Back in 2015, some Finnish researchers conducted an interesting study that sought to determine teenage girls’ perceptions when comparing porn to real sex. The feedback they continued to receive was summarized in the words of one of the study’s participants, a 17-year-old girl named Emma:
“Sex involves so much more.”
What was this “more” that so many of the girls repeated as being the differentiating factor? It turns out, it’s intimacy.
Why does this matter?
As technology advances and the world around us changes, our most basic human needs haven’t changed with it. Some of humans’ most deep-rooted desires for respect, connection, acceptance, and love are still as much in need of being fulfilled as they were decades ago.
It’s true that technology has changed how we meet some of these needs—in fact, in some ways, it’s created new avenues for connection, through mediums like social media. Experts argue over whether these new forms of intimacy are fully healthy and positive channels for these desires, but what is undeniable by all is the relevance of intimacy for our health and overall well-being.
Bear this in mind as we look at some of the latest mediums in which porn is now available. As we’ll see, the claim to deliver greater connection, and a more “authentic” sexual experience is marketed more exaggeratedly than ever, but it’s hard to believe the good intentions of an industry whose bottom line is fueled by leading consumers to ever-extreme content to keep them glued to the screen a little bit longer and cash in on the downward spiral.
If you hadn’t heard of OnlyFans, you probably have now: not just because of Beyonce’s reference to it, but because since lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both content creators and consumers have grown exponentially.
In fact, creator accounts more than tripled since February (from 200,000 to over 750,000), and a spike among “fans,” or consumers, increased from 20 million in February to currently more than 60 million. Some estimates say OnlyFans has had a growth in revenues of over 300%.
But let’s backtrack: OnlyFans is a subscription-based site that allows consumers (“fans”) to subscribe for a monthly fee and tip the producers (content creators) of their favorite content. It isn’t all pornographic, though. For example, some of the content is fitness-oriented. However, the lax policies make it easy for new amateur porn performers or previous webcammers to use it as a new platform on which to market themselves, and earn money in the process. Also, it isn’t totally exempt from underage creators finding loopholes in the age verification process and creating profiles with explicit content.
OnlyFans labels itself as being a platform that provides greater connection between creator and fan. In fact, many fans in search of more personalized porn content flock to the site with the expectation of the “girlfriend experience”—that is, the expectation that the creator will remember small details about them, message them privately, personalized messages, etc.
Still, many fans’ search for a greater intimacy with the creator can go awry. Consider this: a recent study found that 40% of users on various webcam sites reported falling in love with performers, or becoming infatuated with them. So this begs the question of whether this growth in OnlyFans is really reflecting a higher level of connection between creator and fan, or something more toxic in the long-run.
Virtual reality porn
Virtual Reality (VR) porn has been a few years in the making. It’s meant to be the next big thing on the horizon for enhancing the way porn is consumed, supposedly fully immersing oneself in the experience. Those funky looking googles you’ve probably seen are the reason it’s possible. They allow the consumer to see and experience, some even through haptics (sense of touch), an entirely virtual world that may appear as real as the surroundings around you right now.
It’s not a small business either. In five years, virtual reality porn is expected to take the third-largest sector within the virtual reality business, only behind video games and NFL-related content. Its projected worth by 2025? Over $1 billion.
But as some accounts already put forth, this new way to consume porn can be jarring, seen as uncanny and concerning. It appears the lack of a real person can leave some slightly awkward or uncomfortable feelings with this artificial intimacy.
As technology advances, the possibilty exists to have sex with a robot that is made exactly, up the eyelashes and fingernail shape, as consumers want and is designed to never tire and be ready for whatever the consumer desires sexually, wherever, whenever.
Though it may sound more like an “on-demand” model for ordering a movie, the commoditizing of sex is now physically epitomized through sex dolls. These dolls are also being equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make them more “human”—consumers can even choose what “mood” (funny, intellectual, angry) they’d like their sexual partner to be in.
Since the lockdown, the demand for these types of dolls has grown significantly. In just one month, one company Sex Doll Genie’s growth has increased by over 50% in some customer categories, and is expanding the business to keep up with the increase in orders.
These dolls are marketed, not just as sex dolls, but as “companions.” In fact, sex doll company Realbotix programs its male doll Henry to say things like, “You can count on me for the good and bad moments.” And the company’s tagline? “Be the first to never be lonely again.”
This highlights the irony behind these dolls: they’re spot on when it comes to recognizing humans’ struggle with loneliness and the need for not just sex, but connection, taking into account that even the smallest details matter—the physical traits, the voice, the personality of the sexual partner.
Yet their solution is to cover up a very real need for deep, authentic connection with a high-end imitation. It’s like putting the nicest, most high-tech and quality bandaid you can imagine on a gunshot wound. The bandage might be the greatest on the market, but it’s not really what you need to solve the issue.
Human loneliness will never truly be solved through technical means.
That “more” people are looking for
Remember that thing the Finnish girls attributed to real sex, but couldn’t quite put their finger on? That’s right—intimacy. The truth is, the need for intimacy, for human relationships and authentic connection, isn’t something that can be replaced with silicone, webcams, or holographic experiences, no matter how many features and improvements it may have.
In a world with a lot of ways to invest our time and energy, some things worth fighting for. Real love. You with us?