Virtual Reality – A Current State of Play

By on September 14, 2017
Samsung Gear VR

It wasn’t long ago that a term like ‘Virtual Reality’ would conjure up images from some sort of science fiction movie. It felt like a futuristic piece of technology that was only made possible by a high budget special effects team. The hype for first began back in the 90s, but people were left disappointed when it became nothing more than a fantasy. This failure pushed VR to feel even more unobtainable than it had previously, and it had remained that way until 2012, with the announcement of the Oculus Rift. Finally, the hype felt worth it, and it didn’t take long for its Kickstarter campaign to raise an astonishing $2.4 million, well over its original $250,000 goal. This was the trigger for the race to finish VR, and its potential was confirmed when in March 2014 Facebook purchased Oculus for $2 billion. This placed VR directly onto the world stage as one of the most anticipated new technologies of the decade, and since then it has advanced at unprecedented rates, suggesting that it won’t be long now before it completely revolutionises the way we interact online and with each other.

So, What Is It?

For those of you who have been living under a rock the last few years, basically VR is the next big piece of technology that is going to affect our lives. Essentially it aims to create an immersive and interactive experience, allowing you to feel like you have been transported somewhere else. Users will wear a headset, which will sometimes also feature headphones or controllers, so that they may block out the rest of the world around them, while only seeing the virtual one they have chosen. We have only just begun to scratch the surface of the potential possibilities that VR presents, and the future of it is looking very bright. It can create safe learning experiences, allow you to explore the dream house that you haven’t started building yet, or even provide rehabilitation to patients in hospitals. But currently the biggest market for it is in gaming. It allows for players to truly feel inside the 3D worlds they are so used to seeing on screen for the first time, and the potential market for this is massive and quickly growing. As the technology advances these headsets are becoming more reasonably priced, and many predict that soon they will become as commonplace in your household as a TV or computer.

As with every new form of media however, there is always that one leading industry player that no one likes to talk about: porn. After all, what do we want to be immersed in more than our sexual fantasies? The demand for adult Virtual Reality is astonishingly huge, and the industry is working hard to meet it. From adult VR movies, to games and cam shows, VR has been greatly successful in porn, despite only having been available for a short time. Experts predict that by 2025 the VR porn industry will be worth $1 billion, and with the speed it is advancing I’m honestly not surprised.

The Industry Today

I had never really put much thought into VR for porn until last November when I attended Sexpo in Melbourne. It was the 20th anniversary of the show, and to help celebrate they decided to give attendees a glimpse into the future of sexual technology. It had everything from pole dancing robots, to a booth where you could actually try out a demo of the VR porn while chatting with the stars who made it. It certainly opened up my eyes to the possibilities and showed me what was this technology was capable of. I also got to see firsthand just how big the hype is, with the VR experiences having some of the longest queues at the show. As an added bonus, last year Sexpo Australia were giving away free VR cardboard headsets. I didn’t think much of this when I got my tickets, but after a full day of learning about it I was excited to try them out when I got home. After that it has been difficult to not be eager about the future of this technology, and my trusty cardboard headset has certainly come in handy more than a few times. Thankfully, despite how relatively new all of this is, there is certainly a lot of content online to choose from.

It was only in April 2016 that PornHub, one of the leading adult content streaming services online, launched their VR category with a mere 30 videos. Since then VR has skyrocketed in popularity, and today the category offers over 2600 videos to choose from. In May this year PornHub released all the juicy details about just how much their VR videos are being appreciated, stating that they are being watched a whopping 500,000 times every day. Plus, this is all just in the first year of the category being available, so I can’t even imagine what these numbers will be like next year. What’s somewhat even more surprising is that these numbers tripled on Christmas day 2016. But PornHub pointed out that this was likely because VR headsets were a popular gift last year, so it seems porn was one of the first things people wanted to try them out on. They also revealed that men were 160% more likely to watch the content than women, while those aged 25 – 34 were 47% more likely to watch than all other age groups.

Another interesting statistic that PornHub revealed was that while it seems like the whole VR craze is biggest in the US, it is actually Asian countries that watched the most amount of porn from their VR category. Last year it may have been an interesting novelty when VR porn company Naughty America turned up at the E3, the biggest gaming convention in the US, but in Japan they have a entire convention solely for VR porn. In fact, at its debut show last year in June the Adult VR Festa in Tokyo was met with huge demand. So huge that its 300 person maximum capacity was reached within 15 minutes, and with a crowd of hundreds more waiting outside to get in, the police eventually had to be called to help control it. Furthermore, in Japan there are even VR porn games where you can virtually marry the anime girl of your choice. To help promote one of the new games offering this function, a lottery event was announced where one lucky fan will win an actual marriage ceremony with one of the characters. This will include dressing the groom in a tuxedo, before being transported to an actual wedding chapel complete with a real priest, all while wearing a VR headset.

