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VR Porn Has Male Performers Coming Up Short

Directors say VR presents male performers with unique challenges — from weird positions to one-take shoots — and, even among seasoned talent, very few can rise to the occasion

SEX
Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Jan 26, 2017 at 12:15 PM ET

LAS VEGAS, NEV. — Shreddz, a young guy with ice-blue eyes and an expansive purple mohawk, is sitting naked with a hard-on in the living room of an upscale hotel suite. He is awkwardly leaning his head over the back of the couch, eyes to the ceiling, in an attempt to avoid a collision with the elaborate camera rig hovering right above his chin. Already, one of his colorful spikes has threatened to deflate after bumping the equipment, which seems like an inauspicious bit of symbolism for a male porn performer like himself.

But his erection continues despite the awkwardness of his position. It doesn’t matter that he can barely see his co-star, who is kneeling at his feet, her long blonde mermaid hair spilling over her bare shoulders. No matter that he has been instructed to refrain from touching her and avoid any thrusting during sex, or that he is closer to the hulking arm of black metal floating above him than the human woman in front of him — his boner doesn’t seem to mind.

This is why Shreddz is one of the very few male performers who can film virtual reality porn — or, more specifically, virtual reality porn that is shot from a male point-of-view. In these shoots, the camera rig is typically placed within inches of the guy’s face, so as to eventually create the illusion for a headset-wearing viewer that they are occupying his body. That illusion not only requires blocking the male performer’s view, but it also necessitates that he remain largely passive. Too much touching, thrusting, or talking on his part is thought to take the viewer out of the sensation of being in the scene.

As the adult industry begins exploring the promise of VR, directors are discovering that it is unexpectedly difficult to find male talent that can perform in it. Many of the same guys who can maintain an erection in any of the extreme, nutty scenarios of traditional mainstream porn — while standing in a freezing-cold swimming pool, perched on top of a rock in the middle of a baking desert — cannot get it up, and keep it up, when it comes to virtual reality. These men, whose careers rely on their ability to get an erection on command, are finding that the much-hyped future of porn is, well, kind of a boner-killer.

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“This is like driving a standard car and regular porn is like an automatic,” says Shreddz during a break from filming. His co-star, Cherie DeVille, agrees: “Most guys can’t do that.” Anna Lee, the director on this HoloGirls shoot, chimes in. “I’ve had to send some top guys home.”

Male performer Mike Mancini experienced this first-hand on a VR P.O.V. shoot. “I couldn’t keep wood,” he said. “I couldn’t keep it up.” This was largely because he was prohibited from doing two of the things he enjoys most: “I love to kiss, I love eye contact,” he explained. Given that he believes VR is the future of the industry, Mancini was determined to conquer the medium. So, he did what any athlete would do after a big loss: He trained. Cue: an X-rated version of the “Rocky” sequence. For a couple months, Mancini routinely invited women over to his apartment to practice. To simulate the VR filming experience, he would have them blindfold him and tie his hands together so that he couldn’t touch them. “I basically had her try to get me hard,” he said. “It was definitely a challenge for me.”

Eventually, he felt ready and signed on for his next VR shoot — and it was a success. “Now I feel very confident about VR scenes,” he said.

Shy Love, who is also Mancini’s agent, began directing VR content eight months ago. In the very beginning, she hired 12 different men for P.O.V. shoots — and, within one week, she had to fire all of them and temporarily shut down production. “I’m talking about really good male talent … and they just couldn’t get hard for VR,” she said. “It was literally every two seconds up down, up down, up down.”

The biggest difficulty, she said, is that many male performers are visually stimulated and need to be able to see their co-star to stay aroused. It doesn’t even matter if they use Viagra, which has become a commonplace backup tool for men in the industry. “It does not work. What most people don’t realize, yes, Viagra is a stimulant to help yourself get a hard-on, but what they don’t realize is it’s a stimulant that still works with actual feelings. So, just because a guy takes a Viagra doesn’t mean he’s going to walk around with a hard-on.”

Another challenge is that, at least for Love’s shoots, any cuts in the action are extremely expensive. That is because she is filming 360-degree videos using 14 different cameras, and the image from each camera has to be stitched together with the next for a seamless VR experience. This amount of editing is time-intensive and costly — and any cut only adds to that time. It can also take the viewer out of the scene. That means there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on performers to be able to complete the scene with very few, if any, breaks.

Through trial and lots of error, Love has had to develop a small group of seven men whom she knows she can rely on for these shoots. One of those men is Derrick Pierce, who has been in the industry for a decade. “I’m shocked that I can do VR,” he said. “But for whatever reason it works for me.” His surprise is in part because he, like many male performers, is used to being able to stop the scene before the all-important “money shot,” the porn term for the ejaculation shot — he’ll masturbate himself until he’s ready to ejaculate, and then resume filming to capture the moment. This allows him to have more control of the literal climax of the scene — a time when he’s worrying about technical issues, like whether he’s casting a shadow on his co-star’s face and whether the cameraperson is ready to capture the moment. In VR, however, a performer typically has to complete the money shot without a break.

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That’s not to mention the challenging, back-breaking scenarios Pierce describes — for example, maintaining an erection while kneeling on an ottoman and doing a backbend to make room for the camera in front of his face. “It’s very uncomfortable,” he said. “I’m in this, like, yoga pose kinda thing … my leg was beyond numb, it was starting to physically hurt.” His only explanation for why he’s able to perform under these circumstances is, “I really love pussy, a lot.” Shreddz says he’s able to overcome the challenge of not seeing his co-star by conjuring a sexy image in his mind. “If I can get something visually in my head, if I can’t see, I can stay hard just with the mental thoughts.”

It’s worth noting that male P.O.V. VR shoots are also more challenging for the female performers. DeVille, Shreddz’ co-star, explained, “Usually the guy guides the scenes, helps you with positioning, helps you with your camera angles, but [with VR] I’m going from being used to being the passenger to being the driver.” It’s also incredibly physically taxing due to the guy’s lack of movement. “I’m going to be spending the next however many minutes doing squats,” she said before the shoot began. On a different shoot several weeks ago, performer Katrina Jade said of VR, “I don’t like it in the summer with all the work on me. I feel like I’m going to have a heatstroke and die.” But, as physically exhausting as it may be, a female star’s performance doesn’t hinge on a hard-to-fake physical sign of arousal.

The inability to thrust during a scene also brings about an interesting gendered role-reversal. Although there are many exceptions, traditional, mainstream heterosexual porn often sees men as the more active, assertive parties. That isn’t so with much of the VR porn that is shot today, most of which is from a male point-of-view, as men are assumed to be the biggest consumers of the content — and that changes the entire experience for male performers. “You literally and figuratively are a tool,” said Pierce. Male porn performers have been derisively referred to as “dicks for hire” since long before virtual reality came around, but VR shoots can truly limit their ability to be more than a dick — there is little opportunity in terms of dialogue, character-building, or performance.

What this all means for male talent depends entirely on just how much VR takes off. Of course, those who are investing hefty sums to develop multi-camera rigs and experiment with the possibilities of VR are convinced that it’s the next big thing. However, most in the industry are cautiously waiting to see how widely VR headsets are adopted and whether people really do want to watch porn this way. If the VR believers are right, though, it has implications for porn’s pool of male talent. “Guys are going to have to start being more non-visual,” said Love. Otherwise, she says, the talent pool is going to shrink. DeVille agrees. “It’s going to weed out the male talent like crazy,” she said. Shreddz, who sees VR as the future, has a simple message for his fellow male performers, “Better get used to it.”

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