Ex-Stripper Tries VR Porn For The First Time

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Ex-Stripper Tries VR Porn For The First Time
April 15, 2017
Gold Club SF VR  /  VRClubz

 

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE DEALS WITH EXPLICIT SEXUAL ISSUES.

 

Though I know nothing about virtual reality, I was recently asked by Polygon to review a virtual reality strip club. Here’s why: In the late 1980s, I was a stripper at the Mitchell Bros. O’Farrell Theater in San Francisco. I know about the men who visit strip clubs and the sometimes complex reasons why they do so. But I was curious to find out how this dynamic works in virtual reality.

 

Can a simulated, non-tactile experience re-create something as complicated as a human, quasi-sexual interaction, one that is personal in many ways to both the performer and to the customer? And what does this say about us and about transaction relationships in virtual worlds?

 

First, a word about Gold Club SF VR. It's a recreation of San Francisco's Gold Club, where women offer topless dances. It’s due out later this year on VR platforms like Oculus Rift. Players enter the club and pay money to watch video-captured women dance, undress, and perform sexual acts against a virtual backdrop of a strip joint.

 

It reminded me only slightly of my own experiences as a stripper. The O’Farrell does not serve alcohol, so there were few limits —apart from actual prostitution — to the adult entertainment offered. Gold Club SF VR goes farther than the actual Gold Club, and certainly qualifies as pornography.

 

WORKING AT A STRIP CLUB

 

There were three rooms I worked at Mitchell Bros. back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. In a room called New York Live, we would take turns dancing on stage. In between our performances, we would circulate the audience in lingerie seeking candidates for lap dances. The takers would offer tips of various sizes. The time we spent on their laps was directly proportionate to how much they tipped us. Sometimes they’d want us to gyrate around and other times they might just like to talk.

 

“I SHARE THESE RECOLLECTIONS BECAUSE I WANT TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT I AM NO PRUDE.”

 

The second was called the Copenhagen Room where men would sit on couches along the walls. Two dancers would perform a brief “love act,” and then circle the room to perform such acts at closer inspection for any man or men willing to pay us enough to do so. The men were not allowed to touch us, but we were always equipped with toys to make things a little more interesting if a request was made and accompanied by a large enough tip to entice us.

 

The third room, called The Ultra Room, was a bondage and dominance-themed room. It was surrounded by booths. The men could only see our performances through windows. They’d slide tips through slots beneath the windows. The bigger the tip, the more salacious the performance.

 

My most consistent partner in the rooms would bring me into the Ultra Room on a dog leash, cuff my hands up in the restraints provided in the middle of the room, and lash me with a cat-o’-nine tails style whip. That was the tease. Equipped with a variety of toys to spark imaginations, including a decent sized strap-on, we would then circulate the room to allow the men to dictate whatever “cruelties” they would like to see imposed upon me. Sometimes we’d split up and worked solo, lifting a leg beside a window to fondle or even fuck ourselves with dildos.

 

I share these recollections because I want to make it clear that I am no prude. My perspective is not one of someone who does not understand what goes on inside a strip club.

Gold Club SF VR  / VRClubz

 

A BARREN WONDERLAND

 

The Gold Club, upon which the VR simulation was based, is a gentleman’s club in San Francisco. It serves alcohol and so, by California law, is prohibited from some of the excesses of places like Mitchell Bros. The dancers are generally restricted to topless acts.

 

Gold Club SF VR begins on Howard Street, outside the club, where it is forever night, an alternative universe of seedy hangouts. The Condor Club, San Francisco’s original “gentlemen’s club,” is dubbed over the real-life Academy of Art University.

 

“WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE TEASE IN STRIPTEASE?”

 

It’s a barren wonderland guarded by men in suits reminiscent of Agent Smith from the Matrix. They wear dark sunglasses to guard their eyes from the mere reflection of an ever-present full moon.

 

Inside the club, generic electronic music plays. A visit to an on-site ATM machine seems to be required. This is a free-to-play game which requires in-game currency in order to watch the show.

 

After sign-in, there’s a choice of different colored goggles, also a little reminiscent of The Matrix. The black goggles offer the typical Gold Club experience: a seat in the VIP chair near the stage as consecutive dancers remove what little clothing they have on (whatever happened to the tease in striptease?). The pink goggles let you see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Outside view of an adult entertainment joint  / Christopher Askew / Getty Images

 

A STUFFED CHAIR

 

Let’s go with the pink goggles, which offer an x-rated, backroom experience wherein a scantily clad dancer appears on a stuffed chair. If I want her to remove her scarce clothing, I hit a button. Whenever I hit the button, I'm charged a fee.

 

Once the dancer’s naked, I can hit the button again. Lo and behold, she is joined by another naked dancer. I hit the button again, and here’s yet another.

