Jessica Miller* likes watching porn. It relaxes her to see beautiful women pleasuring each other. The self-described ‘lesbian techie’ was excited to try Virtual Reality porn. She was disappointed. “It was all fake lesbians performing for men,” she says. “One site offering lesbian VR sex showed male-female penetration. There’s nothing here for me.”
This is why Sssh.com porn director Angie Rowntree got involved. Rowntree’s spent the last 16 years getting women off, producing porn for women that’s broadly categorized as “intimacy, mutual pleasure and enjoyment.”
“Women like porn with passion and storylines,” she says. “VR in its current range of possibilities does not resonate with that viewing experience.” She’s experimented with shooting Virtual Reality Porn, but making relatable content was a struggle. But she didn’t give up; her first VR Porn shoot wrapped up in early 2016, and she released ‘Empowering Ava: A Virtual Reality Experience” in July. “From a director’s perspective, it’s really inspiring to shoot VR content, because it forces you to adopt a new mindset and try things which would never occur to you when shooting for a flat, two-dimensional presentation,” she wrote in a statement.
Rowntree’s not an anomaly — VR Porn is an expensive market to enter, especially for indie porn producers with smaller budgets and resources than big studios. Lesbian porn producer, Ms.Naughty of BrightDesire.com says the cost of the tech needed is an issue. “I don’t have the money or the knowledge to pursue it right now,” she says.
But some VR porn companies are targeting a diverse audience. Like MetaverseXXX.com, that shoots BDSM videos in VR. “46% of our viewers are female, and 56% are male,” CEO Markus Edge says. His VR video offerings include bondage, watersports, and flogging. Their tagline is “Indie Sex-Positive Virtual Reality Porn.”
But for the non-kink inclined, there are few options. Naughty America and Badoink, two of the biggest porn companies today, have been heavily investing in VR porn… with a strictly heterosexual male audience in mind. They offer girl-girl action, but most of it’s considered ‘gay for pay.’
Rowntree’s the first director to offer adult VR content for women (there’s a shortage of gay porn too, but comparatively more) and this is contextually important. Adult industry newswire XBiz reported that 38% of VR headsets are purchased by people who want adult entertainment, so by default, the lack of LGBT/female-focused content has so far excluded women from participating in the adult VR spaces. And this means, by default, they won’t be participating in other VR areas, such as healthcare, entertainment and even real estate — places which currently have a huge growth and are a beneficial industry to be part of. So through the lack of porn options, you might find women and diverse people missing from the VR space as a whole.
Which is not that surprising when you look at the basis for this technology. While Virtual Reality gets a lot of headlines, it’s still a niche activity, and one with roots in Silicon Valley — a notoriously male arena. In a culture where men outnumber women 7 to 3 and 92% of all software developers are men, a focus on Virtual Reality porn for men seems obvious. And it has an economic basis to — porn makes around $97 billion a year, according to Kassia Wosick, assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University. And men are the primary purchasers of this — they made up 76% of all Pornhub traffic in 2015, according to Pornhub insights.
Additionally, Angel List currently lists 929 virtual reality companies, with an average valuation of $4.9 million. The majority of these companies launched in 2016 — 54 were added in August, generally considered a slow time. While these aren’t porn focused, they show the infatuation and allure of the VR world to investors and entrepreneurs. And Virtual Reality porn is appealing to both porn producers and porn consumers, in a number of ways. For porn producers, it’s a way to start making money again from an industry that’s prone to pirating — the technical know-how and imitations of VR porn make it more likely that people will actually pay for it. Sure, some will circumvent this, but as a rule, it seems likely this might shift the decline in sales for porn companies.
“I haven’t paid for porn in years,” said twenty-five-year-old Tony Eaton ETN -0.63%* who purchased a subscription to Virtual Real Porn. Eaton said that he was intrigued by their offerings, and thought it would be a fun way to play with his new Oculus Rift headset (which typically retails for $599). He was impressed with what he saw. “They had very attractive girls,” he said — noting a scene with two ladies wearing R2D2 costumes — but he also found it a little unnerving. “It was the closest I’ve felt to cheating on my girlfriend.”
Typically, once you find a movie you like, you put on your headset, click play and away you go. Virtual reality is often confused with 360 video — the difference is that in 360 video you’re a passive viewer, where true virtual; reality video lest you interact with your surroundings. In the case of Virtual Real Porn, you’re a passive watcher — when you look down at your body you either see male or female genitals depending on what you’ve selected. You’re then attended to by a male or female (sometimes multiple) model, who straddles you and moves around for you. It can be disconcerting — you look down and you see the woman’s ladybits, you look up and you’re smothered by her chest.
