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Sex on the net

September 13, 2006

They may not have found any weapons of "mass destruction" in Iraq, but when it comes to weapons of "mass seduction" that's another story.

Thanks to a couples website known as LoveVooDoo.com and a device known as the Sinulator, the men and women in uniform in Iraq have been able to keep their loved ones at home (who are definitely not in uniform or anything else) smiling. It's just one of many innovations online dating sites are developing to stay on top of what has now become a multimillion-dollar mainstream market.

The improvement to the love lives of long-distance couples is a result of a deal www.LoveVooDoo.com struck with Sinulate Entertainment, which manufactures the Sinulator, a device billed as the world's first internet-controllable sex toy.

"We have a lot of people whose husbands and wives are in the military," said Todd Claxton, founder of LoveVooDoo, which is based in a Washington, D.C. suburb. "They love the Sinulator because she can be in California and he can be in Iraq. I don't know what your rank has to be to get online, but from what I understand a lot of people are using it."

Claxton said he wasn't actually aiming for the military market when he decided to upgrade the site, which boasts 50,000 members — it just happened.

Adding the Sinulator seemed like a great way to attract more members, not only giving people another way to explore the couples lifestyle, but also a safe way for the more timid to experiment with it. "This allows people to get involved, but within the limits of what they consider okay to their marriage," Claxton said.

Clients of LoveVooDoo peruse the site to find someone who owns a Sinulator. Then they ask for permission to control the toy. Once they get that, they can control the toy, the speed and how it moves. That costs nothing. It's the toy's owner who slaps down $149 US for a radio-frequency device that plugs into a computer's USB port, and a wireless sex toy.

The device works on the same principle as a cordless mouse, only someone on the other side of the world can control it over the internet. Claxton hopes to add a video and audio component in the future.

"No other dating site has used this," he said. "Would Match.com want to do this? I don't think so. This is a little 'out there' for them."

Speed-dating option

For those not as "out there" but definitely looking, www.lavalife.com — Canada's busiest internet dating site, where 600,000 active members exchange 1.3 million messages a day — is expanding offline to keep its site fresh. Lavalife, owned by American company Vertrue but based in Toronto where it was founded, is partnering with the speed-dating company Fastlife.

"We realize people prefer to meet face to face, said Lavalife spokeswoman Lori Miller. "They tell us after they've sent e-mails and talked on the phone, they build up a perception of someone, but often discover there's no spark when they meet in person."

What's different about this type of speed dating?

"You fill in a personality questionnaire, and are then invited to events created with you in mind, Miller said. "Usually at speed-dating events, you have a 60-per-cent chance of connecting with someone. With this, it's 90 per cent."

Lavalife is also planning to launch a film event series for singles across Canada in the late fall.

"Our core business will always be our online site, phone and mobile business, but it's more about the journey than the destination," Miller said.

Several of Lavalife's original founders feel the future lies in the niche market of single parents. Mitch Solway and Bradley Moseley-Williams joined forces last year and came up with www.singleparentlovelife.com, a site that bills itself for single parents and "enlightened singles" interested in meeting them, which is set to launch this fall.

"Single parents have specific needs when it comes to dating and relationships," said Moseley-Williams, the site's vice president of public relations. "They have certain obstacles to overcome and goals in life. They're not as desirable on other sites as those without kids."

Complicated lifestyle

The life of a single parent is often much more complicated than those without kids, Moseley-Williams says.

"If a woman is 32, divorced with two kids, she won't be interested in a new husband. She'd rather meet different men or have different lovers. As she gets older it might change," he said.

"She'll want to maintain her standard of living and raise her children, then fit a relationship in on the side. She won't have time to be apologetic. On a mainstream site, she would."

The single-parents market is largely untapped in the on-line relationships space, Moseley-Williams said.

"Our research told us one-third of online daters are single parents already. The single-parent household is the fastest growing family type in the world. In this industry now, you have to have a niche market or a disenfranchised group of people."

Or a bunch of soldiers who want to keep the home fires burning, even if it is from thousands of kilometres away.

Georgie Binks is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She writes for the Toronto Star and National Post, and has written for Chatelaine, Homemakers, Elle, Glow and Style at Home, as well as salon.com. Georgie is a former CBC radio and television reporter and editor. She has been a feminist since she wrote an essay in high school on "The Changing Role of Women in Society" at her mother's suggestion.

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