[TechRadar] Longform: How will virtual reality porn affect our relationships?
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Longform: How will virtual reality porn affect our relationships?

<img src="http://cdn.mos.techradar.com/art/Wearables/Oculus/VR%20faces-470-75.jpg" alt="Longform: How will virtual reality porn affect our relationships?"/><h3>Porn and relationships</h3><p>How would you feel knowing your partner was immersed in a virtual sexual fantasy without you? Porn in general is already a divisive issue, but virtual reality is going to create a bigger talking point..</p><p>In fact, it's already begun - <a href="http://www.techradar.com/news/wearables/porn-and-virtual-reality-a-changing-industry-1318097">VR porn is a thing</a>. <a href="http://www.techradar.com/news/wearables/ready-for-x-rated-vr-pornhub-is-1317666">Pornhub has opened a video section for VR</a>, and with the right equipment you can be immersed in 360-degree videos. Other companies are doing it too, but it's fair to say that this type of content is far from hitting the mainstream; much of the content is clunky and in need of refining, while VR systems are still expensive for most users. </p><p>Not to mention that some people like their porn to be discreet. It's easier to quickly close a laptop than it is to hide a giant box strapped to your face when asked, &quot;What are you up to, hun?&quot;</p><p>Most people probably won't even try VR porn until the systems are cheaper and more sophisticated, but you'd be forgiven for thinking there was some sort of VR porn epidemic on the way considering how much buzz there's been around it.</p><p>It's easy to focus on the tech. &quot;VR porn will ruin us!&quot; &quot;Sexbots will ruin us!&quot; &quot;The internet will ruin us!&quot; &quot;VHS will ruin us!&quot; It seems that every time a new technology has embraced porn, we ask questions about how the tech could ruin our social lives.</p><p>That being said, VR is fundamentally different as a technology. Never before have we had the ability to use porn that is so immersive, intimate, and potentially interactive. If VR is fundamentally different, partners might need to address what this means for their relationships. </p><h3>Porn, VR and you</h3><p>People have worried about porn being damaging to relationships long before VR was on the scene.</p><p>Of course, plenty of couples are happily using porn frequently and are in very healthy relationships. People come in all shapes and sizes and our opinions on porn are just as diverse. Some couples avoid porn; some embrace it. Some people use porn in private because their partner doesn't approve; some watch it together.</p><p>For all these reasons, it seems impossible to investigate the effect of porn on relationships. What type of porn are we talking about? What type of relationship? Who's involved? It's already a complicated issue before we even address the use of the VR.</p><p>It's important to clarify the type of porn that's going to be on VR at first. Instead of watching a porn video on the TV, you see it up close by wearing a VR headset. The camera used by the filmmakers can record in 360 degrees, which creates the illusion that you're there in the room with the performers. That's the major difference: it feels like you're there and you can choose what to look at.</p><p>However, VR porn won't stop there. As interesting as this form of porn is, it's just the same as traditional porn with the ability to direct your attention as you please. The feeling of being in the room does make it different but it's not as immersive as VR porn will be when it embraces technology from video games and creates interactive experiences.</p><p>Regardless of whether the video is on a laptop screen or a VR headset, a video is just a video. The really innovative porn will use VR to let users interact with characters and become fully immersed in sexual activities. Instead of watching actors undress, you could undress a character that appears to be in the same room as you. Combined with augmented reality, an actor could be on your own bed rather than some movie set.</p><p>Since VR porn will include both 360 video and interactive experiences, it's worth asking if they're fundamentally different when it comes to their effect on relationships. I decided to ask around and get a feel for how people felt about the technology.</p><p><img src="http://mos.futurenet.com/techradar/art/Wearables/VR%20Week/Virtual%20reality%20porn/Alix-Lynx-non-nude-420-90.jpg" alt="VR" width="420"></img></p><h3>Gauging the mood</h3><p>To really get to grips with attitudes about VR porn, I made a survey for friends and family to get an idea for how people felt about VR porn and relationships. This isn't a scientifically rigorous investigation by any stretch of the imagination but I did get answers from over 600 people from many walks of life. It doesn't prove anything but it gives us a rough idea of how people feel about VR porn.