The 1992 film Lawnmower Man generated a lot of buzz at the time of its release.
As a film about virtual reality (VR), you might think that it was the vivid representation of this startling new technology that grabbed people’s attention. In fact, it was the virtual sex scene that made headlines.
But while virtual reality sex was largely a fantasy back in the 1990s, it’s becoming a reality today, and it has a potentially fertile future.
Point of view
Oscar Wilde is often quoted as having said: "Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power."
There’s truth in this because sex has an strong presence across many aspects of our lives. So it’s little surprise that it features in our virtual lives as well.
Some might even say that the joining of VR and sex is a dream come true; you can do almost anything you can imagine without ever leaving your living room. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: you have the power.
As such, it is no surprise that the pornography industry is eager to embrace virtual reality.
According to Fortune Magazine, popular porn website Pornhub gets around 60 million visitors per day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is investing heavily in VR.
It already features a slew of immersive videos that require Google Cardboard or Oculus Rift.
The videos are pre-recorded, as with conventional porn, but they are shot with a 180 or 360-degree camera. Using a VR headset, the viewer is then immersed in the scene, often with a central point of view.
Spectator porn is also transitioning to include an interactive element. This is where, instead of a static camera, the viewer will have something like a virtual camera that brings things right into the room in real time.
Another growing area is in simulation sex and dating sites.
In these, you can choose to be represented by any number of avatars: male, female, human and nonhuman. You can then interact with other avatars, and engage in a wide range of sexual activities at the click of a mouse button.
This type of site is likely to appeal to those who seek anonymous no strings attached casual sex. Or those who enjoy situating their fantasy within a genuinely fantastic world.
And for those wanting virtual interactive sex with their current partner, the industry is also aiming to satisfy. There is a plethora of interactive sex toys, for both men and women, which simply plug into the USB port of your computer.
These devices can be controlled by you or your partner, enabling you to enjoy a level of intimacy irrespective of physical location. I imagine this will particularly appeal to couples separated by continents.
Obviously, the porn industry will also capitalise on these sensory devices.
One can even combine the virtual with the physical and invest in a robotic sex doll. These are a far cry from the caricature blow-up dolls much loved by stag and hen parties. Nowadays, you can obtain a full synthetic lifelike model with all the appropriate equipment. Some also include animatronic articulation.
In time, it may be possible for the actions of these robots to be remotely controlled, thus adding another dimension to virtual sex.
Some may see the development of VR sex diminishing human relations. But there may be advantages to virtual intimacy. For those who are disadvantaged in some way and can’t even leave the house, for instance, or who find it hard to relate to other people intimately, this could be a boon.
This may be particularly important given the skewed gender ratios in some countries, which may leave millions of men unable to find a (human) mate.
Or you could think of VR simply adding a new immersive element to existing virtual text, phone, and webcam sex, all of which are nothing new.