Are women at risk of getting left behind?

Like every industry, the advancement of technology changes the way things are consumed and enjoyed.

This is no different when it comes to sex. The supremacy of top-shelf magazines has long since waned. Now, thanks to the Internet, porn is more accessible than ever. However, things will take an even further turn in the future with virtual reality porn and sex robots already available and some experts predicting this will one day be the mainstream.

It often seems like these advances in technology, when it comes to sex, largely revolve around heterosexual men. This is despite the increase in LGBT porn and ever pervasive research signalling that more women are consuming porn than ever (Pornhub’s latest estimate is that 26 per cent of their users are female).

Cindy Gallop, the founder of Make Love Not Porn –  a subscription website featuring ‘real world sex' –  says one reason for this is because the tech world, as well as the sex tech world, typically operates through a male lens. So any tech news about developments in sex tech industry typically are geared towards men.

“The tech media world is as male-dominated as the tech world,” she tells The Independent. “That means that coverage of sex tech defaults to the side of it that is much more comfortable to talk about - the hardware: Teledildonics, Sex robots, VR porn. It is a lot less comfortable to talk about the side MLNP (Make Love Not Porn) operates on - the software, involving people actually having sex with each other.  

"What that means is that all the coverage, talk, awareness, promotion and funding goes to the side that is through the male lens and is all about driving us further and further apart into our own little virtual worlds - versus the side that I and other sex tech female founders are on, which is all about bringing people closer together in the real world.

“The key issue here is it is not about ‘for women’, it is about ‘by women’. Sex tech through the female lens is sex tech men will massively enjoy.”

Dr Michael Aaron, a therapist and author of Modern Sexuality: The Truth About Sex and Relationships, says women tend to be excluded from these developments because when new technology is introduced, it starts off by being available to its primary audience. So VR porn may initially serve to cater for men because they are still the largest group of porn consumers.

“The problem currently is that when new technology is introduced, it is often expensive and clumsy, and so is often only attainable or available to the largest producers, catering to the most mainstream needs,” he told The Independent.  “As a result, smaller producers catering to smaller or more niche audiences may initially be excluded or crowded out. I think as the field matures and VR technology becomes more prevalent and accessible, the market will stabilise and you'll see more organic and authentic porn for all kinds of audiences. The same female producers and directors will create VR porn as the entire field shifts to VR.”

Gallop says women are currently at risk of being left behind when it comes to sex tech unless female entrepreneurs in this area get access to capital and funding (Gallop has relentlessly campaigned for banks and lenders to lose their ‘no adult content’ clause to help fund Make Love Not Porn) and access to the business infrastructure young white men are typically granted.

“Get us both of those and we'll show you the next trillion dollar industry,” Gallop says.

VR porn is being made for women, even if it is in the minority. Kelly from AliceX, a virtual reality adult webcam service, says they are striving to cater for both female and male members and one day hope to launch a site specifically for women. 

“What better way to explore fantasies than from the safety of your home computer? It allows you privacy and anonymity, while VR provides the opportunity to feel physically present in the experience. It also offers a less-than-solo sexual option for single ladies, without the risk that casual sexual encounters attract,” she tells The Independent.

Magnus Sullivan, a partner a Gamelink, says VR porn for women would face the same struggles the porn industry, in general, does. “(VR porn made for women) is not always made by women. VR Porn faces the same challenges that standard porn faces: making great, hardcore erotic content is extremely difficult and making it for a market that (speaking in broad generalisations now) might place more value on context, emotional authenticity and aesthetics is even more elusive.”

 

Dr Aaron says the perceptions of adult entertainment between that of the public and the people actually involved in the industry differ markedly. So porn producers know how many women watch and enjoy porn, and that goes for virtual reality porn too. 

“The public may still have some ignorant or naive views of female sexuality, but porn producers follow the money. I think the accessibility of female-oriented porn or even just the realisation that women may also enjoy mainstream porn will help in shifting public perceptions,” he says.

What more can be done? Nearly all the experts agree that more women are needed in the actual manufacturing, creation and implementation of these products.

“Thankfully there are some amazing women now working in the VR porn industry and I hope working together we will see a shift in valuing a female audience as much as we do male audience, and also perhaps see more females take ‘behind the scenes’ positions of authority within the industry,” Kelly says.

However, both Gamelink and AliceX are not convinced women are left behind saying they are still way ahead when it comes to sex toys. 

“Men are still catching up to women's sex toys… There is nothing for men that even compares.  And I've never heard a woman say she wished she could talk to her Wand,” Sullivan says.

When asked whether the future of porn focuses on the straight, male gaze Kelly says: “Haven’t women enjoyed their ‘battery operated boyfriends’ for years? Our vibrators just haven’t presented us with the lifesize silicone body or pre-recorded vocal grabs. Is there a market for male sexbots? I think most females are pragmatic enough to be happy with just the penetrating phallic part.”

However, whether they want to use them or not, how sex dolls affect real women remains a contested issue, especially with some who are concerned that sex dolls could replace humans.

Matt McMullen, the CEO of RealDoll which is aiming to release sex dolls with artificial intelligence, recently told Mic that one of his sex robot’s main competitor would be actual women.

Gallop was asked for her thoughts on the matter. “Oh, for f***s sake,” she said.

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