Is VR porn really on the rise? A look at who’s watching...

Is VR porn really on the rise? A look at who’s watching what, where and how

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[Editor’s note: Some of the links below are NSFW]

There is a legend, which grew from whispers at the back of a Blockbuster store into popular belief, that Betamax lost to VHS because the latter had porn, and the former didn’t. It turns out that this may not be exactly true – there were many factors for VHS’s success – but the fact that the legend is believable demonstrates one undeniable truth: Pornography is a powerful industry.

Porn generated around $97 billion of annual revenue globally in 2015, while virtual reality is predicted (perhaps optimistically) to become a $75 billion industry by 2021. Naturally, the combination of the two seems like a no-brainer, but despite all the talk we hear about VR porn, just how popular is it, and has it yet been adopted into the mainstream?

First off, a few facts courtesy of Pornhub’s wonderfully insightful statistics: VR porn is a fast-growing industry, from 30 VR videos on the site in early 2016 to over 2,600 in May of 2017. VR was, last year on Pornhub, the 16th most-searched term, sandwiched in between “threesome” and “creampie”. It also seems to have a better rate of retention than non-VR porn: “VR visitors typically watch 2 more videos [than non-VR viewers] each time they visit Pornhub, with 11 pages per visit compared to the average 9,” Corey Price, the Vice President of Pornhub, tells Wareable. Or, perhaps the average VR porn connoisseur is just more picky?

The most important statistic of all is that, without fail, every year, the most popular time for watching porn by far is… Christmas Day, when people get new VR headsets and apparently immediately run off to a dark room to, ah, test the gear.

VR was the 16th most-searched term, sandwiched in between ‘threesome’ and ‘creampie’

Unsurprisingly, VR porn is most popular with men between the ages of 25-34, although the scarcity of VR porn catering to women is probably also a factor. “While we have found that VR content is becoming more diverse,” says Price, “we did find that males are proportionately 160% more likely to watch VR content than women.”

Most sites have a category for porn aimed at, or focused on, women – while the rest of the site (from 10 to 50 categories) is aimed, by default, at men. The average percentage of female viewers for porn generally (for Pornhub and YouPorn, two of the most popular porn sites) is 26%; for VR porn (based on statistics from VR-porn-only website, SexLikeReal) it’s half that, at 13%.

Charlie Hughes, the Vice President of YouPorn, believes this is to be expected. “VR, similar to other POV-style videos, appear to be not as popular with women that visit our site.” The way VR works means that it is usually filmed with a camera over the male porn actor’s head; his body becomes your body for as long as you’re watching. Could this be off-putting for viewers who look down and see a body they weren’t expecting?

VR porn by the numbers: Who's watching what?

“There are around two hundred female POV videos at the moment [on our site],” says Philip Kopylov, creative director at Sex Like Real, “but the interesting fact is: if it’s shot right, it almost instantly becomes a bestseller.” This is about 3% of the total videos, according to the site’s own data, with 91.8% aimed at straight men.

So, are VR porn studios not catering to women, or is there less of an audience to cater to in the first place? Kopylov seems to think the latter. “As more and more people come to VR, it might change, and the ratio will improve. However, it entirely depends on whether women will embrace the new technology. If there is demand — there will be supply!” Turns out, there already is a demand – 43% of VR headset owners are women. If it’s not the demand, it must be the supply.

“[VR porn creators] just follow the money,” said the founder of VRPorn.com, Daniel Peterson, in an interview with Wired. “They see the stuff that sells and will make more of it.”

Point of view

VR porn by the numbers: Is it really on the rise, and who's watching what?

One of the issues with VR porn is that it necessitates the complete immobility of the performer in order not the break the illusion of control for the viewer, which can make for uncomfortable viewing if you don’t really like the idea of being an entirely passive party. Turns out, it’s not too great for the performer, either: “It’s hard for me to stay immobile,” says porn actor Isiah Maxwell in an interview with Motherboard. “I want to do so much when I grasp a woman, it takes concentration not to act on those urges.”

45% of PornHub VR viewers are using mobile headsets like Gear VR and Daydream

To put it simply, it’s not always a pleasant feeling to be unable to move in a sexual experience. Without getting into a deep dive on all the reasons someone might not want to be not-entirely-consensually frozen, it’s not hard to imagine why.

But beyond the physical logistics of the thing, there’s also the vast, unappealing cost for content creators. Most VR porn is point-of-view, or POV – an advantage that VR has over traditional porn – which means expensive setups ranging from 360 cameras to a full-on audiovisual smorgasbord of fake heads equipped with ear-microphones and eye-cameras, which are able to more fully approximate the human senses. Sites like BaDoink VR even bill their videos as “binaural” and “4K” which is much more expensive to make, and time-consuming to produce, than traditional porn. VR porn also takes a lot longer to film because of the intricate setup, and if the male performer moves, he runs the risk of messing it all up.