</p><p>I asked a few questions to find out if people or their partners used porn, then I asked if they would be comfortable to learn that their partner uses porn. I asked this same question again for VR porn where the user watches 360 video porn and one more for interactive VR porn with 3D characters.</p><p>Generally, the attitudes toward traditional porn and 360-degree VR porn overlapped. The people that were uncomfortable with their partner watching porn videos were also uncomfortable for them to use VR porn. Most people that were comfortable with partners using traditional porn didn't mind if the experience was 360 and used a headset.</p><p>The result that stood out was the distinction between using VR to watch 360 video porn and using interactive porn software more like a video game. Some of the porn-positive people who were happy with their partners using VR headsets to watch porn videos were uncomfortable with the idea of them using it for interactive experiences. Intrigued, I asked some of these people (who asked to remain anonymous) to explain their answers.</p><p>&quot;With 360 video porn, the experience is created by someone else,&quot; one participant told me. &quot;With interactive VR porn you create the experience. That's the difference.&quot; </p><p>The idea that the interactivity of VR porn makes it different from traditional porn was shared by almost all the participants I spoke with. One participant was particularly disgusted with the idea so I asked if they would feel like they were being cheated on. </p><p>&quot;I wouldn't feel like they cheated on me, it's not the same,&quot; they said. &quot;But it is closer to that than just watching porn. I guess it makes me uncomfortable because it's so close to just having sex with me yet they've decided to do it on their own. It's something we could be doing together and they choose the VR.&quot;</p><p>I asked if choosing traditional porn over real sex was also a betrayal. &quot;I think that's different because it's not like having sex with me. It's not interactive.&quot; </p><p>The feeling I got from this small survey is that people agree porn is sexual but it isn't actually sex; while interactive VR porn is uncomfortably close to the real thing. </p><p>The question is: does being close to the real thing have to be uncomfortable?</p><h3>Embracing VR porn (and each other)</h3><p>The idea that VR porn or any porn can push people apart makes intuitive sense to a lot of people but seems alien when you speak to people who use porn as a normal part of their real-world sex lives.</p><p>I spoke with anonymous author <a href="https://www.girlonthenet.com/">Girl on the Net</a>, who already uses VR porn with her partner. They're both interested in tech so I was curious to see how they used the headsets and if they recognised a difference between VR and more traditional porn.</p><p>&quot;Relationship-wise, me and my other half are both quite nerdy so obviously as soon as we found out you could watch VR porn using Google Cardboard we gave it a go. And then another go.&quot;</p><p>&quot;For partnered sex stuff it's really cool - I can, for example, give him head while he's got the headset on, trying to time it with the porn. We've also done shagging while he's wearing it, or vice versa. It's quite a cool challenge, and fun to inhabit different bodies or see sex from different perspectives - I think it's a really interesting tool to explore empathy.&quot;</p><p>I noticed a recurring theme when speaking to people who use porn as a healthy part of their sex lives: empathy. The proponents of VR porn in a real-world sex setting usually mentioned to me that empathy makes a positive difference in their lives. To hear people claiming that VR porn can improve their social lives flies against almost everything I read in the media about the subject.</p><p>Girl on the Net did note that VR porn felt different the first time but, said it's not something people should be worried about.</p><p>&quot;I was genuinely surprised by the kick of jealousy I got the first time I watched what he'd been watching. It's so close and intense - although I know he watches lots of porn when I'm not there, something about this felt more personal, with the boobs-in-face and the heavy-breathing-in-ear.&quot;</p><p>&quot;It passed pretty quickly though, but I suspect for some people it will feel like a bit 'too much',&quot; she adds. &quot;Having said that I don't think it's tangibly different from porn in terms of whether or not people should worry about it in their relationships - it's only an issue if someone's watching lots of it to the detriment of your sex life together, then it's probably worth having a chat.&quot;</p><p>Will VR porn will be a detriment to sex lives or not? Of course it will depend on who we're speaking to. It's impossible to argue that VR porn is inherently problematic for the same reason that traditional porn isn't an evil in itself despite what some would say.</p><h3>Make love, not porn</h3><p>There are some voices out there that want to improve the porn industry and our attitude towards it. I approached Cindy Gallop of <a href="http://makelovenotporn.com/pages/landing">Make Love Not Porn (MLNP)</a>, a user-generated, crowdsourced platform for social sex that features realistic &quot;real world sex&quot;.