"Welcome to the new world of VR porn, which takes you from voyeur to participant."Lollie Barr
Welcome to the new world of VR porn, which takes you from voyeur to participant. The idea is that you are properly in the scene, not just watching it from a distance. And it’s not just porn that’s getting the VR treatment. Virtual reality is set to become our new reality-reality – changing the way we watch films and music videos, play games, learn and even how we shop.
According to US investment bank Piper Jaffray, virtual and augmented reality (AR) – basically holograms overlaid on top of your true reality: think Pokémon GO – are “the next mega tech themes through to 2030”.
The rise of VR and AR today is being compared to the evolution of smartphones 15 years ago. But the driving force behind all this innovation isn’t cute kids’ games filled with adorable monsters or racing cars. It’s the adult film industry. And it’s no wonder. Porn has always been at the forefront of cutting edge technological advances. We can thank the smut peddlers for webcams, e-commerce and streaming.
Now they’re pushing boundaries even further, with motion-controlled porn (your hand and finger movements create a direct 3D interaction with the screen), sexual avatars (on-screen gaming characters that have sex), biofeedback and haptic technology (both features imitate the sensation of touch), and 3D video.
Piper Jaffray has also predicted that VR adult content is set to bring in the mega bucks: an estimated one billion dollars annually by 2025.
Right now though, while virtual reality sex is good, it’s not mind-blowing. A lot of the scenes are
shot in 180-degrees, so when you turn your head there’s a black void. The scenes shot in 360-degrees are more fun. In one scene I watched a six-person orgy set against the backdrop of a fabulous apartment. As I was checking out the decor, I turned my head to see a girl masturbating behind me.
Like any fantasy it comes down to your imagination. VR porn assists by providing the visuals where you feel like you are in the room, the idea is that you will stimulate yourself at the same time.
“In terms of making content, porn has a lower barrier to entry,’ says Todd Glider, CEO of BaDoinkVR, which launched in July 2015 and is now the world’s biggest virtual reality porn site. “We can create a complete scene that has a beginning, middle and end for a fraction of the cost of a major music video, movie or a game,” he says. “We can offer a product that is affordable and delivers a return on our investment.”
Millions are already strapping their VR headsets to their foreheads and getting inside the action. According to the Google Trend report, searches for “VR porn” have increased by 9900 per cent over the past 17 months. And take a bow, Aussies, because we’re leading the charge – Melbourne is currently at number one while Sydney and Brisbane make up three of the top five cities in the world for searches. And with basic entry-level VR headsets, such as the Google Cardboard that I used, costing as little as $15 (the high-end models sell for up to several thousand dollars), it’s no wonder people are keen to get in on the action.
At the moment the biggest consumers are – shock! – male teens and young men, so the majority of VR porn is shot from a male perspective. But there’s a surprising new market emerging, one that may find VR caters far more effectively to its needs than its 2D porn predecessor. Women.
Former adult performer Michelle Flynn, who founded Australian VR company Lightsouthern in 2011, directs and produces adult content with a distinctly Australian flavour. A VR porn pioneer, she has shot 30 scenes and also added more from a female point of view as part of her latest feature, Momentum 4.
Her VR work features on Aussie start-up reality porn viewing platform velvet-reality.com. “It was a threesome scene, but the female point of view was the director. You put on the headset and suddenly you are the director dictating the action between two performers.”
Glider agrees that VR is the ideal porn for women. “The biggest complaint I hear from women about porn is the lack of chemistry between the actors,” he says. “VR porn bridges that passion gap because you’re directly engaged with the performer. It feels as if it’s happening to you, so it’s palatable and immediate.”
But it’s not just female users that are benefiting from the new medium. Female performers are also fans. Australian-based, American adult performer Kim Cums (kimcums.com), who has starred in VR porn scenes shot by Lightsouthern, says this approach adds a new level of intimacy for the adult performers making the films. “In a traditional 2D scene you’re trying to avoid looking at the
camera,” she explains. “In VR, we’re directly interacting with the camera rig. There is a lot more acting involved as I have to talk directly to camera, which strangely looks like a face. It has two eyes that are replicating the user’s eyes and the sound recording device looks like ears on
either side. You’ve got to maintain eye contact the whole time to engage with the viewer.”
