badoink

Is VR Still the Future of Porn? I Strapped Myself In to Find Out

Predictable, badly written and fake-feeling, all virtual reality does is make the same tired scenes bigger

I’m lying on a bed in a well-lit room, my hairy, masculine legs stretched out in front of me. I have a flat chest, a bulging package and the interior-decorating sensibilities of a newly divorced dad who wants his suburban guest bedroom to look presentable for his soon-to-be-visiting adult son.

I’m just starting to get a bearing on the scene and my beefy man body when porn star Kendra Spade storms into the room. She looks upset. “My Instagram just got deleted!” she cries, throwing herself on the bed next to me. “And by ‘Instagram got deleted,’ I mean I just lost all the money I make by posting people’s brands on Instagram!”

Before I have time to question how that line made it into the script, she sidles up next to me and starts to run her fingers down my chest toward my nether regions. I can almost feel the warmth of her hands through my boxer-briefs as she inches closer to my junk, and I imagine what it must feel like to get hard. “You know this is an emergency,” she says. “I know you’re always willing to help me out in an emergency.” As she begins to straddle me, it becomes readily apparent this is the kind of emergency only 40 minutes of aerobic activity with my fast-hardening cock can solve.

Though I’m actually a cis woman wearing a VR headset alone in my bedroom, I feel like I’m just the man for the job. This is virtual reality, after all. You can be anyone you want — or so I’m told.

In the few years since its debut, VR has been marketed to consumers as the “future of of porn,” a disruptive game-changer that has the potential to transform both the way we get off and what we get off to. As sex-tech expert and clinical psychologist Holly Richmond explains, “Shooting a video in 3D means the entire process of writing, directing, shooting and acting in porn has to be rewritten. Theoretically, it’s a chance to redefine what people can experience, and to make porn better.”

Yet, it’s still unclear whether 3D porn delivers on those promises. While interest in VR porn is increasing, the buzz around it seems to have fizzled since it hit the market in 2015 — Google searches for “virtual reality porn” topped out around February 2017, and have plummeted by roughly 90 percent since then. So while there are plenty of adoring articles that gush about how realistic it feels and how far the technology has come (pun unavoidable), I still don’t know anyone who suits up in a five-pound headset to jerk off.

Which made me wonder: Is VR really the future of porn? Or is it more like the self-driving car — just another needlessly high-tech solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?

I decided to do my best to find out.

* * * * *

After renting an Oculus Go VR headset (retail value $199) from a place next to SpaceX in South L.A., I affixed it to my cranium and settled into bed to explore what 3D porn had to offer. On Richmond’s advice, I steered my VR ship toward one of the largest, most-talked about VR porn sites to date, BaDoinkVR. The company, she informed me, was making some of the most realistic-feeling VR porn on the market, but they’d taken things a step further by expanding into virtual sex therapy for both men and women (their educational video for men was actually the most downloaded thing on the site in 2016).

The site’s glossy, high-def teaser images of textbook silicone stars painted an instant picture of the type of porn BaDoink makes: scripted, high-production and porn-star-driven. It’s in the same vein as Brazzers makes — DVD porn; the kind you might mute your volume on to save yourself from the cringe-worthy dialog. Not so coincidentally, it’s also exactly the type of porn your average male might enjoy, which explains why the vast majority of scenes are shot from a male POV. “It’s such a new field that porn companies have to go off what they know people will pay for,” Richmond explains. “Unfortunately, that means it’s predominantly male gaze and male POV right now.”

Perfect, I thought. I’ve always wanted a dick.

As I cruised the site’s categories section for a porn star who appealed to my virtual penis, one video popped out at me from the din. It was called “Under the Influencer,” and its description went like this:

“Kendra Spade is your stereotypical millennial. Sexually liberated, progressive, and of course, she makes her money as an influencer on the Gram. Today though, she’s had her profile shut down. Although she claims she didn’t breach any of the terms and conditions, the last photo she posted of her bare ass wasn’t exactly SFW. Anyway, Kendra now needs a shoulder to cry on, either that, or a dick to suck. Despite her entire source of income disappearing in the blink of an eye, Kendra is hornier than she’s been all week. It’s time to get under the influencer.”

It was perfect — so cringingly contemporary in its unholy union of virtual reality and social media that I couldn’t look away.

As the video loaded, I wondered what sorts of sensations I was about to experience. I’d been told by Richmond and others that VR gives you the ability not to just watch, but to experience something. Would comforting Kendra with my pixelated penis feel real, like I was really there? I fully expected to feel sensations I’d not known possible, and was excited to find out what it was like to be inside — gasp! — an influencer.

At first, the video really delivered. I was blown away by how realistic the view through the Oculus Go was. Aside from a bit of pixelation and blurriness toward the outer edges of the frame and the way it gently squeezed the blood out of my brain, it had almost the exact same depth perception as natural human sight. That meant that while Kendra blabbed on about losing 100,000 followers and the ability to target them with ads, I could shift my gaze away from her face and down toward her crotch, which looked as close to my face as any crotch has ever been in my life. I also made sure to check out the curtains behind her. They looked nice. IKEA, maybe?

Next, Kendra climbed on top of me. The image of her felt so present that my body seemed to sink and move with the bed as she shifted her weight. She whispered something into my right ear, begging me to show her a “really good time.” Her breath was hot, and the swish of her whisper bristled my skin. We locked eyes — VR eye contact is amazing — and she asked me if I liked watching her suck on her fingers like she’d suck on my cock. Though no one could see me doing so, I nodded yes anyway.

