Virtual reality porn should be a phenomenon. It's the steamy videos you're used to writ large: Rather than being a mere window on the action, VR immerses you in it, with the objects of your desire appearing so close it seems like you could touch them. What's not to love?
Statistics show porn is a popular use of virtual reality, but it's still nowhere close to being the dominant form of porn. This is certainly due, at least in part, to the fact that very few people own VR headsets. Virtual reality itself has struggled to attract capital in the past year: Facebook-owned Oculus, perhaps the biggest name in the industry, shut down its content studio last year.
But VR's future is, slowly but surely, looking brighter. With the recent release of the affordable Oculus Go, combined with efforts from big tech companies to make VR more accessible, we may finally be emerging into an era where everyday, non-gamer folks own headsets.
When that time comes, there's no reason VR porn couldn't become a cultural phenomenon. But to appeal to the masses, it should be at its absolute best, and should be able to bring unique benefits that traditional porn can't.
I, along with several veteran porn-watchers, watched a shameful amount of VR porn from Pornhub and prominent vendor Reality Lovers to determine whether, when the VR revolution hits, VR porn is poised to really take off. Our overall take: The videos were well made and engrossing, but we found a few problems that the format probably needs to fix if it wants to gain mainstream recognition, both as a medium for porn and as worthwhile VR content. Such as...
You can watch most VR porn videos from a traditional third-party perspective, but the big sell of the idea is that you can also watch them from the point of view of of the person (typically a man, though you can find female-centric VR porn titles if you dig) being pleasured. This sounds cool in the abstract, but in reality it causes problems.
For this kind of video to feel realistic, you need to put yourself in the same position as the subject, whether they're lying down, sitting in a chair, or whatever else. Depending on where you are, this can be difficult, particularly if the physics of your chair, couch, or bed make the subject's position tiresome to maintain.
But even if you find the perfect viewing angle, maintaining that illusion requires changing position whenever the subject does, which is certainly more finagling than most people want to do while masturbating.
Perhaps the solution to this is to only watch porn where the subject stays in the same position the whole time. But come on, that's just boring. If I want 25 minutes of missionary, I can do that IRL.
There's a reason you hear all the time about "VR experiences" but never hear about "TV experiences." We watch VR because we like not just the thing we're there to watch, but to experience what's around the thing, what's under and above it, and what's behind it.
But the viewers and I all agree: That's not why we watch porn. We don't go to Pornhub looking to "experience." We go to get aroused, and (very specific fetishes aside) we couldn't care less whether the sex that arouses us happens in a bedroom or on a spaceship.
None of us felt that being able to see the ceiling, floor, and walls that encased the bedroom where the sex was happening added to our experience with the sex. In fact, at some points, they were a bit distracting.
The ability to skip the bullshit
We've all skipped the beginning of a porn video to get to the good stuff — awkward acting and thin storylines are just about the least sexy thing there is. And if you don't live alone, it's very important to be able to turn down the volume when others are near or pause your porn video at the first sign of an intruder.
On higher-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you can easily pause and fast-forward videos with controllers. But most big VR platforms don't allow porn. And let's be honest: Anyone who's buying a headset just to watch porn isn't probably down with the big expense of a Rift.
With cheaper cardboard viewers, pausing, fast-forwarding, or even changing the volume of a video typically requires fumbling to open in the headset, pulling the phone out of it, scrolling ahead, and then putting it all back together. That process can sometimes take a minute or more, and the hassle really takes you out of the experience.
The bottom line
VR porn is an interesting idea, and I enjoyed the videos I watched. But at the end of the day, porn just isn't as compatible with the VR format as it is with the computer screen. Certainly, it doesn't enhance the porn experience enough (yet) to make buying a headset worth it.
I hope VR porn continues to thrive in niche communities, whose sexual or technological preferences attract them to the format. But for the moment, old-school porn is here to stay.