Will VR Porn Challenge Or Perpetuate Female Abuse?
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Will VR Porn Challenge Or Perpetuate Female Abuse?

Movies Will VR Porn Challenge Or Perpetuate Female Abuse?

In an interview Emma Watson conducted with feminist icon Gloria Steinem, the actress and activist called for the creation of pornography that centers more on the empowerment and awareness of female sexuality rather than the objectification of women. Her comments were backlashed by many, not for asking for alternatives to the misogynistic perspectives of mainstream pornography, but due to her assumption that these alternatives were nonexistent. One of the main voices confronting Watson was the founder of Make Love, not Porn, Cindy Gallop, who claimed that for years there have been many filmmakers focused on creating feminist porn films and that the fact that Watson didn’t know of them was precisely one of the main issues with the pornographic industry.


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Now, this is not a matter of taking sides because both women are actually right. Yes, we need more alternatives to mainstream porn that change how women are understood by shifting the male gaze into a more inclusive one. And yes, Gallop is right in arguing that this has been done for some years now and that the fact that this isn’t so well-known is also worrying. Now, Gallop's company is, for starters, against mainstream porn and anything she could say about it will also have a negative connotation. Her organization, as the name indicates, focuses on streaming videos of people engaging in real sexual activities to show people that real sex isn’t the acting and often exaggerated performances characteristic of porn. In that way, yes, it’s excellent for people to have access to real representations of sex, but at the same time, one of the things that makes porn so alluring is its ability to create fantasies through videos that are not precisely real but that make us explore other alternatives to our “normal” or “real” life experience.


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Perhaps that’s actually what virtual reality (VR) might be able to offer. For decades, the porn industry has occupied a first-row seat in the development of new technologies. It’s been basically behind the creation and popularization of VHS (compared to the previous Beta Max), in the development of the Blu-Ray, and even the massive expansion of the internet as a leisure media (what do you say?.... Thanks, porn). The reason is simple: pornography has always done its best to increase its audience, and the best way to do so is by optimizing and making it more accessible to the public. Now, virtual reality has been present for a while, but it’s still an expensive and exclusive technology that not everybody has access to. What the porn industry has been doing is to push the VR developers to make it cheaper and able to have a widespread increase in the population.


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Other companies related to the sex industry have been inspired by these technologies to create innovative products, like the Teledildonics, a gadget that synchronizes through an app to a video. The gadget basically reproduces the movements you’d experience if you were actually having sex. Of course, as we know, these technologies still focus on a male audience instead of thinking in broader terms. According to therapist Dr. Michael Aaron, what happens is kind of logical (although not defendable). Whether we like it or not, the majority of porn consumers are men. And since the inclusion of new technologies into the porn industry tends to be extremely expensive, they need the aid of large companies and investors to make them possible. However, just as the world works, investors will only participate in these businesses as long as they represent good profit, and sorry people, but so far the male-centered pornographic products are still the ones from which these companies can profit the most. That’s why despite the industry tries to become more inclusive, expanding its horizons and products made for wider and more diverse audiences, there’s still a huge male dominance in it. 


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So, yes, we're still a long way from achieving a major change in the porn industry, but one immediate thing we could do is to support and share the existence of these alternatives so that they get more attention. As for VR, one of the things this technology seems to be able to change is the matter of representation, which is a huge step. I mean, there’s porn for basically every race and gender, but this will offer the user the chance to become a subject and be represented as such instead of just a voyeur. 


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What I really think is that, while porn does reinforce the objectification of women, this is a problem that goes beyond the many websites and movies. It’s something that has to do with society and education. I think porn is the best sociological tool we can analyze because all our behaviors are portrayed there, including misogyny and female objectification, which are present in our world. The thing is that this kind of media tends to put a magnifying glass on these problems. As long as we don’t change as a society, it doesn’t matter how many alternatives to porn we present, the core essence of the industry will never change. Of course, with this I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t care about what’s being depicted or that it’s useless to support, for instance, women creating VR pornographic technologies for a female gaze, or the feminist pornography Gallop and Watson were talking about. On the contrary, the more widespread they become, the better. We shouldn’t just focus on these cases, but think in broader terms.


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