EDITORIAL: Blurred lines: Virtual porn may be hazardous to our health

Illustration by Christy Shao, Graphics Editor

Illustration by Christy Shao, Graphics Editor

Once upon a time, somebody accused art of being pornography. Of course, those were gentler times when pornography was some strategically placed soap in a surrealist portraiture. But things have gone a bit more metal recently, with new developments in the porn industry being the advent of virtual reality technology (because porn was so realistic before).

Now while the discerning porn consumer might be all aflutter for this innovation, there’s a few potential flags on the play. For one, the limitation on sexual fantasies that the physical and emotional requirements of healthy bodily existence deny could be mainstreamed: one industry mainstay, Tori Black, has trumped this as a point in VR’s favour because participants could carry out scenarios she refuses in the real world. “I don’t care what my avatar does,” she says, “because my avatar isn’t who I am. So yeah, all the things that you want me to do that I decline, go ahead and have my avatar do them . . . I’m completely disconnected.”

It’s evident that this issue is very, very far from black and white, and a lot of arguments will depend on how VR pornography develops as it becomes more prolific. But what’s important to remember is that this technology will result in a big change in how we view consent in our modern culture. We are standing at the very edge of the diving board, and the waters underneath are very deep indeed. (Feel free to substitute a rabbit hole metaphor ala The Matrix if you so desire; I’m sure Neo knew a thing or two about banging in cyberspace.)

While perhaps it’s too easy to jump to accusations like “porn is bad and wrong!”, the likelihood of virtual reality porn being inherently damaging to society is all too real. There are already plenty of desperate, lonely folks out there who think others (especially women) owe them sex. There’s definite concern that VR porn could exacerbate this problem by normalizing the idea that you can do whatever you want to someone else. If nothing else, it certainly carries the risk of fostering unrealistic ideas of partnership and intimacy that might not translate into the bedroom in real life (much like the porn we consume now).

But on the other hand, it’s not all bad. It can help people explore their sexuality, or improve confidence for marginalized identities like trans or queer persons. Sex positivity is something to be admired, and designers have noted that representing all body types, genders, and sexual orientations will be a priority as programs develop in the future. And hey, it’s sure to make those long-distance relationships more bearable.

When it comes down to it, VR porn is wrapped up in all the same potential pitfalls as face-to-face shagging — we just have to be more diligent about it. VR, more so than any other avenue for porn, blurs the lines of what’s acceptable in your head, and what’s acceptable in real life. But if we make sure to take the glasses off once in awhile, we’ll ensure a happy ending for all.

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