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Virtual reality porn: Are VR headsets the new future of smut?

The future of virtual reality, the computer simulation of 3D environments that can be experienced in a way that feels like real life, is looking exciting. Typically accessed through headset goggles, virtual reality was recently brought to the scene by Facebook's Oculus Rift, Sony's PlayStation VR, and Google's Cardboard: all virtual reality headsets from which future designs would be derived. But like many innovative feats, the immediate conversation that arose with the invention of VR products, was what sexual capacity they could be used in. That's where virtual reality porn comes in.
What is VR porn? Essentially, consumers can use the headsets to have a more 'active' role in a pornographic scenario. Through utilizing the wide field-of-view, the zoom option, and bluetooth synchronisation option users will be able to immerse themselves in the experience more than previously possible.

Blurred computer screen showing nude images. Credit: Bigstock.com

Blurred computer screen showing nude images. Credit: Bigstock.com

In just this past week, the very first VR headset made for the sole purpose of watching porn was put on the market. It's called VRotica and retailing for just $220, it comes with six pre-included pornographic videos (customers can buy more content on a per-title basis):
VRotica
While an impressive feat of technological innovation, some are worried about the implications of porn becoming a more interactive experience. Computer scientists at Newcastle University recently presented their research on VR porn at the 2017 CHI (computer-human interaction) conference in Denver, Colorado. Their findings suggest that VR porn could dangerously blur the line between fantasy and reality.
 One main concern in the budding VR porn world are the possible questions around consent. Along with total immersion in a pornographic experience comes, obviously, the feeling that the scenarios are highly realistic, and therefore more acceptable to be carried out in real life. In pornographic scenarios that include violence or degradation, there is a risk that users will begin to forget the difference between what's okay in porn and what's okay in real life.

A shirtless man, with his belt undone, and hand inside his open trousers.

A shirtless man, with his belt undone, and hand inside his open trousers.

In their study, the Newcastle team had 45 participants engage in a VR pornographic experience as a fictional person named 'Jack' and had them complete Jack's story (in other words, they designed their own scenario). After analyzing their completion of the story, the participants were labeled as one of two groups: the "perfect scenario" group or the "precarious experience" group.
The "perfect scenario" group included those whose sexual experience was somewhat close to reality, but entirely perfected and described by participants as "better than the real thing". The "precarious experience" group included those whose experiences often went beyond what would normally be accepted in real-life.

VR Porn word cloud concept on white background. Credit: Bigstock.com

VR Porn word cloud concept on white background. Credit: Bigstock.com

Matthew Wood, research lead and PhD student, described the problematic nature of the second group to the Newcastle University Press Office. "These stories often went beyond what would be acceptable in real life," he explained, "with sometimes violent imagery, featuring men performing degrading sexual acts on women or forcing themselves upon them".
Newcastle University Press Office
Another concern of consent revolves around the potential ability for users to create 3D models of real people. Dr. Madeline Balaam, co-author of the study, asks, "If a user created a VR version of their real life girlfriend, for example, would they do things to her that they knew she would refuse in the real world?”
This also creates a new avenue in which people can create "revenge porn": when someone shares sexually explicit content of another person without their consent. With VR porn, the authors said it was “not unforeseeable” for someone to create a model based on someone they know (and are seeking revenge on), and then put them in pornographic situations.

Closeup of bearded young man wearing virtual reality goggles. Credit: Bigstock.com

Closeup of bearded young man wearing virtual reality goggles. Credit: Bigstock.com

A final concern that authors expressed is slightly less harmful, but still worrying. This, of course, is the potential for total immersion in VR porn to replace real-life sex, with it's simulated nature creating "perfect" scenarios that reality simply cannot beat. Matthew Wood explains, “we found that for most people, the potential of a VR porn experience opened the doors to an apparently ‘perfect’ sexual experience- a scenario which in the real world no one could live up to.”

A bald man wearing a VR headset. Credit: StockSnap.io<span style=

A bald man wearing a VR headset. Credit: StockSnap.io<span style=

It's not all bad news, however. The authors believe that "the future of VR pornography could be more positive, if designed in a certain way." They suggest that the interactive nature of VR porn could serve to make users actually feel more responsible for viewing violent or non-consensual content. As Dr. Balaam suggests, "maybe virtual reality gives us the opportunity to influence pornography and introduce some new rules.”
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This shift in control could mean big changes for the future of porn, and to Dr. Balaam that means that, "perhaps it's time for us to take greater responsibility for how we allow this to develop." If virtual reality truly is the future of pornography, then this takes the power of content creation out of the hands of industry heads and into user's hands ... pun unintended.