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Among the defining characteristics of porn are the element of fantasy and the noted sense of removal from the scenarios playing out on the screen. However, new technological advances in the virtual reality realm are beginning to herald a new age of hyper-realistic, first-person pornographic experiences.
According to Simon Laijboshitz, creator and CEO of Khora Virtual Reality, located in Copenhagen, Denmark, VR technology has the potential to be applied in all sorts of productive and educational ways.
Lajboschitz explains that Virtual Reality can be used for the simulation of complex operations for surgeons, for empathetic training for people hoping to gain insight into politically charged human rights calamities, like the current refugee crisis; for art; and for architecture or real estate, where programs can be developed for remote building tours.
Then, of course, VR can be used to take pornography to the next level.
Khora VR focuses on the development of interactive, educational scientific content, as well as providing a lab for users to walk through while experimenting with parallel virtual worlds. Even though his company does not engage in it, Lajboschitz does maintain that the effect of pornography on VR is ultimately positive.
“If porn helps the industry survive and grow, like it did the internet, then that’s a good thing,” he says.
Virtual reality was one of the main attractions on the docket in last month’s South By Southwest (SXSW) digital sphere. The main feedback that VR pornography companies received, however, wasn’t the same genre of misogynistic criticism that one might expect. Rather, users ached for more eye-contact, dirty talk, and interaction with the subjects.
Instead of pure sexual fantasy, users really want to replicate intimate, interpersonal relationships. Participants wanted to feel seen, desired, heard and felt. They wanted to feel intimately connected to the performers.
As evolution of this extremely immersive and all-encompassing technology progresses, questions naturally arise about whether such a goal is even possible, and furthermore, if it’s healthy.
Dr. Kat Smith, a sexologist, intimacy expert, and author, sat down with BTRtoday to discuss what intimacy means, and how humans can successfully attain it with one another. She explains that people often misinterpret the difference between intimacy and sex.
Sex, she says, is “a physical expression of the desire, the lust, the love that we feel for someone,” while intimacy is, “the trust, the care, the nurturing, the respect, and all this other wonderful stuff that comes with building a loving relationship.”
The trick for VR porn, it seems, might be tapping into the aspects of intimacy that have previously been reserved for discrete person-to-person connections.
Smith explains that the multiple levels of connection necessary for successful intimacy outlines its myriad iterations, and how it is built in relationships.
“There’s several ways we express ourselves,” she says. “There’s kinesthetic, which is feeling; there’s auditory, which is by hearing; there’s visual, which is by seeing; and then there’s intellectual, which is a mental connection with someone.”
However, it seems that advancements in VR technology bring us far closer to being able to accomplish many of the components of intimacy that Smith describes.
“In about one or two years you won’t be able to see or hear a difference between real and virtual,” Lajboschitz confides. “Touch–haptic feedback–and smell are coming. Smell is easier to accomplish, but touch is more impactful.” He notes that the first products of this kind will be available sooner than some might think.
Meanwhile, Smith doesn’t believe that porn, even the type that attempts to address the intimacy criterion, is an adequate substitution for a holistic synergy in real time with a real human person who cares deeply for you. For her, these types of digital interactions are limiting, and ultimately detrimental to those who utilize them in reclusivity, in lieu of the alternative.
“I don’t think it’s healthy in the sense that we need to learn to have interpersonal connections with other people,” Smith argues. “Our technological advances sometimes take us totally away from that… you can’t taste somebody’s kisses, you can’t get that energy exchange that you receive with a live human person. ”
For the chronically lonely, though, VR porn might seem like the most plausible and effective way to imitate real-life relationships. For those who have trouble finding people to connect with and have reached a point in their lives where they’ve resigned themselves to solitude, meeting a partner may seem like an absolute impossibility. Smith concedes that in unique cases, this type of technology might be truly beneficial.
As our repertoire of senses in the virtual reality arsenal grows, it’s hard not to imagine a dystopian world where we each plug into our own personalized paradise and retract from the world around us. However, as long as these technologies are being used to advance the human experience rather than permit us to opt out of it, we may find connection in unexpected places.