There is a lot of talk about the meta-universe: as a digital exchange, a new platform for entertainment, and a game. It is also talked about as a new step in the life of modern humans.
The main idea of the meta world is to bring us into the "digital world" through avatars. This idea assumes the possibility to recreate all those habitual actions that people perform from day to day. This includes work, study, leisure, and even surfing web pages or applications.
This opens the next question—which is already preoccupying the minds of developers as well as psychological scientists—will people feel the same way as they do in everyday life? And is sex in the digital space possible?
Let's turn to a presentation by the head of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg, who gave a talk in October 2021 about his plans for a meta-universe of entertainment. With a colorful CGI video, the founder of Meta described a network of 3D online worlds based on virtual reality. Mark Zuckerberg promised users everything from work and shopping to parties and attending concerts.
Nevertheless, many of us are familiar with Meta's history and were not surprised when virtual sex was crossed off the list of approved activities in the metaverse. This is due to the company's strict anti-Nude policy, which is rampant on apps like Instagram and Facebook. Censorship either warns of adult content or removes and blocks profiles posting explicit content completely.
As early as November 2021, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth made a statement. It confirmed user speculation that Mark Zuckerberg's digital universe intends to be a place without sex.
Despite the pure vision of Meta's founder, many members of the porn industry, as well as technology developers, are already working on creating a new sexual experience for the metauniverse. They are trying to combine virtual reality, artificial intelligence technology, and Bluetooth-controlled sex toys. As such, virtual sex already exists, and the porn industry is always finding its audience by embracing new technologies. So why not use the metaverse as a platform to facilitate sexual experiences that are, in fact, positive and good?
For example, Ela Darling, a VR porn star, became interested in filming more immersive virtual content after she first attended a VR headset presentation at a tech conference back in 2013. The girl recorded wide-angle videos with a GoPro. In post-production, different angles were stitched together to give an accurate 3D image of her body.
Ela Darling says the process has gotten much easier over the years. While continuing to create digital content for adults today, Ela Darling is director of marketing at ViRo Playspace (an anonymous online adult platform). It is a dating site for virtual girls, where the user's interaction with a 3D model takes place through the synchronization of teledildonics with the actions on the screen.
“Every time I encounter a new technology, I have two questions: how can I have sex with it and how can people see me having sex with it?” - Ela Darling
While some characters in the VR porn industry are created thanks to artificial intelligence technology, other models, like digital actress Vex Ruby, interact with viewers in real-time.
"She looks like a video game character, with her body movements fully tracked in real time, with a motion-capturing costume. So when the viewer interacts with her, she has a special device to control the client's toys." - Ela Darling
The manufacturer of Vibease teledildonics has integrated it into a wide range of virtual reality platforms. It reported that sales of the brand's products rose sharply by 50% during the pandemic. When the self-isolation mode was introduced, both lovers and singles felt not only a heightened sense of loneliness but also lost the possibility of physical intimacy. Co-founder and CEO of the company, Dema Tio, commented on the situation:
"People have begun to purchase teledildonics more frequently to satisfy their sexual and intimate needs. Because our devices mimic human touch, they are often used by couples who are often apart."
Despite the variety of adult VR content, ViRo Playspace is exploring the possibility of creating "socially safe" spaces that are free of porn. It is envisioned that anyone will be able to rent a specially equipped room, send an email invitation to their partner, and reconnect in a VR simulation to spend time together and have fun.
“The meta-universe offers an opportunity to democratize the VR experience by making virtual space available to anyone with an Internet connection. It is also interesting to see how such freedom democratizes society's attitude toward virtual sexual experiences.” - Dema Tio
Many developers and creators of adult content are seriously concerned about a monopoly on the development of the metaverse. This is because Meta will undoubtedly push hard restrictions and censorship on sexual relations in the metaverse.
Tamika Spellman is a spokesperson for an organization that supports female escorts and sex workers (in the past). She sees the development and increased demand for online work as a new opportunity for sex workers. This is because of its flexibility and the possibility of different forms of artistic expression.
In her words, platforms like OnlyFans have become a lifesaver for those who have always provided their services in real life. Real-life encounters always involve risk for members of the sex industry, so online transactions have been able to keep them safe.
Virtual services help a sex worker maintain a physical distance from the client. But there is always the risk of online harassment, where a user may decide that he or she is entitled to unacceptable desires or fantasies that the worker may refuse to fulfill. In a hyper-realistic metauniverse, this can become an even more acute problem.
Such a threat is not hypothetical: Meta's beta testing service has already reported cases of gang rape and harassment. Since physical contact is not possible in the metauniverse, and bodily harm can be avoided, a situation of virtual violence can lead to serious psychological problems.
Experts and human rights activists also believe that the availability of sexual services in virtual reality could be another gap in the metauniverse, as with any other new technology.
Most virtual platforms use cryptocurrencies for subscriptions and advertisements. Some still stick to credit or debit cards, making the creation of VR content a costly undertaking for both sphere workers and users. Added to the high price tag is the cost of high-end technology - next-generation helmets and powerful PC hardware.
The high cost and difficulty of understanding the technology make the meta-universe inaccessible to part of the population. This creates a class stratification in the ranks of sex workers.
Perhaps a high threshold of entry into virtual reality would allow companies like Meta to allow sexual relationships. But with the way social media content is strictly regulated, this is unlikely.
Still, members of the sex industry have positive hopes that the metauniverse will help decriminalize escorts and adult content in the real world. That said, there are still concerns that virtual universe workers could get caught in the crosshairs of real-world and "local" laws. This includes anti-trafficking laws, which could end up prohibiting sex workers from posting their services on VR platforms. Even though they previously provided them with data protection and privacy.
Regardless of society's repression, there is truth when it comes to sexuality in general and sex work as a special case. This business finds a way to survive at all times and under all conditions, no matter how hostile the environment.
If we look at the situation in a positive way, we can assume that the metauniverse will become a new frontier of sensation. It will change the way users think about sexual experiences, making them accessible and less taboo in society. In practice, however, it may turn out that users will have to face the same stereotypes and stigmas as in the real world.