As with all porn, most current VR content is made specifically for men and is filmed from their point of view. But there is certainly a demand for porn to be developed from a woman’s perspective too. To fill this gap, leader of VR porn BaDoinkVR, just announced their Virtual Sexology series “What Women Want”. These videos aim to provide both female VR experiences and sexual therapy in order to teach women how to focus on pleasure and desire. The whole experience is designed ‘by women and for women’, and includes input from certified sex therapists. They are striving to appeal to a large demographic of women that they feel have been overlooked by the adult industry, and in doing so bridge the gap between education and entertainment. To help promote their cause they are even giving away 10,000 free sex toys to whoever requests them on their website.

What You’ll Need

Feeling intrigued yet? Well, while it all sounds good on paper you are probably wondering just how much it’ll set you back to actually buy one of these things. Thankfully, you’ll be glad to know that these days the prices for headsets are rather flexible depending on your budget. This is mostly due to the fact that mobile phones can now be integrated with the headsets, which has hugely reduce the costs involved. Of course there are still the really high tech headsets available if you have the extra money to spare, but these are no longer essential to having a pretty good VR experience. To help us get an idea of what headsets are currently most popular for watching VR porn, BaDoinkVR recently released their site’s statistics. So let’s take a look at what our options are.

Samsung Gear VR – $99
The Gear VR is a rather simple headset compatible with Samsung smartphones for a surprisingly reasonable price. For porn BaDoinkVR listed it as the top piece of gear used, with 40% of their users strapping one of these on when watching their videos. This may be because Samsung give them away for free when you pre-order one of their new phones, but the low price is also probably a pretty good reason. This thing looks great considering it is a mobile headset, proving you don’t need to spend a lot of money to watch high quality VR porn.

Google Cardboard – $15
Google’s Cardboard was the first time VR seemed accessible to the everyday consumer. It might sound incredibly lame in comparison to other headsets, but for the price it costs you are actually getting an awesome piece of gear. It is essentially the same as any other mobile VR headset, just without all the fancy bells and whistles you don’t really need anyway. You can get unofficial versions of this basically anywhere these days, and it is what I was given at an Australian Sexpo last year. On BaDoinkVR it comes in as the second most popular headset, with 23% of their members using it. A lot of adult content websites even send this out to you for free when you become a member of their site, so this is probably what most people start off with.

HTC Vive – $1399
This is the kind of headset you’ll buy only if you are truly passionate about VR for more things than just porn. It uses Lighthouse room tracking, meaning you can move around with the headset on, as long as you first mount some sensor panels up around your room. This headset is designed primarily for gamers, and until porn advances there isn’t much need for something this fancy. But despite that it does come in as the third most used headset on BaDoinkVR, so I guess porn manages to find its way into anything, no matter how expensive.

Sony PlayStation VR – $549
This is what you are probably going to start seeing in the households of most gamers over the next year. Retailing at a similar price to a PlayStation console itself, Sony is putting a lot into their compatible VR headset. At E3 this year they announced some huge new games for it, establishing it even more as the next step in gaming technology. This is the most reasonably priced non-mobile headset you’re going to find, and it might be worth the money if you own a PS4 as well to go with it. It is used by 9% of members currently on BaDoinkVR, with this number set to rise as more games come out for it.

Google Daydream – $119
Google Daydream is the nicer version of their Cardboard headset. It is stylish, and apparently 30% lighter than any other mobile headset on the market, making it perhaps more suitable for porn viewing than the similarly priced Gear VR. But right now Daydream still has a long way to go, with only 3% of BaDoinkVR users viewing their content on it. This is because at current it is only compatible with Google’s Pixel mobile and some other lesser known brands, although this could change as they have plans to extend compatibility to Samsung smartphones soon.

A Little Something Extra

As VR Porn advances, there is another industry moving right alongside it to ensure users are getting even more than just their sight stimulated. I’m talking about sex toys, and with the age of VR they are quickly becoming far more advanced than ever before. This new style of sex tech, or teledildonics as some refer to them, is designed to be compatible with the VR porn seen on your headset, taking users to the next level of immersion. The leader of this technology is Amsterdam based company Kiiroo, a sex toy manufacturer that has been working with VR technology in mind since 2013 and is one of the fastest growing sex tech companies around. To meet users demands for a toy that would mimic what they were watching inside their headsets they created the Onyx, a male masturbator that syncs up with compatible porn videos to allow users to feel like they are really there. Kiiroo also sell their very own mobile headset to go with the Onyx, and getting these two together will only set you back around $400, plus they’ll throw in some free interactive videos to go with it.

It doesn’t just end there though, and after the huge success of Kiiroo there are many other companies working to offer their own immersive VR sex toys. One such manufacturer is SenseMax, a brand new company based out of Hong Kong and quickly expanding all over the world. Like Kiiroo they have also created their own mobile VR headset, the Sense VR, which can be used alongside their own app for streaming with. This can then be used with their Sense Band and SenseTube, both of which are male products designed to harness the power of this emerging technology. The SenseTube is similar to the Kiiroo Onyx, although one of these and a headset will only cost you $280, quite a fair bit cheaper than what Kiiroo is offering. For those who aren’t into masturbators however, SenseMax’s Sense Band offers a perfect solution. While it is designed to look like a regular wristband, it actually tracks your hand movements in order to sync your porn to them, allowing for you to feel immersed in the experience without having to spend the big bucks for something you aren’t into.

