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VR: Sexy New Technology

David Evans Bailey is researching a practise based PhD focused on creating Affective Art in Virtual Reality. He waltzes us through the VR

industry and sex, among other things.

According to Wired in March 2017, VR porn has grown 250 percent, with VR porn videos being watched 500,000 times per day. I don’t know about you, but that does seem quite a lot. But wait, let’s take a moment to reflect, because for many people who were not around in the ‘90s, VR is brand new, hot off the press technology. In actual fact, though, this is the second time around for this high-tech offering.

Back then, all the predictions were that VR would become the next big thing. This was a time when anyone with a dotcom company would be able to get a million dollars plus from investors, just on the strength of the fact that they were ‘doing something’ on the internet. At the same time, investment in VR was on the rise and so was the hype. In 1992 The Lawnmower Man hit the big screen and the media became obsessed by the VR sex scene, which it featured as the main protagonist completed his ultimate conversion to a digital human. Thus bringing us, as always, back to sex.

Really though, VR was meant to signal the end of history, geography, and politics just like many innovations before it since the telegraph was invented. I can recommend Vincent Mosco’s The Digital Sublime (2004) as a history lesson worth learning on this very point. It was probably also meant to signal the beginning of sex and we will get to that. Yet in spite of millions of dollars spent on it, the big VR initiative ultimately failed to take the world by storm. Following which, very little more was heard. That is, until now.

For the techies among us, enter Stage Right, Oculus Rift. Followed closely by HTC Vive and Samsung, Suddenly and not so many moons ago the VR scene came alive. You might even term it VR’s new beginning. The computing power had finally caught up with itself and that had enabled these new ‘bad boys’ of the tech world to launch. Once again, the talk is of a billion-dollar VR market, but this time with a difference. That difference is that finally the technology can actually deliver what it promises and deliver it does, in spades. What also engages people is the multiplicity of applications. Immersive high-quality VR is here and not just in the gaming industry. Other fields such as military, medicine, health, sports, journalism, therapy, simulation training, art, storytelling, education and much more are taking it onboard and running with it. The second thing is that the tech has become affordable such that anyone with a half decent smartphone and a Google Cardboard can download and view immersive VR apps. The stats speak volumes; over 10 million cardboards shipped, and 160 million apps downloaded by February 2017. So maybe this time for VR the only way is up.

Technophiles would no doubt endow immersive VR with the cachet ‘sexy’. This term is often used colloquially to describe a hot slick or clever new piece of software or hardware.

The important point of all this is that the immersive quality allows the person using it to feel as if they are actually there in the scene and even part of the action. In the VR world, they call this ‘presence'. In layman's terms, once you put that VR headset on, it feels like you just teleported somewhere else. This should please any fans of Star Trek, although it has to be said that the phenomenon is not accompanied by that familiar noise when the transporters are fired up on the Enterprise. Nevertheless, ‘presence' has a particular appeal to gamers, for example, who want to actually feel as if they are about to be devoured by all too real looking scary zombies.

Experiencing all the glories of ‘being there’ in another VR universe is actually now very easy and accessible. Once again, investment is on the march and waiting for VR to break into the mainstream. There seems little doubt that this will happen once the right application comes along. That application isn't quite here yet, however. It might be Facebook Spaces, which somehow merges virtual reality with a 360 camera and has us all wearing a headset and looking like 3D cartoon characters whilst sitting in our real life living room. Or perhaps it won’t be. The popularity of Zuckerberg’s latest offering has yet to be tested.

it should come as no surprise to discover that of all the industries taking an interest in VR, one of the biggest is the sex industry. Thus, bringing a whole new meaning to the world of sexy technology.

Which brings us to the nub of this article and sex. Talking of mainstream, it should come as no surprise to discover that of all the industries taking an interest in VR, one of the biggest is the sex industry. Thus, bringing a whole new meaning to the world of sexy technology. Sex is definitely something that sells and anyone in advertising will tell you that, whatever form it comes in. Unfortunately, through the ages, it is the one industry which apparently has undiminished and universal appeal. Those of us with higher ideals might wish it were otherwise, but there we have it. VR is no exception to this rule and the concept of ‘presence’ is likely to take the viewer places they might not want to go.

VR porn appears to be centred around 360 videos, which put you right in the middle of the action, so to speak, and doubtless, this is part of its popularity. Additionally, of course, there are a myriad of sites which offer avatar based liaisons to suit all tastes and persuasions.

The porn industry will naturally move in on any opportunity which brings in the moolah, and as far as VR is concerned, this is most likely a cash cow of some magnitude. Another side to VR sex is also the addition of what is nicely termed ‘teledildonics'. For the less technical among us, this translates to sex toys that can be controlled via computer and thus by your partner. So, in a nutshell, sexting will become an altogether more immersive and encompassing type of experience. To put a more positive spin on this development, it would enable long distance relationships to reach more, let us say, ‘depth’ in a physical sense than they could up until now. You can imagine that a Tinder date would develop into one where you don’t even need to leave the house in order to engage in a bit of extracurricular activity.

There could, of course, be some downsides to this new sexual utopia. What if the avatar you are sleeping with isn't who they say they are? The hazards of being duped on the internet could multiply tenfold, and your sexual encounter could all be recorded for use later. And what of VR infidelity? Is having sex in VR outside of your relationship even infidelity? It would certainly be immersive and even like the real deal. These will no doubt become burning questions and ones for which answers will be needed for those who don’t want to get burned. Research has also shown that the people can be influenced and manipulated in VR in ways that they might not even be able to detect, a whole ‘nother article in itself. In short, Pandora’s box will perhaps be well and truly opened. But having said all of that, VR is certainly here to stay, and love it or hate it, we’d better be ready to take on the challenge.

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