VR Porn Is Ready for Its Money Shot But are you?
In the next 18 months, virtualreality headsets will change the way your partner – and you – have sex (as well as the people you have it with). Joe Madden pops one on for size
SITTING IN A WHITE-WALLED VILLA, I look down at ‘my’ body. I am perched on a metal chair and (rather unusually for me) wearing a white T-shirt and black trousers. Stranger still is that, kneeling in front of me, is a beautiful nun. She looks up and catches my gaze. Then she starts to talk in breathy, lusty tones. She says something about wanting to confess ‘impure thoughts’ to me, before explaining how she wants to make amends for them. She reaches out.
I watch her unzip ‘my’ black trousers, pop out ‘my’ erection and then start doing … well, you know what. ‘Am I doing it right? I hope I’m good enough for you…’
I’ve never harboured a nun fetish, but I’m soon feeling the familiar, heavy buzz of arousal. This has to stop. I pull off the headset that has transported me into this most surreal of scenarios (one I’m embarrassingly helpless to resist) and, bam, I’m back in a sunny, coastal-view apartment on the outskirts of Barcelona.
HOW DO I ACCESS VR PORN FROM A FEMALE POV? According to BaDoink, femalePOV VR porn is in the works, but isn’ t widely available. That said, at the time of print, Wankzvr had just launched its female- POV VR porn in the betatest ing phase, which means some of it can be downloaded for free or at a discount. Visit Wankzvr. com/ femalepov to find out more.
Just minutes before, a man called Xavi Clos from porn-production company BaDoink had lowered a Samsung Gear virtual reality ( VR) headset onto me. He’d grinned, like he was about to blow my mind – which is exactly what he did.
Now, a few metres away, he’s chuckling. I couldn’t physically feel the blow job, obviously, but the sights and sounds were so real that I had to stop before things got out of hand. I’m ricocheting between feeling amazed, amused, disturbed and more than a little guilty. I have a long-term girlfriend – did I, uh, just sort of cheat on her? Because that went way beyond the passive experience of consuming porn – it was intimate, interactive and immersive, and I was a central, active part of it.
When I tell my girlfriend about the experience later that day, she admits to feeling unsettled and angered. Thankfully I get a pass because, you know, journalism. But it’s a deeply awkward conversation – and one that increasing numbers of people are going to be having, because VR porn is exploding in popularity, which means a lot of partners are about to be unknowingly walked in on while diddling away with a headset on. BaDoink can barely keep up with its skyrocketing (94% male) membership.
The entry costs are next to nothing: a headset is no longer the flashy plaything of wealthy early adopters. Sure, you could blow R10K on a swanky Oculus Rift headset – but you can also pick up a Google Cardboard device for about R165. Slot in your smartphone and you’re away. In fact, 23% of BaDoink members use the latter lo-fi method to get their virtual rocks off*.
‘Our membership numbers double every month,’ says Clos, who acts as BaDoink’s head of production. ‘Christmas 2016 caused a huge spike because a lot of guys got headsets as gifts – but 2017 is the year VR porn really takes off.’
The difference between VR porn and ‘ traditional’ porn can be illustrated by the heartbreaking needs of its most committed users. ‘We ask users for feedback, and they always want more intimacy in the scenes,’ says Clos. ‘ They want the girls to lean in, kiss them, whisper in their ear. Not what you’d expect from porn, right?’ Something like pity must be registering on my face, because Clos chuckles. ‘I mean, hey, maybe it’s a little sad,’ he says. ‘But then, guys can sleep with girls they wouldn’t usually have a chance with, so that’s great, right?’
The sexual intercourse – nonvirtual, real-world sexual intercourse – has started up again, just a few metres away. I should perhaps explain that I am currently on set for BaDoink’s latest VR production.
Nothing gets people behind a new technology like sex
There’d been a break in filming to snap promotional stills of the actors, Katana and Joel. To maintain Joel’s all-important erection, a cum shot had been faked by smearing his penis and Katana’s face with gloopy antacid medicine. Now, however, they’re right back at it. I’m once again unsure as to where to look. My feet? The ceiling? Directly into the eye of the action?
Joel and Katana’s sex – while expertly athletic – is a little awkward. In order to achieve the point- of-view shot necessary for VR, the cameras – a pair of GoPros fitted with special lenses – are placed directly in front of Joel’s head. He must remain completely silent and stationary, keeping his hands out of shot so as not to break the viewer’s illusion of ‘being there’. He is, basically, no more than an erection with a GoPro.
There’s another break in filming, and I ask Katana how she feels about this new-found style. ‘I’d prefer to shoot standard porn,’ she shrugs, while I stare very, very intently into her eyes to counteract the fact that she has no pants on. ‘You can see that there’s not much interaction, and it’s strange speaking into the cameras. But that’s the job, right?’
I grab a moment with Dinorah Hernandez, BaDoink’s content manager and the director of today’s scene. Smart and darkly funny, Hernandez carries the wearied air of someone who’s had way too many work days go south due to a flaccid penis. Does she foresee VR porn’s imminent explosion resulting in mass relationship strife? ‘It’s an intimate experience, and I get how some people might find it kind of “adulterous”,’ she admits. ‘But then I’ve heard of couples using VR porn together: they both load up the same scene, from the male and female points of view, put headsets on and watch it simultaneously.’ Just picture that scenario for a moment, will you?
It was once thought that gaming would be the driving force behind VR’s popularisation – until it became apparent that it was impossible to depict movement without inducing serious motion sickness. There’s not much fun to be had in playing entirely static games, so that – for the moment, at least – is that. Porn is now the major driving force behind VR’s mass adoption, just as it was for VHS, digital camcorders and the Internet. Nothing gets people behind a new technology like sex.