As these advancements in sex tech continue to gain popularity in the west, Japan’s sex toy manufacturers are creating similar technologies suited more for their gamer audiences. One popular example of this is the Illusion VR by Tenga, a full-body suit featuring a male masturbation device and prosthetic breasts. Users can watch anime-style VR porn while haptic sensors throughout the suit send out electrical impulses to make it feel as if the user is being touched. The masturbator then moves in sync with the visuals and as the user touches the fake breasts the porn will react accordingly. This thing will cost you over $500, and while it may sound a little nuts, it actually sold out within hours of its Japan release.

What’s Next?

Well even though we’ve been calling it Virtual Reality this whole time, there is still quite a bit of work to go with porn before it becomes true ‘VR’. See the purpose of VR is to be able to actually move around and interact with the environment within the headset. However, the technology for that isn’t actually here yet for porn, and so for now what you’ll see on porn sites are actually just 360-degree videos, where we are limited to just looking around our pre-recorded environment, rather than being actually ‘immersed’ in it.

The reason that video games can be real VR is because they are made within virtual 3D environments, not filmed from real life. So in order to bridge this gap between gaming and porn, a team of game developers and visual effects artists have recently come together in order to create the first actual VR porn experience. Named CamasutraVR, they are collaborating with porn stars in their Los Angeles studio in order to turn them into 3D models, so that their likeness may be used within a virtual world. Similar technology that is used to make the latest high end video games is applied in this process, and models must stand for hours in a range of different poses while surrounded by 132 cameras that are strategically placed around the room in order to capture every possible angle of the model. It is a laborious process, but the results are finally starting to pay off as they get closer to launching their videos. Once this is done users will be able to actually interact with their favourite porn stars, creating completely unique experiences every time.

Besides interactivity, another problem that is causing issues for VR porn today is the ability to control what you’re watching. However, BaDoinkVR are working to fix this, and have recently released a special Theatre Mode for watching their videos in VR. When using this mode it gives users the ability to control their videos with just their eye and head movements, allowing them to easily rewind or skip forward through video content without even lifting a finger. The technology still has a few kinks that need ironing out, but the potential it gives for VR porn is amazing, and it won’t be long before this starts being used on all VR style videos.

Another form of VR porn we will likely see more of in the future is the live streaming of cam shows in our headsets. There are already sites like CAM4VR and AliceX that offer these services, and I doubt it’ll be long before top cam sites like MyFreeCams and Chaturbate start offering this too. It will allow for VR to become far more interactive while still viewing a real person rather than a 3D model. As with traditional cam shows, users will be able to chat with the stars and then tip them to perform sexual acts on camera, allowing users to virtually direct what happens within the show.

As VR continues to advance popular blog Future of Sex predicts that by 2020 VR compatible sex toys will become the norm, and by 2022 VR will be the most popular way to go on first dates. They also believe that VR will eventually be used to digitally enhance our partners by changing their appearance, to potentially a crush or celebrity, whilst having sex with them.

Is It Safe?

As VR porn technology advances and becomes more of a reality, experts are beginning to warn of potential negative side effects. Researchers from Newcastle University recently released results from a study that analysed the responses of 45 volunteers after they were exposed to VR porn. From the data they found that VR could potentially cause users to develop unrealistic expectations for sex, as VR will show them only ‘perfect’ sexual encounters that real life could not hope to live up to. They also warn that as the ability to customise who we see inside the headsets becomes more widely available it will result in issues of consent, as users are free to base them off real people. This could give way to revenge porn being made of ex-partners, or even creating virtual versions of current partners that cannot say no. As the quality of the visuals gets better it could also start to be seen as cheating, due to the increased reality of the experiences.

But it’s not all bad. Many believe VR is only providing us with more opportunities for growth and to stay connected to each other, and that it is up to us as a society to not misuse this technology. For example, the benefits for people in long distance relationships are huge, allowing partners to stay connected in a far more intimate ways than phone sex could ever provide. For people with handicaps or disabilities it can also provide amazing possibilities for them to continue to experience pleasure without anxiety. Plus, the technology is already being put to use to help with sexual education and sex therapy, both of which will have hugely positive impacts on the lives of people who need it.

Virtual Reality for porn and sex is growing at an enormous rate, and I think we should embrace it. The amount of content being made has increased so much in such a short time, and I feel that by 2020 it will be the dominant form of porn online. Some people think that VR porn is just a fad waiting to die down, but I don’t think this technology is going anywhere, and will soon be as common in our lives as smart phones. It is an exciting future, and I really hope people can just enjoy the opportunities it provides rather than being concerned about the potential negatives. As with all technology it is up to us to use it properly and not take advantage of it. Personally I look forward to the day when I can be fully immersed in my wildest fantasies all from the comfort of my bedroom, and that future is almost here.

Grace Selena

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