Augmented and virtual realities, once inventions of science fiction reverie, are here in many different manifestations, and they’re about to plunge people further into imagined worlds, blurring the line between what’s real and what’s not. And the adult industry is following suit, ushering in a brave new world of sexual exploration – mating adult content with the ability to project an entirely created reality in front of one’s eyes is a game changer.
Virtual reality, however, is not a new concept. Philosophers have been pondering the nature of whether our perception is real or not for quite some time, and more recently science fiction writers have imagined all kinds of scenarios, mostly terrifying, in which virtual reality takes over. Just read the works of authors such as Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, and Jonathan Lethem to get the idea. As well, technological applications – apart from the mad writings of philosophers and fiction writers – have been around for over a hundred years.
According to a piece in the magazine Smart Glasses HQ, Victorian thinkers created 360 degree viewing headsets in the 19th century. An article in The Verge, covering the history and impact of virtual reality, also cited these basic inventions, called “stereoscopes.” However, the latter piece also remarked on the concept that VR could be attributed to out of body experiences. Both articles jump to the mid 20th century as the real nativity for VR.
In 1962, the Sensorama sprung from the mind of Mort Heilig, however the immersive seat-in-a-box, with moving parts, a 3D display, and even scent emissions, was not a success. Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull later designed other VR interfaces, Sutherland’s “Sword of Damocles” helmet arriving to the scene in 1968. The piece in The Verge also points to the parallel development of flight simulators, like Thomas Furness’s designs that’d become the Super Cockpit, developed at an Air Force base in Ohio.
The 70s saw an emergence of applied VR in art. Myron Krueger used a dark room and projections to simulate an artistic rendering of alternative realities. This, of course, inspired artistic thinkers, such as the advocate for psychedelics Timothy Leary. In the 1980s, after computers began appearing in households, former Atari employee Jaron Lanier brought VR gloves and goggles to the world, via his company VPL Research, founded in 1985. The company birthed the “DataGlove,” which was followed up by Nintendo’s 1989 Power Glove.
In the mid 90s, the hype that was VR burst, and many companies, such as VLR, either had to change direction or face bankruptcy. It was in 2012 that all the cultural and technological foundations were brought to fruition, culminating in Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift. The Rift was acquired by Facebook in 2014, and other headsets came forth in a more advanced wave of VR experiences. An article in Tech Bubble points to the impending success of devices such as Samsung’s Gear VR, introduced in 2014, and the easy-to-use cardboard interfaces that, with an app, turn mobile devices into virtual reality sets.
So where does adult fit in? Late last year, Gizmodo ran a piece analyzing how the production of adult material fits into the VR world. According to the article, there are companies developing content for VR, as well as better technology by which to shoot and create content, such as VirtualRealPorn from Spain. In terms of the visual content, there’s still the problem of renderings falling into the uncanny valley, though visual stimuli aren’t the only facets of the VR revolution. Companies like Fleshlight, among many others, are developing powerful hardware that can be linked with VR headsets and software to create immersive sexual experiences, no other physical humans required.
In researching the possible futures for VR technology as it pertains to the adult and sex toy industries, I spoke with Fleshlight’s Juan Ziena Cabezas, Alex Legret, the creative director for teledildonics company Kiiroo, and ThriXXX’s CEO. Speaking about the current state of humanity’s relationship with technology, Cabezas said, “nowadays, many people cannot be separate from electronic devices; consumer electronics dominate almost any sector of the world’s population, even the erotic sector. Virtual reality is indeed a fantastic new evolution of adult entertainment,” he continued. “I think that the VR world is going to be most lucrative, although this is only the beginning.”
“We worked on VR simulations with the first devices (VFX1) about 20 years ago,” said the CEO of ThriXXX. “It was a short-term hype, and the technology never reached a quality level to persuade the public. Hopefully the technology will be enhanced and become better this time. By this year, the world of porn will become even more interactive and immersive because of products like the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Microsoft HoloLens, Zeiss VR One and similar 3D glasses, which will be the main impulse for VR cybersex.”
“The word ‘immersive’ is the key,” commented Legret. “In 2015, everybody’s thinking about wearables.” ThriXXX’s CEO commented that, “many immersive devices have been or will be released. For the mainstream the VR headset Oculus Rift brought VR to the public again. Many others will follow. But also in the adult market there are some interactive sex toys, which can be connected to the PC and controlled by the software, so a person can control the device of his sex partner far away.”
