Roman Pyshchyk/Shutterstock (Licensed)

BadoinkVR commissioned a study examining the differences between traditional and VR porn.

This article contains sexually explicit language. 

Of all the promising applications of virtual reality technology, none titillate quite like porn. Instead of merely watching a scene unfold, viewers can become a part of one: pants around their ankles, the object of their desire seemingly right at their fingertips.

But if the end goal is the same—and I’m not going to spell that part out for you—is there really a noticeable difference in the experience between watching porn on a PC monitor or smartphone versus a 360-degree experience, and if so, is there a way to actually measure that impact?

BadoinkVR, one of the largest (and best) production companies in the burgeoning world of VR porn, is trying to find out. BaDoinkVR partnered with Neurons, a Denmark-based neuroscience research firm, to determine the impact virtual reality porn has on the brain. While the sample size of the study leaves much to be desired, the results of the experiment offer a fascinating look at how our bodies react to this immersive stimulus and how moments in porn, whether in 2D or VR, invoke certain emotions.

“We [BadoinkVR and I] started discussing how they keep track of what the consumers want and to what extent you can believe what they say [they want],” Alexander Silva Lopera, a neuro-analyst at Neurons, told the Daily Dot. 

vr porn eeg Neurons

The experiment was conducted on five men between the ages of 18 and 45, with an average age of 27. They were taken to a private room and told to watch an eight-minute porn video on a flat-screen monitor. As they watched, an electroencephalogram (EEG), a device worn on the head, took measurements of brain activity. When the video ended, each person did a distraction test until their brain activity normalized. They then watched the same porn video, one of BadoinkVR’s more popular clips, again—this time, in virtual reality. To keep the findings consistent, they were instructed not to masturbate.

neurons vr porn study metrics Neurons

The EEG gathered readings on three different measurements to determine the emotional and cognitive responses of the subjects, including arousal, motivation, and cognitive load, meaning the amount of work the brain is doing. The results of the PC and VR test were then compared to get a general understanding of how watching virtual reality porn compares to more traditional methods.

pc vs vr porn cognitive load graph Neurons

Among the more interesting findings is that VR porn increased the average cognitive load across the board. This means participants worked harder to process information when watching in VR compared to a monitor. That’s not necessarily a bad result. As Lopera explained, both VR and PC scored in the cognitive load “sweet spot,” where users were neither overwhelmed with information nor bored by it.

“Where there is a difference between this study and other studies we’ve done in gaming or other sectors is that the cognitive load in virtual reality doesn’t get to stressful levels,” Lopera said.

pc vs vr porn motivation graph Neurons

The participants’ motivation, or whether they feel positive or negative about watching certain content, was also greater, or more positive, in the VR test. While motivation in 2D and VR followed a similar trend—positive anticipation as the video starts, a slump in the middle, and peak toward its climax—the VR scores were higher on average. This suggests VR produced a more positive experience overall.

pc vs vr porn arousal graph Neurons

Interestingly, the most important metric, arousal, or the emotional intensity participants felt when watching, was nearly identical for VR and PC. As you can see in the graph above, arousal fluctuated throughout the video, but the level of emotional response participants felt didn’t increase when they put on a VR headset.

That said, the changes in emotion at certain moments throughout the experiment gives clues as to what people respond best to when watching adult videos. Lopera found several instances where participants’ brains reacted in unusual ways.

pc porn brain activity arousal motivation Neurons

The researchers discovered that motivation and arousal peaked early in the video on PC during the insertion of the penis and again when the actress is seen enjoying the sexual act. As expected, the same reaction was seen after the actress orgasms, suggesting viewers empathize with her. Among the more unexpected findings is that motivation is low when more aggressive oral sex is performed, which led researchers to conclude that choking sounds may cause feelings of disgust.

There were also points in the video that evoked a similar reaction in people when viewed on both VR and PC. At the end of the video, when the male actor orgasms, motivation, arousal, and cognitive load spiked for multiple participants in both tests.

virtual reality porn study Neurons

Where VR stands out from 2D porn is that it makes users feel as if they are present in the scene. The true first-person perspective is designed to make it seem like the actions an actress is performing are being done to the user, not another actor. When looking at brain activity during the VR test, researchers found that arousal was high when the female was on top of the male actor, given the novelty of the intimate perspective. Arousal and motivation for some participants also increased when they looked around, which could indicate a positive reaction to how lifelike the scenario felt.

“We recorded interviews,” Lopera said. “All of them were reporting that they felt more engaged with VR, so they really liked it.”

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On the other hand, the cognitive load was above the threshold of a comfortable, relaxing experience at the start of the video. The response was somewhat expected given several people in the study hadn’t used VR before. As they grew more comfortable with it, cognitive load decreased and leveled out. Even when the cognitive load was high, however, motivation was positive.

It’s important to point out that the results of this test should be taken with a grain of salt. With such a small sample size, it’s very possible the findings don’t reflect the greater population. Lopera explained the test was conducted to get an initial benchmark for what VR porn does to the brain, not to offer any definitive takeaways.

“Before you invest in a huge study, you test things out and see how it goes, and then you know where to look at and what is not relevant for the study,” Lopera said. “This is kind of a pilot study.”

Despite the small sample size, Lopera believes the test will give BadoinkVR an idea of how its subscribers respond to certain content. In the future, he would like to conduct similar tests on women and look more at how people are interacting with traditional pornhow much time they spend searching, what videos they like, how often they see ad bannersand transfer those preferences to VR porn.

“The way I see this going isit’s one thing to say you like [VR porn], and another to do the behavioral change of going and buying it and start using this experience,” Lopera said. “That’s the real change, and that’s the future of this [study]. We need to start looking at how to make the experience really seamless and engaging for people.”

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is a former technology staff writer at the Daily Dot. He's an expert on smartphones, social media trends, and gadgets. He previously reported on IoT and telecom for RCR Wireless News and contributed to NewBay Media magazine. He now writes for Laptop magazine.