In Depth: Porn and virtual reality: a changing industry

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“The lack of eye contact makes [the performer] appear distant for a sexual encounter – but there is also something sexy about that,” says male porn performer Xander Corvus, “in the way a glory hole is sexy.”

Virtual reality is changing pornography. It’s changing the way we watch it, and the way it’s made.

Porn has always been a driver for technology. From Blu-Ray to VHS, Super 8 projectors to pay-per-view cable, porn has often been as a surefire way of taking new technology into the mainstream.

In 2016, pornography is at another one of those moments. Profits are dwindling thanks to readily available free content across the web. Larger production companies are scrambling for the next big thing, and many have grasped onto it in virtual reality.

With the launch of the Oculus Rift and the advent of affordable headsets like the Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard and countless others, VR is readily available for the masses, while the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR will be in homes by the end of the year.

It’s pretty obvious, then, how we’ll be watching VR porn – but how is it changing the experience for the people involved in making it?

“I’m always bummed out when I look at my call sheet and I see [regular] point-of-view,” says Corvus. “I’m all for VR. If anything it’s relaxing, like a porno spa day for me. I much prefer virtual reality. Traditional POV shoots are annoying, because it’s even more of a tease and annoyance for me.

“I mean, I get to be more hands on, but I have to think about so much more, like not bumping the camera man who is breathing down my neck.”

The experience of performing within virtual reality can be entirely different to filming traditional 2D video, perhaps even distracting.

VR Bangers

“It’s harder shooting VR,” says Daniel Abramovich, co-founder and CEO of VR Bangers.

“For the male actor that is behind the camera, they’re used to being free and doing whatever they need to do in the movie. Here they basically just stand and can’t move to do anything to move the camera.”

“It’s really hard for them to shoot. It’s completely different, as they can’t move at all.”

That might be so, but VR is also bringing performers closer to their viewers. Charlie Heart, who performs live VR shows for webcam site CamSoda, says she jumps at the chance to do anything with virtual reality. Heart isn’t using point-of-view, but uses the VR camera to create a more intimate setting.

“I love the interactive part of it,” she says. “With 2D I don’t have to worry about my angles as much – I don’t have to suck it in,” she jokes. “But I love the idea that with VR, it’s like [users] are sitting in a chair in front of me. If I’m doing a little striptease, there’s satisfaction like they’re there with me.”

VRTube.xxx also uses virtual reality cameras in a similar way to intensify the immersion. “When you’re immersed in VR, it takes over everything,” says Ela Darling, Co-Founder of VRTube.xxx and a VR performer.

Ela Darling

“I feel like I’m connecting on a deeper level with the users. The actual stuff I do is pretty much the same, but in terms of the rapport that I’m building, I feel that’s accelerated. It’s fantastic.

“I know from their perspective they’re in this headset and they’re surrounded by my bedroom. It’s a 360-degree 3D capture, so they see my bedroom – they’re in my actual home.”

The process of filming VR content is much the same for Darling as a performer. She stars in 3D camera-shot videos from her own room, unlike most porn stars. For Darling, VR pornography has meant she can offer something different to the larger porn companies that usually keep a tight hold on the industry.

She helped to co-found VRTube.xxx in 2014, and beat many of the other big providers to virtual reality tech. “It’s my company and I’m kind of the pioneer of VR porn, so this has been incredibly empowering for me,” she says.

Larger companies are focusing on virtual reality content filmed from a first-person perspective, but understand that it can be an entirely different experience for the performers.

Naughty America, an adult film provider which started in 2001, is perhaps the most prolific VR porn provider right now.

CIO Ian Paul explained that while its actors are seasoned professionals, virtual reality has meant teaching them about depth. “Depth is something that’s really apparent in VR videos. Once we taught that to them, we just said to them treat this like a standard POV shoot.”

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