A study published in the Journal of Sex Research found that when men watched pornography through virtual reality (VR) technology, they felt more desired, more flirted with, and more connected to the actresses, compared to when they watched pornography through a 2D video. They also felt a stronger urge to interact with the actresses and perceived them to be more intelligent.
Study authors Arne Dekker and his team were motivated to conduct their study given the lack of current research on the effects of VR pornography. While it stands to reason that VR pornography should offer a more immersive, connected experience with the actors when compared to 2D pornography, sex researchers have yet to demonstrate this effect.
Dekker and colleagues designed an experimental study to test this effect among a sample of 50 heterosexual men between the ages of 18 and 60. The researchers obtained two different pornography films that could be experienced in either VR or on a flat screen. Both films depicted a man having sex with two women, shown from the male perspective. On two different days, each subject was randomly assigned to watch two of the films — one in VR and one on a flat screen.
All subjects rated their sexual arousal during and right after each film. They also responded to a series of items concerning their emotional experiences as a viewer and their perceptions of the actresses.
The findings suggested that the VR pornography offered a more intimate experience compared to the 2D pornography, in a number of ways. For example, the men reported greater sexual arousal, greater bodily arousal, and greater sexual desire for the actresses when they watched the pornography films in VR than when they watched them on the flat screen.
Unsurprisingly, it appeared that these differences may have had to do with the immersiveness of the VR, which allowed for a stronger first-person experience. During the VR films, men said they felt more like they were the male actor, more like they were an agent rather than an observer, and more like they had had sex with the actresses. Men also felt more flirted with by the actresses in the VR films and more desired by them. Finally, they reported feeling more eye contact during the VR films, feeling more connected with the actresses, feeling a greater urge to interact with them, and attributed a higher IQ score to the actresses.
The authors note that the intimate experience afforded by the virtual reality scenes brings to mind a psychological relationship called parasocial interaction (PSI). PSI, a term coined by Horton and Wohl in 1956, describes how consumers develop relationships with media actors, perceiving a closeness to the actors despite the one-sidedness of the relationship. In this way, viewers become active consumers of media rather than passive recipients.
Dekker and his team say that it remains uncertain whether the pronounced intimacy of virtual reality pornography may be harmful to viewers, noting that future studies will be needed to explore the potential risks of habitual use. On the positive side of things, they suggest that there may be a clinical use for VR pornography, perhaps in the treatment of sexual problems.
The study, “VR Porn as “Empathy Machine”? Perception of Self and Others in Virtual Reality Pornography”, was authored by Arne Dekker, Frederike Wenzlaff, Sarah V. Biedermann, Peer Briken, and Johannes Fuss.