 

They wiggle around like fish, running their hands along each other’s bodies in a cursory manner, which I do not find particularly enticing. I hit the button again and they spread their legs and butt cheeks to reveal perfectly hairless vulvas and assholes.

 

“THEY WRIGGLE AROUND LIKE FISH.”

 

I recall how the Mitchell brothers were two eminently defective men, but they at least appreciated the value of diverse beauty. The women in this VR game are all pretty much the same. They are certainly lovely women but they all present large fake breasts, relatively small waists, and voluptuously curved hips.

 

The more times I hit the button, the more of the same I see from the dancers. They were videotaped into the scene rather than being digitally constructed so they spool through their moves. They can’t actually fulfill direct requests. I can move my hands to virtually fondle their bodies, but really, I am touching nothing but air.

 

Because it's VR, I can move around their images, but only by a few degrees. Essentially what you get is a weak facsimile of 3D porn pasted onto 2D caricatures. Like the objects that surround them in the room, the women do not even have voices.

Promotional shot from Gold Club SF VR GDC party  /  San Francisco Gold Club website

 

OBJECTIFICATION 

 

This objectification of women is no surprise. It would be unfair of me to expect such an experience to be void of it entirely. But I wonder what useful additions might help alleviate this sterility somewhat. Perhaps incorporating access to dialog trees would enliven this shallow experience. To my recollection, it was often the case that what most men actually desired was both the sexual stimulus of a naked woman and the company of a living, speaking, thinking one.

 

“THE WOMEN HAVE NO VOICES.”

 

By silencing the dancers, this experience objectifies men as well as women. The woman and the men who watch are essentially slabs of meat. This is not the same as in a real strip club.

 

I imagine that, for the dancers, this gig was much easier than real life stripping or sex acts. They got paid for the video to create their images, and they never have to do anything else to service these men.

 

They have, in a sense, distanced themselves from their bodies and transformed themselves into purest fantasy. There is interactivity in the sense that the guy hits a button, but there really is no one there. There really is no response other than fewer clothes or more women. It’s like surfing from one pornographic website to another. Once it’s over, the customer is still alone.

Outside the club in Gold Club SF VR  / VRClubz

 

PORN ADDICTION

 

The buttons remind me of an experiment conducted in the late 1970s by a psychologist named Bruce K. Alexander wherein rats could drink from one of two dispensers. One dispenser offered plain tap water, the other contained morphine. Rats who lived alone in barren cages always went for the morphine-laced water. But rats that lived in social environments always picked the plain water.

 

I learned about the Rat Park experiment through the work of author Johann Hari, who came up with this hypothesis: the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but rather connection. I think that this premise applies even more so for sex and porn addiction than it does for drug addiction. In other words, what I observed in this VR strip club is the potential perpetuation of a type of addiction. The button seems to me to exacerbate an already serious problem for porn addicts. Self-administration exponentially escalates addiction.

 

“I'M CONCERNED FOR THE REAL WOMEN THESE MEN WILL ENCOUNTER IN THEIR LIVES.”

 

I wonder if it really needs to be this way. Could these VR experiences be approached from a more thoughtful perspective and still generate ample financial sustainability and customer satisfaction? Is the desire for rapid, unbridled financial growth by the product-makers an addiction in itself, an addiction whose escalation is directly proportionate to the objectification and isolation of the product’s users?

 

Because this product objectifies its users — who are mostly men — to such an excessive degree, I'm concerned for the real women these men will encounter in their lives.

A man tries Gold Club SF VR at a promotional event  /  VRClubz via San Francisco Gold Club website

 

CONNECTION AND ISOLATION

 

Even in an era where a minority of predominantly uninformed and uneducated people elected a money-obsessed president who believes it is in his right to “grab pussies” on a whim, it’s difficult for me to overlook how the desire for large profits outweighs the consideration of compassion and the impact a product might have on the well being and values of both its performers and its users and thereby on society as a whole.

 

Lovely breasts and voluptuous hips were designed by nature to attract in order to connect one person to another. Their use in entertainment products is not going away any time soon. I don’t have a formula for a product such as this VR strip club, which would reinforce connectedness rather than isolation. But I know that a gentleman — “a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered man,” as defined by dictionary.com — is not someone who isolates himself in a barren moonlit virtual world whose only promise is a voiceless, shaved, 3D vulva that he cannot actually touch.

 

Men are more than this. But how will they ever find themselves if, whenever they feel alone and horny, they retreat to a quasi-sexual experience that only reminds them of their loneliness and disconnection from the real world?

 

This VR product is not very good. But others will come that are more convincing and more "realistic." They will serve as a filter between their users and the world of real women who have variously lovely bodies as well as real voices and real needs.

 

Hopefully the more convincing products will somehow inspire connection rather than a sad retreat towards isolation.

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