Three years on from the launch of Virtual Sexology II, when VR sex experiences for women were predicted to transform the industry, the world of adult virtual reality appears glued to the cis, hetero, white male gaze.

Indeed, a diverse set of VR categories exist, but as Andrea Barrica comments in her book Sex Tech Revolution: The Future of Sexual Wellness, “most porn tends to focus on a specific type of body, while race is shockingly reductive, and women shockingly demure.”

The lack of diversity in mainstream porn is well documented, but how does this differ in the virtual world? What are some of the benefits of creating a healthier range of diverse adult VR experiences for a wider audience, and what is stopping it from taking off?

What are some of the benefits of VR porn?

The New Sex Ed

With infinite access to adult entertainment, along with limited (or altogether absent) sex education in school, more and more people turn to porn to learn about sex. This is arguably even more true for women watching pornography. Neuroscientist and founder of Liberos, Nicole Prause, says that “women are slightly less likely to use pornography for masturbation than men, as they tend to report more use for ‘education’ purposes, like learning about a sexual behavior.”

“Women tend to report consistently positive effects of viewing pornography with respect to their romantic relationships, while the evidence on men is mixed, depending on whether masturbation frequency is controlled in the study,” she added.

When it comes to virtual reality porn, Paolo Griffo, CEO at SenseMax explains that for cis men it “can be a really useful training to increase your sexual performances, successfully treating problems such as premature ejaculation, also boosting your self confidence in a non-judgemental environment.”

Virtual Sexology 2
BaDoink’s Virtual Sexology II

Intimacy & Multi-Sensuality in VR porn

In VR porn, just as with 2D porn, there is VR that incorporates multiple technologies to create a more intimate sensual experience.

Todd Spaits, CMO of female-led porn site YanksVR, told SEXTECHGUIDE that after the fallout the financial crash of 2008 brought to pay-sites, VR was able to offer the strong brands that weathered that downturn, and the affiliates that push them, a tremendous new opportunity. Because of the more intimate nature of VR, soft brands are well suited for the new medium. VR is more personal and YanksVR is a perfect fit.”

As an adult entertainer, director, and therapist, and co-owner of Royal Fetish Films with King Noire, Jet Setting Jasmine has clients all over the world, helping those without partners to explore their fetishes. Virtually, but over video chats, she explores BDSM power exchange while incorporating sex toys to introduce a tangible sensory stimulation or deprivation.

“I even have a client in Germany who loves purchasing my used underwear. So I send it over and we have a virtual session, in real time, where I am making commands while he has my underwear,” she told us.

As technology is increasingly allowing sex workers to expand and reach clients, virtual reality further enhances the experience.

Yanks/YanksVR has an all-female cast and crew for all scenes.

Sexologist and Neuroscientist, Cathline Smoos is working on a system for couples. It’s designed for people to virtually experience their fantasies in the presence of their partner, who reenacts the physical experience in real-time. Teledildonics are being used more and more in live VR cam chat. Lovense, for example, combines Nora, its Rabbit vibrator with VirtualRealPassion content for women, where the “rotations sync with the actor’s speed” and “vibrations sync with body-to-body contact”.

Raspberry Dream Labs’ ongoing study, Multi-Sensory Seduction, combines its VR experience with vibrating motors attached to the body, and scent technology that releases a fragrance as you watch a variety of abstract erotic scenes.

Using VR for Therapeutic Pleasure

When experiencing a scene within the virtual realm, the opportunity for pleasure is way more vast than in 2D due to the nature of immersive reality.

Sarah Ticho is a VR mental health expert. She produced Deep, a meditative VR game controlled by your breathing and founded of Hatsumi a VR body mapping experience that enables people to visualise pain, emotions and sensory experience using 3D painting tools. Her current project, VulVR, is a virtual pleasure and sexual education experience. Still in its early development, Ticho is planning to develop VulVR in collaboration with various NHS sexual health trusts and sex worker unions.

Ticho already understands the therapeutic benefits of VR and believes that “VR porn has the potential to change how we view intimacy, enabling us to better understand our bodies, including our physical and emotional wants and needs.”

