The adult industry has been propelling — and in some cases initiating — new technologies since the invention of the printing press. Mainstream tech like VCRs and DVDs, streaming video, encryption, even credit card verification all owe at least some of their success to porn. Could virtual reality be next?
“110 percent,” says Anna Lee, president of two Vancouver, B.C.-based adult entertainment companies. “Porn is the driving force right now that is actually causing the headset sales.”
Lee co-founded Utherverse, an adult social network, in 2005. A little more than a year ago, she launched virtual reality film studio HoloFilm Productions. She’s bullish about porn as the driving force for innovation in virtual reality and she has good reason to be. The monthly subscriber base for HoloGirls, HoloFilm’s main VR product, is growing 30 percent month-over-month.
BaDoinkVR, a maker of virtual reality adult entertainment based in New York, saw active subscribers increase by approximately 1,000 percent in the past year, according to CEO Todd Glider.
“Virtual reality porn, at its best, illustrates the potential and promise of virtual reality better than any other medium,” he said. “If you compare a good virtual reality porn video to any 2D porn video, the difference is so stark, so immediate, so undeniable, so visceral you can’t help but surrender to the possibility that this new tech is the next big mass communication medium.”
Although the adult industry tends to be a bit opaque when it comes to hard statistics, Google Trends show interest in VR porn far outpacing searches for virtual reality games, movies, or sports over the past year.
Augmented reality and the future of porn
The majority of HoloGirls films are shot in first-person male point-of-view. In other words, the person wearing the headset looks down and sees a male body in place of his or her own. The porn star in the video interacts with the viewer as if they were in the same room.
Lee believes this is just the beginning. She sees highly sophisticated augmented reality experiences as the next frontier for porn.
“I think, eventually, we’re moving forward to a time where the girl will be sitting on your own lap when you look down,” she said. “She’ll be in your room and there will be the augmented reality laid on top of the [actual] reality.”
Glider also sees huge potential for this kind of experience. But he’s quick to caution that mixed reality adult entertainment is still in the 1.0 phase.
“It will look like and, more importantly, feel like there is a porn star in your apartment,” he said. “Consider anything you’ve seen using HoloLens: Instead of a shark swimming, in mid-air, around your kitchen table, you’ll see someone like August Ames seated there. I’m certain that’s a few years off. Producing content like that is expensive and requires a much bigger market than exists today, but it will happen.”
Mainstream apps, like Pokémon Go and Snapchat, are already showing consumers’ appetite for augmented reality experiences. Ian Paul, CIO of San Diego-based adult film studio Naughty America, thinks they’re setting the stage for AR porn.
“AR porn will probably be available on your cell phone first, putting performers into your environment much like we’ve seen with Pokémon,” he said. “Eventually, the idea would be to have a performer actually jump in bed with you, but we are a ways from that right now.”
Headsets are the reason that technology is a few years out, according to Lee. It would take more sophisticated hardware to read an environment and place the actors in it.
The girlfriend experience
When Lee began producing VR experiences for HoloFilm, she expected the kind of hardcore productions that are popular in traditional film to do best. She was surprised to learn that virtual reality drives a different market. The most popular VR films her company makes provide what’s called “the girlfriend experience.” The idea is to create a more intimate and realistic scene than you typically see in porn.
“They’re looking for more natural penis sizes, more natural looking girls,” she said. “They’re moving away from a more fake, plastic porn image and they want a scene where the girl is kissing you and looking in your eyes and telling you how much she wants to be with you.”
Like HoloFilm, BaDoink’s customers are also most excited about first-person POV. The personal relationship between viewer and star is what distinguishes this new medium.
“I’d say, on a case-by-case basis, the most popular productions are those where the performer really knows how to make love to the camera,” said Glider. “It’s all about the eye contact with VR, making the connection, and that starts with the eyes.”
As a woman, Lee is excited to see demand for more realistic and respectful adult experiences. If VR helps “girlfriend experience” porn catch on, it could assuage a big source of criticism the adult industry faces.
VR is supposed to simulate reality. It’s virtual reality. And what do people want more than anything? A connection with another person.
The concern is that porn — increasingly the first way that young people experience sex — paints a distorted picture of intimacy and women and leads to unrealistic expectations. Could virtual reality course correct by changing the perspective from voyeur to participant?
“It’s going into the direction that makes sense,” Lee said. “VR is supposed to simulate reality. It’s virtual reality. And what do people want more than anything? A connection with another person.”
Porn’s new frontier
But all of this, of course, is a matter of perspective. While virtual reality has the potential to take some of the vitriol out of porn, it also fundamentally changes our relationship with the technology. Simulating that level of intimacy could come with its own host of problems for real-life sex and relationships. It could also become a medium for people to act out extreme fantasies with unprecedented authenticity. Whether or not that’s a pro or con, is another debate entirely.
Virtual reality is the new frontier for entertainment but it’s still a wild west. Like streaming video, online payments, and a host of other technologies before it, nobody knows quite what VR will become.
The adult industry, thanks to its vast and loyal customer base, has the luxury of taking risks on new technologies.
“Right now there is some cool content available mainstream and it’s going to grow,” said Lee. “I know Hollywood’s looking into it but if you were to look up content readily available, right now, for any headset, I’m guessing 75 percent of the content currently is adult.”