Werner Herzog believes that virtual reality is getting ahead of itself. “It looked OK, but you get tired of it fairly quickly,” he told the New Yorkerof watching VR film. “The strange thing here is that normally, in the history of culture … you have the content first, and then the technology follows suit. In this case, we do have a technology, but we don’t have any clear idea how to fill it with content.”
Clearly, Herzog hasn’t seen 2 Chicks Same Time.
While traditional filmmakers may be struggling to adapt their art to immersive virtual reality devices, pornographers have been anticipating this moment for years. In the decades since John “Buttman” Stagliano held a camcorder in one hand, grabbed a lady’s butt cheek with the other, and invented a new pornographic genre he called “gonzo,” it’s become standard to film scenes from the male performer’s perspective. These “POV” sexual encounters are ad-hoc virtual reality simulations just waiting for the technology to catch up. “The entire history of porn has been trying by whatever means available to arrive at this type of experience, and now it’s here,” Naughty America chief information officer Ian Paul said recently. Fans have been dreaming of this moment, too. “It’s time to take VR seriously again, especially the pornography,” Jonnie Ross, co-organizer of virtual reality expo VRLA said in 2014, adding, “I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a virtual BJ on the Millennium Falcon.”
That extremely specific fantasy could be reality very soon. The latest iteration of Naughty America’s long-running pornographic video series 2 Chicks Same Time—each scene riffs on the basic premise of a man, a woman, and a woman, doin’ it, together—features a scene filmed with VR cameras. It’s compatible with all available headsets, from the $25 Google Cardboard to the $599 Oculus Rift. The recent rush of consumer products has also spurred the creation of new porn companies—VRSexperience,MetaverseXXX, VRTube, VirtualRealPorn, Virtual Porn 360, VRGirlz, SexLikeReal—that all film or distribute sex in VR. Next month will see the launch of AliceX, a company that trains VR cameras on live models, who can move and strip and talk at the viewer’s command. Using both virtual reality and green screen technology, AliceX founder Fabian Grey told me, allows users to “join” the model in the locale of his choosing, from “a beach with palm trees swaying in the wind” to “a castle with a fireplace crackling in the background” to “a space ship landing on the moon.”
At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Naughty America rented a suite in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, pulled in passing tech journalists, lubricated them with cocktails, and invited them to take the scene for a spin. The bros were impressed. Mashable gadget reviewer Raymond Wong nervously narrated the sexual experience as it unfolded around him. “I am a porn star,” he announced. “I am a male porn star. I am strokin’ my penis.” Wong got used to it. “The more the porn girls jiggled their breasts in my face and rubbed their butts against me, the more I internalized being the VR porn guy. I felt my face get flushed as they showed me their, ahem, skills,” he wrote later. “Things got really weird, that’s all I’m going to say.”Digital Trends reporter Will Fulton rated the experience “jarring,” “animal,” “visceral,” and “very convincing.” When CNET editor Brian Tong test-drove the Naughty America clip in front of a conference crowd, he tilted his head to fixate on one lady’s boobs and announced: “Dude. Duuuuude!”
Does virtual sex really feel real? Not to me.
When I test-drove Naughty America’s offerings on a Samsung Gear this week, I felt like I was watching porn in extreme close-up from inside Being John Malkovich’s rent-a-head. Naughty America’s scenes are only rendered in 180 degrees—turn your head too far to the left or right, up or down, and all you’ll see is black.
But the limited field of vision isn’t the main problem. I wasn’t transported into the experience of an ab-a-licious stud having sex with a pretty lady, because while I couldsee myself as the stud, having sex with said lady, I couldn’t feel a thing. (It’s not because I’m a woman: Naughty America also offers a demo filmed from the female perspective, and it’s similarly uninspiring.) This is why most VR filmmakers take care to leave the viewer’s assumed “character” a couple inches away from the action: In one Jurassic World virtual reality scene, you sit on a log while an apatosaurus stalks around you. In an inspirational LeBron James clip, you stand at the baseline of a basketball court and peer up as King James sinks the layup. But in the Naughty America clips, a porn star strokes “your” chest and fellates “your” penis—which just seems weird, because it’s trying to engage the user in a dimension of reality (touch) that the device is incapable of simulating.
From the porn company’s perspective, the singular focus required by VR is a selling point. A Naughty America rep I traded emails with can’t say whether VR content would be harder to pirate than regular smut, but she did say that she believes the headset stuff would imperil the business model of free-for-all tube sites. Those sites run on advertising, and a pop-up ad selling dick cream would be even more jarring and unpleasant in a virtual reality headset than it is on a desktop. Presumably, users would be willing to pay to avoid being assaulted by an ad while getting sexy in their VR cocoon.
It’s harder for me to understand what’s in it for consumers. Porn viewers have already created their own ad-hoc solutions for turning 2-D videos into an augmented reality experience. They use their hands, obviously, but they can also fast-forward to the parts they like the best and create GIFs to watch their favorite bits on unending loops. These strategies are particularly necessary for people with really peculiar kinks, and also all women, who find it more difficult to find a porn scene that’s been specially produced to turn them on.
VR porn makes a bid to enhance the porn viewer’s experience, but in a way it takes them further away from the action: Slip on a headset, and you can look up at a porn star’s boobs or down at “your” new dick, but you’re otherwise trapped inside Naughty America’s fantasy. Look to the left or right for a new link to click on, and all you’ll see is black.