She explains that you can engineer feelings in a virtual space in a very different way to 2D screens. “Whilst many people watching screen-based porn tend to be the ‘voyeur,’ in much of the VR porn it’s a first-person experience.” This point of view (POV) experience means that “you could be one of the ‘characters’ in a scene, or still having that voyeur perspective – but that feeling, as if you’re there really does create a very different mode of interaction and emotional engagement.”

Ticho says she’s also “exploring the importance of sound, and different ways people can gain sensory pleasure, through things like ASMR and mukbang, – immersive audio can enhance the intimacy of the experience, heightening emotional engagement and sensory response.”

Prause adds that “one study found that those who identified with a character in a pornographic video became more sexually aroused than those who viewed the video as a third-party or used the video to fantasize.”

She suspects that POV pornographic experiences “may help or encourage people to identify with the performers, which should result in more sexual arousal”. This is likely due to the Body Transfer Illusion, explored by VR academic, Mel Slater, whereby the first person experiences bodily transfer within virtual reality.

A screenshot from the now-defunct VR live cam site AliceX

Since it launched its masturbatory sleeve, interactive wristband and compatible SenseVR headset, SenseMax is in the process of developing its VR content for cis women. Griffo tells us it “requires us to adapt our MotionSensing technology also to our SenseVibe.” Meanwhile women can currently embody the man in the scene whilst still using the SenseTube male masturbator. Griffo says that “many female customers have been amazed by this experience”. This device controls the scene in time with your movements, “the faster you move your hand, the faster they move on the screen”.

SenseMax does have a SenseVibe G-spot rabbit vibrator that can heat up to 38 degrees, but it is not interactive at the moment, “we are working on it”.

This idea is taken even further in the trans and non-binary experience of virtual reality. In a guest post on Girl on the Net, trans sex blogger Kelvin Sparks explains that the virtual realm “allows the viewer to get closer to inhabiting different bodies.”

For people suffering with gender dysphoria, watching a POV VR porn scene, embodying the desired physicality can in fact be a liberating experience.

Ticho also believes that adult VR has evolved somewhat to be something more than just porn. She understands it “as a way of telling embodied stories in different ways, enabling transgender people to embody the bodies they wish to have following gender confirmation surgery, using multi-perspective storytelling to explore consent or visualise the anatomy of a woman’s body and the science of the female orgasm.”

Read this instead? Best VR Porn Sites – Reviewed and Rated

Limitations in VR Porn

Lack of Diversity

Does VR porn have the same educational, sensual and therapeutic effect when there is a lack of diversity?

One study demonstrates how physically disabled people can really benefit from the virtual reality embodiment experience. Yet, disability awareness consultant and disabled porn actor, Andrew Gurza, told Metro, authentic disability representation in porn is an important “opportunity for people to see a disabled person having sex, and dare I say, enjoying themselves while doing so.”

Neuroscientist Ash Baccus Clark worked on a project called NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism with a team at Hyphen Labs that looked into the therapeutic benefits of VR. In creating an installation that puts users in the body of an empowered black woman to see how virtual realities can impact prejudice or bias. “We didn’t see anyone that looked like us in the 3D libraries. The avatars of black women were hyper-sexualized.”

NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism
NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism teaser screenshot

Jet Setting Jasmine told SEXTECHGUIDE that she decided to create adult entertainment company, RoyalFetishXXX, for people of colour to uplift and defy stereotypes of marginalized members of the sex industry. From romance to hardcore, Jasmine says she “wanted to curate artistic self expression, to give us space to explore and see ourselves sexually that we didn’t think was acceptable […] From a sexual standpoint, so much of our education and experiences of porn in film, print or written, have been left out of the story.”

“If there isn’t anyone that reminds me of me, then I am on the outside, experiencing someone else’s sexual desires. If I am represented, and I can see my own desire, I know I am worthy of desire. It provides people with the potential outlet enjoying sensual experiences they can relate to.”