It means that VR could also have an affect on power dynamics in the shooting of porn films. Traditionally, porn mostly gives the control of the scene to the man, now VR gives a whole new level of control to the female performer. “The woman is in control. There is more focus on the woman’s body and therefore her sexual pleasure,” says Cums. “On porn sets in Australia, there is a more equal power dynamic between male and female performers. However on US sets, you see the female performers being a lot more passive and the men more aggressive. The medium of VR porn could readjust the balance.”
One of the main criticisms levelled at the adult industry is that it has created unrealistic sexual expectations for a generation of mostly young men, who’ve learnt about sex watching porn. Perhaps surprisingly from a man who’s made a living from the industry, Glider agrees. “It’s unfortunate but that is the case,” he says. “However, the adult film industry doesn’t have certification from degree-bearing institutions. We’re not teachers, we’re entertainers.”
BaDoinkVR believes it has gone some way to tackling this issue with the world’s first VR sex therapy video, Virtual Sexology. Coined “edutainment”, Glider got the idea after watching a VR clip that used “Exposure therapy” as a solution for people with a fear of heights. “I thought this technique would work in the adult entertainment context as there is no shortage of people with sexual hang-ups,” he says. “We’ve targeted couples, however, the first in the series is primarily from the male perspective.”
In the video, there are eight segments that cover techniques for making sex lives more entertaining and essentially, keeping him harder for longer.
We meet adult entertainer August Ames, who guides the viewer through a series of short, hands-on-dick demonstrations. Glider also brought on board Dr Hernando Chaves, a marriage and sex therapist from Beverly Hills, who holds a Doctor of Human Sexuality degree from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.
“At the start of the video, August is fully clothed as she teaches deep breathing, mindfulness techniques and Kegel exercises, so men can work on their ejaculatory control and erectile strengthening,” says Dr Chaves. “We recommend they work outside of the videos so they can incorporate a practice regimen.”
The video then strays from the advice side of things to the juicy bits: full nudity and hardcore sexual acts. From there, the video pivots to teaching men how to better pleasure the women in their lives. “We have voiceovers that give tips on how to be a better lover, such as playing with the clitoris during intercourse”, says Dr Chaves. “Then we’d have August begin to touch her clitoris, to help educate the viewer that, for women, penetration is often not orgasmic. When you’re watching porn you don’t get that kind of information.”
Haptic technology adds another sense – touch – to the porn viewing experience. Using “teledildonics”, a man can literally go hands-free. Virtual Sexology coordinates with a $200 Kiiroo Onyx sex toy, essentially a fleshlight that plugs into your phone or computer to replicate the sensation of sex.
Still confused? It’s an artificial vagina or anus. So when Ames starts masturbating a penis on screen, the toy creates a wave motion that replicates her exact movements on the video.
If you’re thinking, “What’s in it for me?” Glider says the next video in the Virtual Sexology series will be made specifically for women. “We intend to focus on fear of intimacy or inability to orgasm, as well as providing a hot male porn star and great tips.”
It looks as if the future of VR is so bright we’re all going to have to wear shades. Glider says its evolution will see devices that resemble sunglasses instead of clunky headsets. He also predicts insanely good quality. “It’s going to feel as crystal clear as if somebody was standing in front of you,” he explains. “Plus, you’re going to see the dovetailing of the other three senses.
The whole idea behind virtual reality is presence; the complete immersion in the virtual world. You need all the senses working for that. We will see other technological innovations that address the sense of touch. We’re also working with a company who is coming up with a solution to bring smells into it. This means if there is incense on screen you’ll smell jasmine. If the scene is outside, you smell pine or wood. We’re not talking human smells, as they are too easy to get wrong.”
Now that would be virtual reality that’s a little too realistic.