Speaking about what VR means for the user, Cabezas mused, “Virtual sex is an escape from reality. There are lots of people out there struggling to have an active sex life. While many future applications of virtual reality had been focused on the use in medical, military, and business sectors, it’s entertainment that is likely to be the biggest driver of the technology and there will be many consumers interested in using this in their everyday life.”
Legret remarked, though, that completely immersive technologies weren’t the best models for success, saying, “A sweet point for these products isn’t Oculus, as such, because that’s 100% immersive, and you lose yourself as such, but something like HoloLens, which something like augmented reality. It’s more realistic. You’re not going to fall over when you’re having a wank.”
Kiiroo’s creative director imagines adult stars being placed into the realities of the consumer, rather than the consumer being brought into the virtual world of the star. Legret said, “The ability to take a porn star, and put her wherever your audience is, in their own house, is more adaptable for people’s tastes, a little safer, maybe, and so director’s will have to consider how they make adult to fit into augmented or virtual reality.” VR in general, to Legret, is an opportunity to accommodate for the diversity of desires and fetishes out there, all of them more easily attended to either by augmented reality or fully immersive virtual reality. “That kind of sexual liberation is, I hope, good for everybody. It’s not one size fits all.”
“People will pay again to get that POV, immersive feeling,” continued Legret. “I kind of see it as Harry Potter, you know when the newspaper images move, we’re kind of at that stage, where our 2D images from magazines are on computer screens, and now they’re coming into our eyes as 3D. It seems like magic. Five to ten years later it’s kind of possible. I do wonder which demographic of people will be into this, because the people who will be able to afford this kind of stuff, and have been exposed to this kind of stuff, are teenagers now, and in ten years will be the 20/30 year old professionals with the sexual freedom to make it normal.”
Companies like Fleshlight and Kiiroo already have devices that will inevitably become part of the prevalent VR movement. Cabezas remarked that products like the Onyx and Pearl were created via a partnership between the two companies, saying, “The devices could be useful not only for long-distance relationships, they could also be used by the webcam industry, letting fans have a virtual sexual experience with their favorite models. We are aware of recent technology advances and we try to incorporate them into our new products.”
“VirtualRealPorn blew my mind, though I lost all sense of time and location,” Legret remarked. The innovators I spoke with pointed to the fact that virtual reality is disorientating, making it so users are unaware of their surroundings. Legret observed that, “some people could get stuck in this world.”
ThriXXX’s CEO stated, “With better graphics and immersive devices the users can dive into the simulation, giving them an experience which might not be distinguishable from reality. With this technology the user is no longer just a voyeur, but can actively participate in cybersex, with avatars either computer controlled, by the sex partner or even escorts.”
On the real time effects of the technology, Legret said, “the kinds of barriers this might break, there might be a girl you fancy, and you walk up to her avatar and say, ‘I’m really horny, want to fuck virtually?’ and she says, ‘yeah, it’s not real,’ but you get to see her avatar, and you break the boundary. When you meet in person, I have no idea what that will be like.” It could be enlightening for relationships that are scared to take a certain step, or a path to inevitable, technologically induced awkwardness.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to know where to draw [the line], and who will be the authority to draw it either. I don’t think humans stop when it’s good, we want more, faster, cheaper, more stimulating, more real,” lamented Legret. However, ThriXXX’s CEO was a bit more optimistic about the survival of sex in the physical realm, stating, “In our opinion cyber sex will not replace the real thing. But it might be a good complement to support sexual fantasies, and allow people to act out stuff they can’t do in reality.”
The far-flung future is difficult to envision, but VR products are here, and becoming more and more accessible, in terms of cultural application and price. There are folks who will pay top dollar for Oculus level products, and others who will turn their mobile devices into virtual reality wonderlands with Cardboard. The adult industry may fracture, some production companies focusing on augmented reality, others creating fully virtual sensual play-scapes, and still others clinging to more traditional production methods. The stage has been set for a VR revolution, and this time, the technology may just stick, changing how we relate to adult content and each other. Only one certainty abounds; sex is becoming more exciting than ever before.