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Why sex workers don’t fear the virtual reality revolution

Brothels aren’t concerned about VR sex.


Selena Larson


In the next few weeks, as more than 170,000 people travel to the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, techies will indulge in the offerings of Sheri’s Ranch. The Pahrump, Nevada, brothel is about an hour’s drive from the Las Vegas strip, and it fulfills Sin City visitors’ sexual fantasies. 

The Las Vegas sex industry sees a big bump in business during CES. Revenue at Sheri’s Ranch increases as much as 70 percent during the annual, week-long tech conference. Despite the undeniable increase in sex tech offerings and titillating digital experiences, the ladies at the ranch aren’t afraid of being muscled out. 

One of the biggest trends at this year’s CES—where companies showcase new products and investors and analysts try to predict what will actually become popular—is virtual reality (VR). 2015 was a big year for the burgeoning tech, as investment in virtual and augmented reality skyrocketed. VR and augmented reality (AR) companies scooped up $408 million in funding the first nine months of the year, compared to $145 million during the same period last year, according to CB Insights.

In a blog post, Sheri’s Ranch said the VR tech showcased at CES is something that could be “one of the biggest challenges to the future of the legal prostitution industry.” But the women who work at the legal bordello are unconcerned about virtual reality usurping the human connection they provide.

Dena, the madam of Sheri’s Ranch, says virtual reality won’t change anything for the brothel, and the experiences provided through headsets and apps will be about equivalent to porn.

“There’s always going to be that one element you can’t get unless you’re getting it from another human being.”

“People need that human connection when they’re looking to have that intimacy,” Dena said in an interview with the Daily Dot. “A lot of customers who come to us are looking for what we call a GFE, or girlfriend experience, and the 1-on-1 communication, being able to touch one another and hold hands and spend time together. It’s not just about the sex.”

Already the sex industry is manufacturing headsets, app-connected toys, and software to make porn and livestreams more immersive and, well, real. Though VR doesn’t yet provide haptic sensations that simulate touch, like the tech described in sci-fi imaginings like Ready Player One, three-dimensional, immersive spaces—the kind capable of tricking your brain into thinking you’re having the experience in real life—could amplify pleasure from the comforts of home.

With immersive virtual human interaction and teledildonics providing sexual experiences similar to those offered in real-life, the future of sex work and legalized prostitution may lie on the Web. However, as Dena explained, they still can’t offer a personal connection and physical touch. For instance, Dena said, there are multiple ways for a woman to orgasm, and alone in virtual reality might not provide the pleasure or type of orgasm she is seeking when she’s with someone else. 

“If you have the other ones they’re good, but there is still going to be a feeling of something lacking,” Dena said. “You want what you normally crave. I imagine with the virtual reality-type stuff, there’s always going to be that one element you can’t get unless you’re getting it from another human being.”

Pornhub is just one of the many companies experimenting with marrying visual and tactile erotic experiences. This year, the company debuted Twerking Butt, a sex toy compatible with a VR headset called Cyberskin and apps for iOS and Android. Though the playful launch and marketing poked a bit of fun at VR enthusiasts, the setup is very much real, and you can buy it all starting at $600. 

Erin, courtesan at Sheri's Ranch

Erin, courtesan at Sheri’s Ranch

Sheri’s Ranch

Erin, a courtesan at Sheri’s Ranch, said that although there are ways for couples to pleasure one another virtually, like with the app-controlled We-Vibe vibrator, they’ll still seek human intimacy that’s missing through the Internet. 

There are few options available for people to engage in VR stimulation, and most high-end headsets aren’t even available yet. Hardware from Oculus, Sony, and HTC is expected to launch this year, while Samsung’s Gear VR is currently available for $99, but it requires a Samsung smartphone to use. Google has Cardboard, but its cheap DIY system has obvious limitations.

When it comes to enjoying the pleasures of virtual human flesh and erotica, virtual reality may not be as stimulating as people expect. As my colleague Mike Wehner explained, while there are interesting ways to engage with virtual people and avatars and experiment with your sexuality via a headset and headphones that overrun your senses, pleasuring yourself can be complicated and feel somewhat uncomfortable with a display on your face.

Although Sheri’s Ranch doesn’t think VR will impact the legal brothel industry, the bordello is by no means ludditical. Erin and other courtesans are very active on Twitter, and she said clients regularly interact with the women of Sheri’s Ranch on the Internet before visiting. Tech-savvy customers, like those who visit CES, would find it easy to engage with the brothel through its website, the courtesans’ Twitter accounts, and online forums, which increases the anticipation, Erin said.

Sheri’s Ranch sees return clients every CES who have sessions with courtesans as well as make time to stay at the hotel on-site. Erin said she has a personal affinity for the people she sees who are in town for the conference. 

“I enjoy the customers we get from CES a lot because I’m kind of a nerd,” she said. “You can nerd out with them … and connect more with them on a personal level.”

Virtual reality is a tech tool Sheri’s Ranch might consider incorporating in the future, alongside the other sex toys and gadgets it currently uses, including video game consoles. Dena said the company will look at what clients and the populace want, and, if the desire is there, incorporate simulated reality into the “parties,” at Sheri’s Ranch.

For now, while VR might be the next big thing in tech for the next few years, Dena doesn’t anticipate it affecting anything they do. 

“It all goes back to as human beings we strive for human touch with another human being,” Dena said. “I don’t think any kind of virtual tech will replace that. You might be able to add that to your party or session with your customers, but I don’t think it will replace the physical interaction.”

Photo via nan palmero/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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