In more innocent (stupid) times, people
believed bicycle seats turned women into
lesbians. While it has never technically
been disproven, it’s probably fair to
assume this hypothesis is nonsense.
The humble pushbike is no longer a bone
of contention when the origins of sexual
orientation are being discussed by the
chattering classes. The homophobic anti-
velocipede technophobes of the early 20th
century were swiftly discredited and life
went on.
Yet this is just one example of
technophobia among many. “There have
been concerns raised about vibrators
making women lose interest in men,”
explains Dr David Ley, author of Ethical
Porn for Dicks, A Man’s Guide to
Responsible Viewing Pleasure. “People in
Utah believe internet porn will spell the
end of marriages.”
The pornography business is an anomaly.
On the one hand, it remains one of the
most controversial and taboo multibillion
dollar industries in existence. On the
other, it has pushed the technological
advances of various media and proven
itself to be a most adaptable creature in
the process. From photographs to
magazines, VHS to the vast array of
internet porn now available, the adult
entertainment industry has always been
ready to innovate the platforms upon
which it serves up its saucy material.
Porn literacy
It was one thing looking at a photograph
of a scantily clad model you hid under
your bed in the 1980s. In 2016, both
virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality
(AR) technology can provide consumers
of porn a more realistic “sexual”
experience made possible through
technology provided by mainstream
companies such as Samsung and Apple
in conjunction with adult sites such as
Pornhub.
As it becomes more and more like the
real thing, the technophobe in us all must
ask if this might pose new problems.
“Because it’s becoming more like the ‘real
thing’, porn literacy is more important
than ever,” says Marty Klein, author of
His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting
America’s PornPanic With Honest Talk
About Sex.
“Consumers and their partners need to
understand how it’s made, and how
what’s portrayed is not what real sex is
like.”
VR has already become a part of life in
many ways, not just with porn. “As a
society we continue to have trouble
dealing with increasing opportunities to
multitask, have asynchronous
communication, and have constant,
intense stimulation – all of which
undermine intimacy,” says Klein.
However, others argue that advances in
porn delivery are a predictable by-
product of life in the 21st century. “To a
large extent, social desire feeds
technological change,” explains Dr Debbie
Ging , expert on gender and sexuality in
new media at DCU. “In other words, it
may in fact be the lack of intimacy in a
world already fragmented by people
having to work long shifts and relocate to
barely-commutable accommodation that
drives people to seek out alternative forms
of intimacy.”
Digital kicks
There are many ways to get your digital
kicks on the internet, some of which
include interactions with real people on
the other end. “With virtual reality games
or apps, the other person is not real,”
says Ging. “Again most social
commentary about this tends to focus on
the potentially negative implications vis à
vis intimacy – what happens when people
get attached to or develop real
relationships with their hardware and
software, as in the film Her? This is a
very valid question, whether you look at it
from a philosophical, sociological or
psychological perspective.”
The introduction of new technologies into
a sphere such as pornography can also
serve to compound complex, societal ills.
As VR tech integrates itself into the power
relations already present in the porn
industry, it could reinforce unhelpful
biases and distortions of reality.
“Take Love Plus, a dating-simulation
game developed for the Nintendo DS, in
which the female ‘dates’ modify their
personas to adapt to the needs and
desires of the [male] user,” suggests
Ging.
“Here is the core of the problem – these
technologies could be used in lots of
different ways by different people but they
are being, and will continue to be,
marketed mostly to straight men. And,
because they will necessarily tap into the
existing, predominantly male heterosexual
porn market, their development and use
will be shaped by that sexual dynamic.”
Woman as product
As with more conventional platforms –
DVDs, magazines, internet, etc – the
problem is not necessarily with the
concept of porn itself, which at the base
level is just watching people having sex,
but with the way in which so much porn
depicts women as submissive and
compliant, there to be consumed.
“Interactive virtual reality means the user
can take control and fantasy to new
levels,” says Ging. “Will that influence
how a male user views real women? Or is
it his views on real women that determine
his taste in porn? In many ways, I think
we are just looking at a more extreme
manifestation of the power dynamics that
characterise existing heterosexual porn
and the relentless sexualisation of women
online.”
The spread of this technology into
pornography also reflects the wider
permeation of VR technology into daily
life. “The market for digital media in
general keeps increasing,” says Klein. “VR
porn is no exception. The main problem
with this is that many young people may
end up getting their sex education from it.
A society that’s seriously concerned about
this should create comprehensive sex
education and make sure all young
people get it. That, of course, isn’t
happening.”
Not everyone is convinced AR, VR, or
anything else will have any more of an
impact on society than other media
platforms used by the industry in the
past.
“It’s doubtful that many people will
pursue VR porn who don’t today pursue
porn in general,” explains Ley. “In fact,
VR porn may flop, as it might require
viewers to be more active in situations
where people are actually seeking a
passive sexual experience. Just the same
way all movies are not 3D, VR porn will
appeal to some, but not all. I believe the
fear of virtual reality porn is simply more
technophobia as we’ve seen so many
times before.”
Spuring growth: Porn set to be third-
biggest virtual reality sector by 2025
A recent report from Deloitte Global
predicted 2016 to be the virtual reality
(VR) industry’s first billion-dollar year.
This estimate is broken into two parts:
about $700 million in hardware sales,
and the rest from content.
VR already has numerous applications for
consumers and businesses.
In the short term, however, commercial
growth is likely to be driven principally by
the gaming industry.
Deloitte estimate about 2.5 million VR
headsets and 10 million corresponding
games will be purchased in 2016 alone.
However, the porn industry is investing
heavily in VR too. For example,
Pornhub.com – the 65th most visited site
on the internet according to some data
metrics – just launched a free virtual
reality channel, a first for the industry.
Almost a decade since it was founded,
Pornhub now carries over three million
videos and attracts 60 million plus
visitors per day.
According to estimates from US
investment bank and asset management
firm, Piper Jaffray, by 2025 adult content
will be the third-biggest virtual reality
sector, after videogames and NFL-related
content.

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