</p><p>She doesn't think there's anything about porn or its accessibility that is inherently damaging to our relationships. &quot;Really the issue isn't porn,&quot; she tells me. &quot;The issue is we don't talk about sex sufficiently in the real world.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If we talked about sex in the real world, people would bring a real-world mindset and expectations to the viewing of porn. We make a big deal about porn because it's often our only experience of, our only education of, and our only information about sex in any way whatsoever.&quot;</p><p><img src="http://mos.futurenet.com/techradar/art/Wearables/VR%20Week/Virtual%20reality%20porn/Darling-headshot-420-90.jpg" alt="VR" width="420"></img></p><p>For Gallop, the tech involved is just a distraction from the real issue. &quot;If people could have healthy, open conversations about sex and had that all around them, they wouldn't have the insecurities about this artificial nightmare.&quot;</p><p>It's an interesting point: we do seem to be forever asking the same question. Whenever a new technology can change the porn industry, we worry about it rather than embrace it. Gallop thinks maybe it's us who need to change.</p><p>&quot;Tech blogs focus primarily on the hardware: VR, teledildonics, sex robots etc. It's easier to talk about the hardware than the squidgy software that is people.&quot;</p><p>I think she has a point. The media coverage of tech and porn is always about driving us away from each other. The fears are about being antisocial. People thought VHS would create a generation of porn-obsessives that couldn't function in the real world. Today we're asking how dangerous VR porn will be, and I have d&#xe9;j&#xe0; vu.</p><p>Interestingly, the big VR companies aren't openly embracing virtual reality porn, but they aren't forcefully pushing against it. Oculus won't let porn on its content store, but the Oculus Rift SDK is open, so if you find pornographic content elsewhere - which you will - you won't be prevented from running it on your Rift.</p><h3>Bringing us together</h3><p>Yet still, we seem to be stuck in a loop where the latest porn medium is a threat of some kind. Our relationships will all be destroyed by VHS, or the internet, or VR, or sexbots.</p><p>The fact that we obsess over the hardware says it all: we don't talk about sex sufficiently in society. We already know that when couples talk openly about sex it can remove the feelings of guilt and shame, but it could also transform the use of VR. </p><p>We don't have to use VR exclusively for porn in the sense of watching performers get busy; it could be used to improve real-world sex too.</p><p>Technology can bring us closer together but this aspect of VR porn is rarely championed right now. This is worrying as the media coverage of VR porn can have real-world implications. </p><p>These stories are great for hardware manufacturers because they raise public awareness of the tech and they can get more funding. But they focus on the tech and not the future of sex itself, which only pushes us further away from each other into virtual worlds.</p><p><img src="http://mos.futurenet.com/techradar/art/Wearables/VR%20Week/Virtual%20reality%20porn/VirtualRealGay-420-90.jpg" alt="VR" width="420"></img></p><p>There's no reason VR porn can't be used to bring couples closer together. VR is an utterly unique form of technology because it can do something no other porn medium has ever managed: it can instil empathy. You can be someone else. You can experience sex from the &quot;other side.&quot;</p><p>Cindy Gallop thinks this is the most exciting and positive thing about VR real-world sex. &quot;It can change your perspective,&quot; she says. &quot;When straight men are pegged by their girlfriends, they learn why women have to be in the mood for sex. They see why we have to establish a state of receptivity; why we have to be warmed up; why we have to be turned on; why we have to trust. They see why we have to be in a particular mindset to want to have sex.&quot;</p><p>Will VR porn ruin our relationships? Not necessarily. Some people will be uncomfortable but it might have more to do with their own feelings and how we as a society address sex rather than some inherent evil of using headsets for sexual pleasure.</p><p>For those willing to talk about sex and porn with their partners, VR might be something that improves their sex lives beyond measure and brings them closer together through empathy. </p><p>As ever, tech is neutral. It's how we choose to use it that matters.</p><ul><li><a href="http://www.techradar.com/news/wearables/porn-and-virtual-reality-a-changing-industry-1318097">Virtual reality and porn: a changing industry</a></li></ul><img src="http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/techradar/allnews/~4/mC7bpFz70JI" height="1" width="1" alt=""/>

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