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Virtual Reality Porn And The Future Of Loneliness

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Accelerators Are The New Business School

Welcome to the very-near future of porn.

A few weeks back, a sex toy company called Lovense and a virtual reality porn company called VirtualRealPorn announced their collaboration. Soon, VirtualRealPorn’s growing library of VR porn videos will coordinate with Lovense’s digitally-endowed vibrator and Fleshlight-esque Max toy to stimulate your sensitive bits in sync with virtual sex.

The full rig isn’t in production yet, so I haven’t tried it (and I’m not sure I would) — but I did watch one of VirtualRealPorn’s latest videos. The experience was both terrifying and erotic.

It is also the future.

This weird future isn’t some far-off fantasy anymore. It’s right around the corner. If you’ve already got your hands on an Oculus Rift, a Samsung Galaxy Gear or even a piece of Google Cardboard and a mid-range Android phone, you can get a sense of it yourself.

So you’re probably wondering what it’s like.

Virtual Reality Porn Is A Leap Forward In Erotic Intensity

If you haven’t experienced virtual reality in any form — porn or otherwise — it’s a bit hard to grasp this, but VR is a legitimate breakthrough in entertainment and storytelling.

The difference between virtual reality and every storytelling medium that came before it is something called “presence.” For those unfamiliar with this term, presence is what happens when you are immersed in the virtual experience in front of you. In its ideal incarnation, your mind accepts the illusion that you are there.

There are a large handful of challenging technical obstacles in the way of utterly immersive presence in VR. They will all be surmounted at some point.

Indeed, Oculus VR and the HTC Vive/Valve teams are working hard every day, taking steps and occasional leaps to get past them.

In these breakthrough devices and the software that powers them, basic presence has already been achieved. 
With well-produced VR porn, even this rudimentary presence creates a dramatically more intense erotic experience.

VR is a legitimate breakthrough in entertainment and storytelling.

As VirtualRealPorn co-founder Mike Kovalsky (fake name) said when I interviewed him, “When you watch standard porn, you have to see what the director decides to show you. But in VR, you have the actress in front of you, and you can choose to look into her eyes, watch her tits, or focus on her pussy.”

Even with a mid-range HTC phone and the barrel-scraping Google Cardboard strapped to my face, I found VirtualRealPorn’s videos to be a leap forward in erotic intensity.

And this is just the beginning.

Even In VR Porn’s Primitive Phases, This Erotic Leap Is Big

When VirtualRealPorn launched in January of 2014, it was rough going. The two co-founders — Kovalsky and his new husband — had just sunk the money they’d saved for their honeymoon into this new VR porn company, and they had no experience in either VR or porn.

What they did have, though, was some of the necessary precursors.

Kovalsky had almost a decade of experience in optics and electronics and enough coding knowledge to hack together a website and paywall.

With these core skills and that honeymoon cash stash, he built his company’s first VR porn video rig: a stereoscopic camera that could capture video in 120 degrees. The software was next.

The enabling technologies of VR video are still nascent, so Kovalsky had to throw together a mix of off-the-shelf video editing tools and a lot of custom code to take the videos captured by the cameras and stitch them together into a coherent whole.

Of course, the first videos they made were expensive clusterfucks: The camera angles and sex positions were clumsy and the editing was a mess. The complaints of the early adopters were many and loud.

But like any process one attacks with dedication and focus, Kovalsky, his husband and their team got better and better at making immersive porn. 
Soon, they had a camera rig that supported 180 degrees. Their stitching software, editing techniques, camera angles and sex positions started working well enough to create believable presence.

The technical critiques of the early adopters became suggestions for improvement and requests for particular performers.

VirtualRealPorn now has more than 45 videos on its site, a growing number of paid subscribers and a scrappy team of seven. Very soon, they will start filming with their first, custom-built 360-degree camera rig.

And then there’s that partnership with Lovense, the teledildonics company.

When You Add Connected Sex Toys To The VR Mix, You Get Something Transformative

The “Internet Of Things” gets a lot of hype, but with a few notable exceptions, its breakthrough applications still feel a bit abstract, like they’re always just around the corner.

Teledildonics, the fancy name for “Internet-connected sex toys,” makes it all concrete. 
While connected sex toys have been around for a few years, they’ve been struggling to find a breakthrough use case. With virtual reality porn, their time may have come.

It works roughly like this: While editing their movies in post-production, VirtualRealPorn’s team adds software “hooks” throughout the action. Using either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, these “hooks” communicate with Lovense’s connected toys and tell them what’s going on in the scene. Lovense’s toys pick up these signals and respond in kind, either vibrating, twisting or otherwise moving in sync with the genital gyrations on the screen.

If you think it’s hard to imagine someone actually strapping on a VR headset and a connected sex toy just to have virtual sex with a porn star, then it’s likely you haven’t imagined hard enough. 
The key to VR, remember, is “presence.” The more effectively the software and hardware work together to convince your mind that it is there, the more immersive and intense the experience becomes.

And the demand of immersive virtual porn appears to be plentiful. According to VirtualRealPorn’s Kovalsky, even though the VR market remains early, his paying customers number in the high thousands. The split between devices (Oculus, Galaxy Gear and Google Cardboard) is just about even.

If you think it’s hard to imagine someone actually strapping on a VR headset and a connected sex toy just to have virtual sex with a porn star, then it’s likely you haven’t imagined hard enough.

It’s possible that many of Kovalsky’s customers purchased their VR equipment simply because they were curious about the new tech and only then found their way to the porn. But it’s equally likely that a significant percentage of them had the opposite logic, and porn was the driving decision behind their purchase.

Either way, there are thousands of people paying roughly $7/month to watch VR porn, and the jump from strapping a device to your head to attaching another one to your genitals isn’t that large.

Indeed, it feels inevitable.

VR Porn And Male Loneliness

As Jackie Treehorn, the fictional porn producer in The Big Lebowski said wisely to The Dude, “The brain is the biggest erogenous zone of all.”

Unfortunately, it is also the least well-understood. 
Last year, a study found a correlation between greater-than-average consumption of porn to smaller-than-average reward centers in the brain.

While these studies were overhyped by much of the commentariat (correlation doesn’t equal causation, folks!), this study does seem to suggest that people who watch a ton of porn experience less pleasure in the rest of their lives.

Whether porn consumption leads to less pleasure or whether less pleasure leads to more porn is still uncertain, but my hunch is that there is a positive feedback loop between the two.

The fact is that human beings are social animals, and the most sexually inventive ones at that.

Real, flesh-and-blood physical and mental connections with other human beings seems to be fundamental to a positive sense of self. Likewise, as the psychological havoc wreaked by solitary confinement suggests, the absence of these things is destructive.

For most people (the asexual population and the abstaining Japanese youth notwithstanding), sex with another person, especially in the context of meaningful intimacy, is a source of joy.

Watching porn by yourself all the time, although physically stimulating, is spiritually the opposite of this.

It’s not difficult to imagine a future where a cohort of the male population — especially those who have trouble connecting with members of their preferred sex — sits at home many nights with the Oculus Rift strapped to their heads, living out their sexual fantasies in VR, having their psychology further shaped and distorted by the persistent absence of connection with real life people. 
Regardless, the future of porn is here, and it is fucking intense.

As Mike Kovalsky said at the end of our interview, “We really believe that virtual reality will drive the relationships between humans in the next years.”

Welcome, Neo, to the virtual world.

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