've trained the AI to err on the side of caution — it will start slower, and ask for consent,” says Albertshauser. “Even when it’s a BDSM-related character bot, it will be prompted to introduce safe words and ask if they want to stop.” 

There are some boundaries Bloom refuses to cross. One such non-negotiable is infidelity. “We don’t endorse cheating in any way: we’re pro non-monogamy, but in non-harmful ways,” says Albertshauser. 

If a user asks the AI to role play a scenario where he is cheating on his wife, for example, the bot will try and redirect them to a more ethical solution, like “I don’t think you want to explore cheating on your wife, maybe talk to her about opening your relationship,” he explains. 

While AI could boost the business viability of content-based sextechs, consumers may still be wary. Karetsos suggests that startups that incorporate AI into their model, but especially sextechs, should be investing resources into building clear guardrails: “In every business strategy there now has to be a pillar of AI ethics. How do we incorporate it — and if we incorporate it, who regulates it?” 

Just as when apps invested in their data privacy protections to reassure customers worried about the safety of their data, “there needs to be a pillar of investment into AI to make sure that it is morally and ethically working for you and for your customer.”

Sadia Nowshin

Sadia Nowshin is a reporter at Sifted covering foodtech, biotech and startup life. Follow her on X and LinkedIn