Though you can experience this through a ‘woman’s’ body, the actions that take place are clearly designed for the male view as they involve actions that just don’t ‘do it’ for women. Women who are looking for porn that relates to them have to head elsewhere — and choice are limited. One place they’re welcome is Wasteland, a fetish porn company that started offering VR videos in the last year. But even getting to that point was tricky. “We had a tech partner providing us with the gear and training and editing,” said Colin Rowntree, Wasteland CEO. “I don’t know what the cost would be of the equipment — I can’t imagine it’s cheap.”
Before this, Colin Rowntree had been investigating how he could add VR to his offerings, and he wasn’t feeling positive. “I found some alternatives, “ he said. “But they’d be at least $10,000 dollars for one camera, and didn’t do what I wanted.” He’s been pleased with how people have responded to his videos, but remain aware that this could be temporary. “This could all fizzle out,” he said, mentioning that he’d tried 3D movies at the height of that craze, and they never really took off — there were too many technicalities involved. “VR is a nice interactive experience, but it does not replace the care of a real movie,” he said.
With VR video, the biggest problem for all studios is getting the right equipment. One of the most common cameras used is GoPro, attached to a rig that holds a number of them. The San Mateo-based company is in the heart of the tech scene, and though they don’t specifically make cameras for porn, they aren’t unaware of its uses.
But while the female porn market is smaller, it’s still got some serious disposable income, so shouldn’t catering to it be on VR porn producers radars? Over at VirtualRealPorn, they’re considering creating a lesbian channel. After they created a heterosexual channel, they launched one for gay men. “We wanted to start on the gay market because it is bigger than the Lesbian one. But it does not mean we will stay there,” said Rachel Dawson, Virtual Real Porn spokesperson. They’ve since launched VirtualRealTrans.
“We noticed that there were a lot of people who liked the transsexual porn; and on the other hand we try to satisfy, gradually, all the sexual orientation of our users. So for us it was natural to open a portal dedicated to trans porn. [It] is having a great reception,” she said. “Virtual Reality has the ability to make you feel you are inside the scene, so we focus on the senses and immersion. In this field the VR has no rival, really you feel it like it is you with your favorite pornstar.”
“VR is going to give [porn] an opportunity to hit the reset button,” Rowntree says.
The world of feminist porn producers are still struggling to take VR completely seriously. “VR has been predicted to be the next big thing for so long now, it’s been a bit hard to take it seriously. The technology finally seems to have caught up a bit but it’s still expensive and requires a certain technical know-how,” said Ms. Naughty of BrightDesire.com. “What’s being made is mainstream content for men who will happily buy it. Women and the queer community are a much smaller market.”
However, niche communities often have a better ethos in terms of performer care and outlook, and having them out the picture is concerning. For example, at MetaverseXXX, CEO Markus Edge puts pleasure above profit. “We are more concerned with capturing authentic consensual human sexual expression than fitting into a predefined role of what porn or sex should be,” he says. A longterm fan of VR, Edge was unhappy with what was currently available. “There’s not much of real people being captured,” he says.
Edge only features real couples in his videos, which has its own problems — “people only shoot with us when they’re in the mood, so a lot of stuff gets cancelled. If they aren’t horny that day it affects everything.” That’s great for the performers, but hard to manage as a business. And VR Porn is a business today — from big name brands to panels promoting this new porn experience at SXSW.
And interactive VR porn is a hot-button topic — a new take on immersive webcams. King of this charge is AliceX.com CEO Fabian Gray. He launched AliceX in September 2016; users log on, pick a girl they like, and pay to get a solo show. All communication is done by typing commands.
For now AliceX’s girls all adhere to slim white tropes of beauty, which Grey admits — he says that the VR porn industry lacks diversity, and says he hopes to introduce male models and more diverse characters. “A VR user is spending 4 times more coins on a show and is 3 times more likely to come back in the next couple of days,” says Grey. He says that intimate shows are best, the ones “ that give the user a feeling of presence and being in the room with the model.” Virtual women on demand could be a money earner, as webcams don’t have the same piracy problems that face other areas of porn.
For porn to have a real future — one where performers get paid, and there’s quality control — it seems clear that they’re going to need new technologies to achieve this. And virtual reality might be one way to get closer to those goals. And new technology goes hand in hand with change — as long as people are open to it.
“VR is going to give [porn] an opportunity to hit the reset button,” Rowntree says… but you need to be at the party to change it.