SEX

Inside A Virtual Reality Porn Catered To Women

Could VR porn actually lead us to more realistic and relatable adult content?

SEX
Photo Illustration: Vocativ
Nov 22, 2016 at 9:05 AM ET

I’m lying by the pool in a leopard print bikini watching a handsome guy half-heartedly skim the surface of the water with his — hehe — pole. The diaphanous curtains of the cabana gently ripple in the wind as I slip my well-manicured hand between my legs. The pool boy, a cross between Chris Evans and Ben Affleck, takes notice and coyly wanders over. “Hi, Mrs. Brinks.”

I am not Mrs. Brinks. I don’t have a pool or a pool boy. Wearing leopard print would give me an anxiety attack. And I haven’t gotten French tips since high school. But I do have a Samsung Gear VR headset on loan, stocked with several porn videos shot from a woman’s point-of-view, including this pool boy scenario — and it feels just a little too real. Twenty minutes later I am messaging my husband: “I feel like I just cheated on you.”

On Tuesday, the firm WankzVR premiered FemalePOV, its new virtual reality porn series filmed from a woman’s viewpoint — meaning, headset wearers occupy the perspective of a female porn performer or, in gamer speak, avatar. While several companies have experimented with this idea before, what sets this project apart is WankzVR’s effort to survey female members of their site and on Reddit, to ask women what they wanted from VR.

More Here’s What It’s Like To Binge On Virtual Reality Porn

What they found was that women — or at least women who either used their product or frequented Reddit VR threads — did not want to see the gentle, less explicit content that they are so often said to desire. These ladies wanted something in-between the hardcore gonzo cliché of porn for men and the gauzy soft-focus cliché of porn for women. That is, they wanted explicit action with a bit of intimacy. Of course, that’s something female and feminist pornographers have already figured out, but it’s these women’s preferences with regard to VR in particular where things get really interesting.

Bradley Phillips, WankzVR’s managing director, says that in VR porn for men, male performers are often instructed to keep their hands out of the frame and let their female co-stars do all the work. That’s because male viewers typically report that seeing their avatar’s hands interacting in the scene takes them out of the illusion of being in the film. When it comes to VR porn for women, however, WankzVR found that female viewers expressed that they were disturbed to see their avatar just lying there, relatively motionless.

“From our research, this is something that the majority of women consuming virtual really content felt,” he said. “When they step into the female avatar and are really not controlling any of the pace of the scene and there’s a man doing really whatever he pleases to them while they’re just being very passive, it was definitely creepy.”

More Behind The Scenes Of Porn’s Virtual Reality Experiment

So, they tried to give women a sense of control by making the female avatars in these point-of-view videos interactive — they touch their co-stars and undress themselves rather than being undressed, for example. These gestures toward consent and mutuality can take the viewer out of the experience — much as men have reported — but, at least for the women WankzVR polled, that’s preferable to a perfectly immersive experience that looks a bit too much like sexual assault.

This underscores the fact that making VR porn is critically different from making regular porn. Of course, plenty of regular porn is shot in the P.O.V. style — typically with a guy holding a camera pointed at his crotch — but with VR, the headset wearer feels like they are truly embodying that person’s perspective. You look down and feel that you are in their body, that you are in that scene. Regular porn is the experience of watching people doing stuff; VR porn is the experience of feeling like you’re doing stuff.

What I found, to my dismay, was that what I wanted in VR porn all too closely fit more clichéd porn for women. When the handsome, mildly-bearded pool boy walked over to me, I squealed with delight. I almost looked around as if to say, “Who, me?” Same when he lingered there, obviously building up toward making the move. It was the setup, the tension, the story that brought things alive. It didn’t matter that it was a hackneyed storyline. It didn’t matter that my co-star had a put-on, Ryan Gosling-esque Brooklyn accent. It still brought the stomach-flipping feeling of the moments before a first kiss.

More Forget The Ethics Of Robot Sex — What About VR Sex?

Regular run-of-the-mill internet porn so often grabs you with outrageous, extreme, and improbable visuals. But with the pool boy, I wasn’t focused on penetration or dick size. I was looking at his face — yes, his face. The way it flushed over time, the way he seemed surprised by his own pleasure. I watched the tendons tense in his neck, the sweat collect above his collar bone, the muscles naturally flex in his chest—all the sensual little details that are normally ignored by mainstream gonzo porn. This wasn’t the sort of gangbang insanity that works so efficiently to elicit a response in non-VR porn. I just wanted to see his face.

Apparently, this isn’t just me, or women in general. Phillips says that men, too, want a more realistic, relatable experience in VR. “Because of feedback from our users, we are moving toward scenarios that are more in-tune with reality,” he said. “A lot of adult content in the past has been produced entirely based on fantasy scenarios that are not realistic. Whereas, when it comes to virtual reality porn, we get more requests for what we call a ‘girlfriend experience’ than any other scene — a girlfriend experience is basically a virtual date with a porn star.” That echoes what Brian Shuster, founder of HoloGirls, told me recently: That VR porn viewers are favoring content that is “much more heavily related to loving, less porny, and more real relationship kind of sex and interactions.”

So, for all the bleak predictions around what VR porn might do to sex, there is the possibility that it will move adult content in a more realistic and relatable direction.

More What It’s Like To Get A Lap Dance In Virtual Reality

Reaching a high level of fidelity in VR is tricky, though. When the action really got going, the pool boy’s face started to venture out of the frame. (The videos are shot with a 180-degree field of view; shooting 360-degrees is much trickier.) There were slight issues with the other movies, as well: It turns out a female P.O.V. blow job just feels kinda weird and dizzying in VR. Also, when a male performer makes a weird pleasure face — in this particular case, something akin to a crying baby — it is extra pronounced and distracting in VR. And there are the inherent limitations of smartphone-based VR: The image quality is just not that great.

But Phillips says they are still working out some kinks in the series — and they don’t think they are anywhere near perfecting the idea. That’s why, at least for now, the company is offering the movies for free, in the hopes of getting feedback that will make the product better. “What we’re showing you…is our first attempt at shooting these scenes,” he said. “The reason we produced them is so we can get more feedback about what we’re doing wrong. I don’t want people to think we think we’ve solved the equation.”