Trans sex blogger, Ana Valens, regularly writes on the intersections of queerness and sex tech. She told SEXTECHGUIDE how the kink world and VR games are way ahead when it comes to embodied representation in VR. One example is Dominatrix Simulator. “The team is working on customizable gender options, down to choosing one’s gender, genitals, and pet names, so you can literally have a feminine physical figure, a penis, and be referred to as a girl, or have a masculine figure, have a vagina, and be called a boy,” Valens said.

Technological Design Bias

2019 saw the release of Erika Lust’s ‘360 in Lust’ virtual reality porn. Like her other films, the cast was diverse, and, unlike the majority of adult VR, the perspective was voyeuristic. However, when Sex Writer, Lux Alptraum, underwent her own investigation after trying the content, she discovered an overwhelmingly obvious design bias with the technology.

Statistically, cis women and female-born people are more likely to suffer from virtual reality-induced nausea than men, as their interpupillary distance (IPD) is smaller and this can “affect how well a specific VR headset works for them”. A study at the University of Minnesota found that the incidence of motion sickness was 38 percent among women, but only 9 percent for men.

This design bias is also reflected in the fact that, according to The Guardian, only 20 percent of the tech workforce are women in the UK. Other reports put this number as low as 11 percent, “while at senior level women average between 5% and 15%. For black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers, the numbers are even lower.”

Furthermore, in both the US and the UK, only 16 percent of women have used VR, compared to 30 percent of men.

Dinorah Hernandez, director at BaDoinkVR and creator of Virtual Sexology II, explains that much of the design bias can be attributed to the technological physicality of filming VR porn scenes.

Hernandez told SEXTECHGUIDE that when filming from the male perspective, “you have the advantage that the penis sticks out. You can see the penetration, you can see all the action happening before you, [but] from a female perspective, you’re a little bit limited in the kind of positions you can do, because everything is happening on the inside. We’ve had to get actresses who can be more flexible, so that we can catch the action.”

Jet Setting Jasmine’s experience as a performer in VR porn was similarly restrictive: “I did three scenes, two were solo scenes, one was a dominatrix scene with me and Crystal Orchard. The experience was fantastic. However the camera person is super close to the performers. My thoughts were that it was different. It takes the camera operator a certain level of patience. It’s an intrusive enough experience, and this is that much more intrusive”.

Since creating RoyalFetishXXX, she has come to understand the many nuances of filming sex scenes.

“The camera was so interested in what our genitals were doing, but I would have loved to have seen other aspects of our body,” she said. “Our sexual expressions, the way the body moves, the nuance in sex other than your genitals. If I had the opportunity, I would include those nuances, the senses are already heightened. I’d allow them to feel those sensations with a more comprehensive sex scene in VR.”

YanksVR’s speciality is portraying real orgasms in an industry filled with fakes. The company only films amateur girls, focused on their own or other women’s pleasure. Spaits says that shooting VR porn for women poses its own specific challenges, precisely because of that aim for realism above all else, but that an all-female team goes a long way in helping.

“Production is hard anyway when you are trying to get the angles right for watching masturbation. There are even less positions you can shoot in with VR… When you’re filming POV over the girls shoulder, the camera’s in a really weird placed for her to be relaxed to have a real orgasms. We are built on real orgasms,” Spaits said. “The girls are much freer to express themselves sexually around other women. Our female CEO Billie Miller always watches the content first and if it passes muster she passes it on to our female content manager,” he added.

The Male Gaze & Gendered Plot Lines

As well as a technological design bias, these limitations in porn also come from who is directing a scene. Valens says “it’s obvious who controls the room in porn, and it’s not trans women. That’s why porn created and co-created by trans girls is so vastly different than your average straight trans porn. The latter is hyper fixated on trans women being penetrative women, usually focusing on their hard, throbbing erections to penetrate another woman or get a blow job.”

“Alternatively, maybe they give a cis man a blow job, clearly get turned on, and stay hard as a cis man f*cks them. It’s a similar script to straight porn with cis women, just rewritten to factor in cis men’s desires for trans women. It’s bad for many reasons, both objectifying our bodies, branding our bodies with misconceptions of how they work, and defining our sex lives based on cis men’s desires. Many cis gender people assume our penises work just like cis men’s, which is just not accurate for those of us on HRT.”

