Here’s a strange piece of insight into the merging worlds of adult and virtual reality technology. Last week, The Guardian ran a piece detailing writer Stuart Heritage’s experience with VR adult content. Most of the story consists of at times theatrical discomfort, and a few unnecessary jabs at the fine folks responsible for much of the virtual content being produced today, but Heritage’s final message is that VR adult could bring about world peace.
For the story, Heritage strapped himself into an Oculus Rift and a Project Morpheus headset, and flipped through a variety of adult content, ranging from animated interactive material to a program that allows you to see realistically rendered models of adult stars clothed, semi-clothed, and completely naked. You get the sense that Heritage really didn’t enjoy himself, clearly explaining how, when faced with the gyrating cartoon lady, he stayed in the corner of the virtual room.
However much Heritage denounces much of the VR adult experience, his thesis statement is sound. At the end of the piece, the writer uses the tech to inhabit a woman’s body as a muscled, grunting man has sex with her, the male performer locking eyes with the headset user for the entire duration until spectacularly orgasming all over the woman’s stomach.
This particular bit of media is a window into an experience Heritage, as a bloke, could never have hoped to have before VR merged his consciousness with the machine. According to the writer, this video gives him an instant distaste for men, showing solidarity with heterosexual ladies who engage in such hanky-panky with dudes. After dwelling in an adult video from the perspective of the star rather than the stud, Heritage believes that if more people used VR in this way, there would be more shared empathy in the world.
Heritage’s piece definitely gets this facet of VR correct. The technology does allow people to have experiences otherwise impossible without these innovations. And being able to step into the sexual proclivities of others would lead to more understanding and empathy amongst people, especially those who are very insular and conservative in their sexual thinking. I can imagine an entire host of sexual miscommunications being expunged because of VR proliferation (“So that’s what that’s like! I didn’t know!”).
However, Heritage’s writing suggests that the VR adult experience is unambiguously disturbing. His particular world peace model reminds me of the Ludovico technique from A Clockwork Orange, where a person is subjected to sex. Immerse yourself into the sexually weird and come out the rabbit hole fully accepting of your and everyone else’s defining sexual identities? It’s a beautiful vision, but Heritage is incorrect in painting it as totally uncomfortable and tortuous.
VR technology offers the chance to experience sex from many different angles, one of the benefits of which is a catalogue of emulations that will augment collective empathy. People with more dangerous fantasies will be able to act them out in the digital plane, and anyone with access to the technology will get to explore their innermost desires without having to bring another individual into play that needs time to develop before it’s necessarily safe. Heritage casually brushes the lot of what he sees as perverted or niche, where there’s a great population interested in all manner of fantasies, who deserve better than being labeled as sexually disturbing.
I’d take Heritage’s ponderings a step or two further. VR tech should be used for enjoyment and growth, where in his piece it’s relegated to a tool for understanding people’s plights. Sex doesn’t have to be suffered through in this way – the tech allows for so much personal enjoyment that can be transferred to other like-minded individuals. If VR does lead toward world peace, it should be deliciously erotic and enjoyable, a utopia of connected play, where sex has been explored past the cringing discomfort and objectifying assumptions. At least, I’d love to see this same piece written by someone who experienced a gender perspective different than their own and loved every second of it.