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#SexIndustryWeek: The Future of Porn

“The Internet is for porn,” sing the inhabitants of Avenue Q, but the extent to which that’s the case is impossible to measure. Whether it accounts for 40% or just 4%, however, porn has had a clear impact on the World Wide Web, and the converse is just as true. Raunchy magazines on actual paper and movies on actual discs may still appeal to some old-school veterans, but to many they’re made redundant by what the Internet can offer for free. The porn industry has had to adapt to the Web, and so too will it evolve with whatever world-changing technological advance comes next.

As those in the business would have you believe, the next big thing could be wearable tech. Google Glass might look goofy even on the typically attractive models in the marketing material, but it could become a useful tool for the porn industry. Footage from the point of view of one of the performers is a particularly intriguing proposition, but if Google finds a way to make the device unobtrusive it could also be possible for a sexual partner to film you without your consent. Glass has a screen too, so any wearer you encounter could be watching porn as you have a meeting/lunch/sex, though Google has added a ban on sexually explicit material to its content policies.

The kind of point-of-view pornography, made easier to produce with tools like Google Glass, seems a natural fit with another interesting piece of technology currently in development. Oculus Rift (yesterday bought by Facebook for $2 billion) is a virtual-reality headset that blocks off all vision except for what’s displayed on its 3D screen, in order to immerse the user in a virtual world. It’s an ideal environment for porn consumption provided you can be sure that you won’t be disturbed, and that Oculus VR manages to reduce the likelihood of Simulator Sickness.

Unfortunately, current examples of erotic content for these devices are designed only for heterosexual men. The VR Tenga demo, which was made for an Oculus Rift game jam in Japan, links the actions of a virtual girl with a contraption meant to hold a penis. Wicked Paradise, which its developers call “the world’s first erotic virtual reality adventure game” is also focused on a heterosexual male audience. The founder has said that future content will cater to other demographics, but presumably that can only happen if the first episode is successful. As porn becomes more entwined with technology, the low numbers of women working in tech and the popular myth that women aren’t interested in things like video games could stymie the rise of ‘feminist porn’.

Immersive pornographic experiences – perhaps with the addition of smells and tastes, which IBM predicted in 2012 that computers would soon be able to understand – will also raise similar concerns to violent video games, which are thought by some to encourage violent behaviour because their consumption is more active than that of violent movies, though research has so far failed to prove a link. Feminists already debate how porn affects men’s behaviour towards women and their expectations of their sexual partners, and more immersive experiences could exacerbate those effects.

This could be particularly problematic for extreme pornography, which will only be easier to create and view as technology improves. As CGI approaches photorealism, we face the grim possibility of realistic computer-generated child pornography, and while that could reduce the number of real children coerced into sexual acts on camera, it could also make the end product more accessible.

Children and others who could/would not give consent could also become victims if photorealistic CGI was used to virtualise their likeness. This future technology could create a thriving business in interactive sexual experiences with virtual versions of consenting celebrities, but it would also provide the means for your creepy work colleague to make their own personal porn flick starring a photorealistic virtual you, or your vindictive ex to enrol your likeness in a humiliating pornographic scenario to distribute to people you know. With this kind of future technology, the bullies who used Photoshop to create sexual images involving critic Anita Sarkeesian and various video-game characters could have done much worse. And if CGI became cheap enough, it could put consenting, paid actors out of work.

As with most advances in technology, those now on the horizon will have effects that range too widely to be categorised as solely positive or negative. Feminists who are already concerned about pornography will have even more to worry about as technology charges forward, but there’s no way to stop the flow, and no real argument for doing so at the expense of the good that comes with the technological advances. For now, the best way to try to counteract some of these potential problems before they arise is to encourage efforts to bring more women into the tech industry, and hope that the next time technology leaps forward we get social change to match.

Jordan Erica Webber is a freelance writer and presenter who specialises in tech (particularly video games), philosophy, and psychology.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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