Oculus Rift Crystal Cove Prototype
Digital pleasure is complicated.

Every time someone finds out that I have an Oculus Rift at home there’s two things I can count on. First, that they’re going to ask me if I get motion sick, and yes, I do. Second—and this happens without fail—that the person I’m talking to will make a joke about watching porn on it. It’s inevitable and I think it’s an inescapable truth of human sexuality that sooner or later every technological advancement will be used in a way that helps us get off. 

In the case of the Oculus Rift, it's falling into the "sooner" category. 

A complicated affair

Let’s start with the basics. In order to actually watch some adult entertainment with a VR twist you need some type of head-mounted display. That can be anything from the pricey Oculus Rift to the much more affordable Google Cardboard, but your experience will definitely hinge on how high-quality your device’s display happens to be as well as the quality of your, ahem, media. For this NSFW outing, I used the Oculus Rift DK2.

Cumbersome porn isn’t good porn.

Not surprisingly, there are only a few options right now for those seeking VR pornography, and they range from low-quality videos that were very clearly shot using hacked-together dual-lense recording equipment to super high-resolution movies that can be several gigabytes in size, each. In order to give myself the best chance of actually enjoying the digital sex I would participate in, I went all-out and dropped a few bucks on a trial membership to VirtualRealPorn (NSFW). This site offers its movies in resolutions as high as 3,000 by 1,500 and features positional head-tracking so you can look around and pretend you’re there, which is really the entire point.

This brings us to the first drawback of VR sex: It’s really complicated. It’s not just you, your computer monitor, and a website—it’s you, your computer, your VR headset, about a half dozen cords, two extra programs, and a video that you downloaded instead of streamed. It’s a colossal pain and it’s something you have to actually work on preparing ahead of time, which isn’t how many people like to consume their porn.

To be fair, this was simply my experience using the Rift on a Windows computer, and if you’re using a smartphone VR headset with pre-configured apps, it could end up being much smoother. For me, however, it definitely wasn’t anything resembling smooth. Cumbersome porn isn’t good porn.

VirtualRealPorn

As far as the actual viewing experience goes, it’s exactly what you’d expect. It’s 3D of course, and while it’s slightly disorienting, looking around the scene is actually really cool, purely from a geeky standpoint. Almost everything in the VR porn market as it currently exists is shot in a POV style, where the camera that servers as your viewpoint is positioned on one of the participants heads for maximum immersion.

Are you a guy who wants to please a beautiful woman? Done. Are you a lady who wants her own Channing Tatum-esque dancer? No problem. You can even take on the role of another gender and explore your sexuality a bit—it’s a remarkably freeing experience no matter what you choose. Assuming your VR device has a reasonably high-resolution screen, it’s not difficult to suspend your disbelief and let your mind wander. And it can be thrilling.

Porn paranoia

Speaking of pleasure, lets talk about the next and perhaps most damning issue I’ve discovered about VR porn: It’s not a great masturbatory tool. Sorry to be blunt, but there it is. This probably goes against what you’d assume, given that I just got done talking about how the experience is fantastic, but there’s definitely a problem here and it all starts with the headset.

Using a head-mounted display means taking two of your most important senses and throwing them into a different realm. You eyes are transported to a virtual world via the headset and your ears—tucked snugly in a headset—follow along. You turn on your X-rated entertainment and your brain tells you your body is engaged, but in reality your body is sitting in front of your computer, and your hand is probably doing something that would mortify anyone who happens to wander by.

VirtualRealPorn

I don’t care who you are, there’s a fantastic chance you know the paralyzing fear that shoots up your spine when you’re watching a smidgen of erotica and you think you hear the door open, a creak from the stairway, or even a random footstep. That feeling is amplified to an insane degree when you can’t actually see or hear what is happening around you, and it’s not an experience that is conducive to self pleasure. If I lived alone, on my own island, and a plague had wiped out the rest of humanity, I’d be able to enjoy it to its fullest extent and with reckless abandon... but I don't.

The dirty truth

Listen, I love porn. Virtual reality is indeed a fantastic new evolution of adult entertainment, and in the right setting it’s exhilarating, titillating, and just plain cool, but at the moment it’s definitely a novelty. VR porn is definitely going somewhere, and this first tip-toe into what it's capable of is thrilling to say the least. While the technology is there, and the visuals are great, the entire experience is in beta. There are some very human things (i.e., sweaty foreheads from headsets, the terror of being walked in on) we're going to have to figure out before this becomes mainstream. 

It’s not something I’d recommend investing in expensive electronics for, but if you already have the hardware, it’s definitely an experience you won’t forget. 

Photo via Pestoverde/Flickr (CC 2.0)

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