However, the magic instantly faded once she started to give me head. It was the strangest thing — the moment my cock was in her mouth, the video started to look and feel no different from the porn you can find on any tube site anywhere, ever. Instantly, I knew why — the most enticing quality of VR is that you can look almost anywhere in the scene and see it with similar dimensionality and perspective as real life, but when your head is still and you’re just looking straight ahead at the action, it doesn’t seem half as immersive as it does when there’s movement.

It also didn’t feel any more physical than 2D porn. Though I’ve read that more immersive visuals can lead to heightened pleasure and intensity, the fact that I could neither feel my dick nor control what I did with it, left me just as curious about what it’s like to use it as when I’m binging on XVideos. I tried imagining things from Kendra’s perspective, but I didn’t feel them any more or less strongly just because she looked like she was actually on top of me. The fact that the male in the video — aka me — just laid there silently while Kendra did all the work was a turn-off, too. I was basically dead virtual-fishing, and it wasn’t hot.

Suddenly bored, I tried to skip ahead, but I ran into a problem: BaDoink’s video timeline doesn’t tell you you where you’re skipping to. Unlike 2D internet porn, there isn’t a tiny frame that pops up on the video’s timeline to tell you what’s coming next, so it’s anyone’s guess where you land. And so, after waiting for more than five minutes for the video to scrub to where I’d selected, I closed the player and hunted for another video, a little peeved that my right to choose what part of a video I watch had been stripped.

For anthropological purposes, I tried a few other videos to see if my quickly souring impression of VR could be saved. I checked in on a 360-degree group sex scene called “Cumming Full Circle,” and I sat through a few minutes of “The Mating Room,” one of BaDoink’s rare female POV offerings in which two patients waiting to see what I hoped was a psychiatrist have spontaneous, yet clinical-feeling sex to pass the time. However, I found them to be as frustrating as “Under the Influence” — the dialogue was just as bad, the chemistry was just as flat, and again, it wasn’t any more thrilling than POV porn on a tube site. It just felt more present.

By this point, too, the blurriness and the pixelation I’d initially been able to ignore started to mess with my vision. My head felt pinched, and my eyes felt like dry balls of trash. A sense of nausea — spawned by the disconnect between sitting still in reality and moving around in surreality — crept in as well. I ripped my headset off and spent the rest of the day feeling like a vertigo-ridden Lucille 2 in Arrested Development.

* * * * *

According to a Wired profile on BaDoink, VR porn was, in part, a response to streaming services gutting the profits of traditional adult film producers. “For years,” Peter Rubin writes, “adult film studios did what they could to fight the tide, jumping on whatever technology might help them make some money again: 3D TVs, ultra high-def resolution. Nothing worked, because nothing made porn seem fundamentally different.”

After a taste of VR, I get the sense nothing worked because from a consumer perspective, nothing about the way porn is consumed needed to change (besides becoming more authentic and inclusive). Streaming porn is free, accessible and has a staggering amount of content to choose from, all which is easy to blaze quickly through in your search for the perfect masturbatory moment. You don’t need fancy equipment to watch it, and your imagination does a pretty bang-up job putting you in the action despite the flat dimensionality of it all. In that way, VR is kind of like the turducken of porn — cool, but a bit of an overreaction.

At the same time, VR companies like BaDoink aren’t necessarily seizing the opportunity to, as Richmond hoped, “create better porn.” While some more inclusive directors like Erika Lust and Angie Rowntree are getting into the VR game, the vast majority of VR porn is still in the vein of BaDoink — confusingly scripted, predictable, fake-feeling and very heteronormative. Adding a third dimension doesn’t automatically make them any less male gaze-y, nor does it necessarily involve any more consent, female pleasure or chemistry. As it stands, unless you write, act and edit those qualities into a 3D porn, all virtual reality does is make the same tired scenes bigger.

So, to answer the titular question — no, VR isn’t the future of porn, at least not for the average consumer, and definitely not without some experiential upgrades that would make it competitive with the ease of 2D. However, Richmond says it does foreshadow the direction porn — and sex in general — is heading. “Technology is more a part of ourselves than ever before,” she explains. “Though virtual reality isn’t exactly mainstream-ready, and is really only accessible to certain income levels at this point, the sort of immersive, somatic experience it offers is going to become more and more useful for things like sex therapy, sex education, experiencing fantasies that are hard to pull off in real life, trauma processing and gender affirmation.”

As for how VR fits into this equation, while Richmond still thinks it has a ton of potential — especially in conjunction with teledildonic sex toys — she also envisions other technologies like augmented reality and deepfakes becoming a bigger part of people’s sex lives. “Tech that actually implants a viewer in the scene is coming,” she says. “There’s really no barrier to what you can experience, the tech just has to catch up.”

In fairness, too, BaDoink, like most VR companies, is still in its infancy. It’s only been up and running since 2015, and what it’s been able to accomplish during that time has been legitimately vast and boundary-pushing. I also have to admit that I only watched a few videos, using one headset, and doing that by no means makes me an expert. I’d be more than willing to try VR porn again once they’ve figured out how to not make me puke.

When that time comes, I’ll happily get back “Under the Influencer.”