One of the earlier generation head rigs used to film VR porn scenes by VRBangers.

Hernandez from BaDoink shares her insight from creating adult content. According to her “what women want is very diverse and ranges from woman to woman. Men are very visual, and focus more on the physical traits.” Griffo from SenseMax agrees and says that “VR movies for women have to be more intimate, realistic, maybe with a plot, and dialogues between the performers. I think feminist porn is already bringing out those topics, but is a long road to change the mainstream porn attitude.”

In the adult realm, Hernandez tells us that shooting male content for BaDoink is just easier because they tell her what they want in their feedback.

“We don’t have much feedback from women” she adds, and while the company has done a few scenes from the female perspective, the majority of the feedback is from male partners who happen to say ‘this is what my girlfriend thought’.

What is interesting potentially is the increase in requests for more sensual experiences from men, Hernandez notes. “Dirty talk, eye contact, when she leans in and whispers… Boobs, tits ass, you can get anywhere, everywhere, however you want it. What makes it different is that level of connection people want. That intimacy. That closeness. That eye contact.”

Back in 2016, Angie Rowntree founder of Sssh.com made Empowering Ava, a 360 degree virtual scene that can also be watched in VR. Rowntree explains that though “adult VR films literally made from a women’s point of view, where the viewer is immersed in the position of watching something that it looks like she’s participating in the sex taking place, could have the potential to appeal to women,” she hasn’t made any more VR scenes since, as “those kinds of point of view adult films aren’t a good match for my filmmaking style, which is very story-driven.”

Socio-Economic Disparities

Generally speaking, VR is relatively new in getting into the mainstream sex industry, and while the average performer and director doesn’t have access to the technology, as a black female creator, Jasmine says she’s not even asking to create a VR company.

“I’m just asking for a seat at the table. I’d like to be a part of the initial exploration, so that my voice is counted.” Getting more diverse creators in the drawing room would undoubtedly have a positive impact on diverse audiences.

Rowntree, however, explains that Sssh.com “didn’t hire a production company that specialized in VR”, instead choosing to film it in-house.

“There were no multiple takes – it was all one fluid shot, using a single camera. Dealing with sound was very different as well, as I mentioned earlier. When it came time to edit the film, we learned very quickly that color correction had to be done on equirectangular footage.”

The challenges don’t lie just with the filming, though. The viewer, of course, plays a huge role in adult VR production.

At the cheapest of the virtual gear, Ticho, shared her experience of using a Google Cardboard-based headset.

“I was a white male, laying down, having a threesome with three women who were towering above me, taking turns giving me oral sex […] I didn’t derive any pleasure from it. This was clearly made by men, for other men – for them to lay on their backs whilst the women did all the work.”

Not only did her experience fall flat, but from a financial standpoint, she explains that while watching porn on a VR headset is becoming more affordable, they still cost a lot for many people.

“VR porn can be expensive to shoot or create if it’s digitally created in Unity or Unreal, and there may well be limitations by game development software companies regarding what you can publish,” Valens told us.

“It takes investment, time and skills – and there is a huge skills gap that really needs closing. Whilst you can watch basic 360/180 content on a Google Cardboard, that is a very different interaction to a fully interactive, high-resolution headset with six degrees of freedom.” Valens adds that “socioeconomic privilege means cis, straight, white, western men have the most resources and capital for developing VR porn, and most of them create content intended for an audience that looks like them.”

Indeed, as Valens notes, while this isn’t right, it’s easy enough to see why it happens. Straight cisgender men historically engage in the sex industry in high numbers.

“So in a bid to make the most profit possible, developers or studios appeal to straight men, which causes over-representation for cis straight men’s desires – and stigmatizes the role women play as customers in the industry, whether with booking professional dominatrixes, seeing full-service providers, purchasing porn, or enjoying porn games, among other things.”

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