VR does attract talent and investment from the games industry – but for strictly X-rated reasons. One such ship-jumper is Daniel Dilallo, who made his name working on gaming mega-brands such as Guitar Hero and Call Of Duty. Dilallo now co-runs a buzzedover start-up called VRClubz, and is using his technical knowhow to build high-end VR strip clubs. I’m Skyping with Dilallo and his business partner, Jimmy Hess, who are both brimming with excitement over the imminent launch of their first venue – a painstaking VR recreation of San Francisco’s famed Gold Club, a glossy, pricey strip joint frequented by techindustry high rollers.
‘What we’re doing with VRClubz is replicating the experience of visiting a bricks-and-mortar strip club,’ says Dilallo. ‘We reproduced every room of the Gold Club to a tee, in 360° 3D, and combined that with hours and hours of VR footage of the hottest dancers in the world.
‘You enter the club, and the front- desk hostess greets you and leads you inside. From there, you’re into full-on immersion: there are girls at the bar, dancers on platforms and stages, bartenders, DJs. You can buy a drink, choose your seat, visit the VIP room, hit the ATM, “make it rain”… It’s the complete experience.’
‘Everyone’s excited about VR porn right now,’ adds Hess. ‘But for us, VR has the potential to be so much more. It’s about participating in – not just watching – scenarios that you never dreamed possible. That’s what VR is becoming, and that’s what we’re focused on now.’
At the moment, VRClubz – and the VR porn industry as a whole – is geared almost entirely towards (surprise, surprise) straight males. Market research indicates that 96% of consumers are men*, which means that female-focused content just isn’t commercially viable – yet.
‘We are currently looking for the right male-dancer club to recreate in VR, and offer that Magic Mike- style experience,’ says Hess. Want to feel like you’re centimetres from a ripped fireman who’s gyrating naked, without leaving the comfort of your sofa? Some of the smartest minds in tech are striving right now to make that happen for you.
With more than 25 years of experience under his belt, Robert Weiss is a noted expert on sex and intimacy issues unique to these postInternet times. He’s set up therapy programmes at more than a dozen US rehab centres and has authored several sex disorder-related books – including Always Turned On: Sex Addiction In The Digital Age. When I ask how he feels about VR porn’s imminent omnipresence, his response is wary – but not apocalyptic.
‘We can only speculate about the lasting effects of VR porn,’ he says. ‘But with every new advance in digital sexnology, evidence strongly suggests more and more people are challenged by sexual addiction and porn-related intimacy issues, and that these issues are tech-related.’ Thankfully, the prognosis isn’t fatal. Most people, Weiss says, should be able to enjoy cyber-sexual activity without becoming addicted – just as most people are able to enjoy things such as alcohol, gambling, video gaming and recreational drugs without getting hooked. ‘For the most part, it’s only people who are inherently vulnerable
to addictions and psychological disorders (usually thanks to a combination of genetics and unresolved trauma) who struggle.
‘Human beings are adaptable. The vast majority of people will accept VR, adapt to it, and learn to use it in healthy ways. Others will struggle. The people who adapt will survive and thrive; those who don’t, won’t.’
But those who don’t – what becomes of them? VR porn is so allconsuming, so reality-blocking, that it’s not difficult to imagine someone who’s going through a rough patch – the aftermath of a breakup, for example – retreating into that carefree, numbing world far more than is healthy. And while it’s fair to say that many people in longterm relationships accept that their partner uses porn when alone, will they be as accepting of their partner regularly getting his rocks off, one-on-one, with virtual hotties?
If you just can’t imagine your man getting all steamed up with a headset on, consider that, just 20 years ago, masturbating in front of a computer screen was considered beyond the pale. Just 10 years ago, masturbating while watching a phone screen was thought of in the same way.
It’s the day after Joel and Katana’s shoot, and I’m at BaDoink’s slick offices in Barcelona’s city centre. Clos has fired up BaDoink’s most popular title – a guide to better lovemaking, entitled Virtual Sexology – and Hernandez has lent me her Oculus Rift headset to watch it on. The expensive Rift is a serious step up from the more basic Samsung Gear I tried yesterday. The immersion is overwhelming and leaves me idiotically slack-jawed.
I’m in a bland, upmarket hotel room. Porn star August Ames rises from a four-poster bed and shimmies towards me, tracing the outline of her breast through a half-unbuttoned blouse. A female narrator is extolling the virtues of deep, controlled breathing during sex, and Ames is now centimetres from my face, demonstrating said technique. Now she’s undoing her blouse, moaning and purring, staring into my eyes … and, dammit, I can’t help but be drawn in. I yank the Rift from my head, again unwilling to risk a public tumescence. ‘Yeah, that’s, uh…’ I manage to stammer. Hernandez and Clos are chuckling.
Hernandez has ambitious plans for where BaDoink goes next. ‘I’d like to create a series with a story running through it,’ she says. ‘So it’s not always these one- off, 20-minute scenarios. And we’re looking at VR porn for women, but the challenge is that, unlike men, women don’t have external genitals. If you look down at penetrative sex in VR from a female point of view, you can’t see what’s “happening”. But there are ways around that – if you shoot with a very flexible model.’ Oh my.
Hernandez and Clos are aware that we stand right on the precipice of the world being forever changed by what they’re pioneering. ‘Oh, this is the future,’ says Clos with casual confidence. ‘Once people try VR porn, that’s it. They don’t ever go back.’ ■