And even if you get all that right, it’s far too easy to get a number of immersion-breaking things wrong, from video stitching to simply keeping everything steady. Even once companies have overcome those hurdles, the cost to the consumer is fairly high, with the better VR headsets costing hundreds of dollars – although that price, and therefore the accessibility and popularity of VR porn, is going down. “Both content-wise and quality-wise, there is a slow, but steady growth as more VR headsets emerge to the market,” Sex Like Real’s Kopylov says. “Prices fall, and VR becomes more affordable to anyone.”

That’s the hope, at least, but in the meantime mobile VR appears to be just as popular. PornHub tells us that about 45% of its VR porn viewers are using mobile headsets like Gear VR and Daydream, the same number that are strapping on high-end systems like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. The other 10% are using PS VR. Meanwhile SexLikeReal’s stats show that the Rift is by far the most popular headset for using its app – 48.93% of users – with fewer mobile users, no doubt the result of its app not working with the iPhone.

Sexual exploration

VR porn by the numbers: Is it really on the rise, and who's watching what?

Despite the cost, the time, the effort, and the risk, there is still plenty of VR-porn-adjacent content that is doing good in the world. One is VR porn site BaDoinkVR’s sex therapy initiative, which can be used as a treatment tool for people with psychosexual disorders, loss of libido, or even just self-discovery and empowerment. “VR porn definitely opens up many new possibilities for sexual exploration,” says Lisa Moore, Chief Evangelist for VRPorn.com, which is not only the most popular VR porn website, but the most popular VR website period. “Anybody can try anything, even be anything, in a safe environment. It seems likely that these new possibilities will foster a greater amount of diversity in the future.”

There aren’t too many porn stars who have tentacles or wings

Ashton E., the Communications Manager for Kiiroo, a company that specialises in teledildonics (internet-enabled sex toys that can sync up with porn to enhance the experience), is inclined to agree, saying that VR porn and teledildonics can be capable of great things. “With devices like Kiiroo’s, you are able to learn more about your body and live out your sexual fantasies at the same time, in a safe online environment. In doing so, you are empowering yourself to become not only more comfortable with your sexual desires, but also empowering a more confident self.”

It’s not just about empowering people in a sexual sense: VR porn can also empower people in a physical sense. “A lot of customers of Kiiroo with disabilities have expressed the utmost gratitude towards our devices and what the devices have done for them,” Ashton says.

VR – at least real-life, POV VR – has its limits. That means that none of the porn videos filmed with real porn actors are interactive – the viewer can’t use their hands, mouth, or body in any way, hence the performer having to stay completely still. Interactive VR porn does exist, but it’s computer animated, giving the viewer – or, in this case, player – greater control. It also allows for a greater range of fantasy, since there aren’t too many porn stars who have tentacles or wings.

VR porn could change the lives of people with illnesses and disabilities that affect their sex lives

However, because it takes a different set of talents to make a VR porn game than it does to make video porn, and often a lot more money and time, these seem to be less popular and less widely available. There’s also a cost increase between buying a VR headset and buying extra peripherals to make sure your hands can get in on the party. According to VRPorn.com’s Daniel Peterson, the ratio of non-interactive to interactive porn has “gotta be ninety-nine to one…[VR porn videos] are much easier to make, and that is where the money is.”

It seems like VR porn has a long way to go. Like most emerging technology, it’s prohibitively expensive, bulky, and requires a fairly beefy computer to use well. On the content creators side, it’s a risk and an investment that is already paying off, but slowly, and largely to the benefit of straight male viewers. It has benefits that could change the lives of people with illnesses and disabilities that affect their sex lives, and it could revolutionise sex and masturbation, eventually – but for now, we’re only just beginning to see what VR porn is capable of.

VRPorn’s Lisa Moore sees a bright future for the VR porn industry. “Once you’ve experienced VR porn there’s no denying it represents a giant leap forward for the adult industry,” she says. “There does exist a lot of low quality, gimmicky content, but everything will improve year after year until it’s like the sexual fantasy Matrix.”

But the three main characters of The Matrix, it’s worth noting, were a white man, a black man, and a white woman. VR porn – and porn in general – is much whiter, and much more male. Moore’s vision is admirably utopian, but perhaps not realistically in line with current trends.

After talking to Peterson, the writer of the Wired piece on VR porn, Catherine Allen, makes her own conclusion. “I truly believe in the potential of VR as a whole new artistic medium and a way to communicate,” says Allen. “But if this is the way it’s being shaped – with women the subject of a controlling male gaze – sometimes I worry for its future.”

Technology, and VR especially, is capable of great things – in the right hands. VR porn may be popular amongst the section of society it’s aimed at, but a true utopian technological future is available to, and includes, everyone. Perhaps it’s up to two of the most powerful industries in the world to do something about that.


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