The term ‘erotic’ may cause a few blushes and signal something ‘dirty’ or ‘taboo’. Whatever preconceptions you have about the term, it does hold a certain fascination for cinema audiences. New modes of exhibition are constantly blurring the lines between realism and fantasy in the world of erotic VR.
The film industry has been exploiting this fascination in erotic filmmaking for years, since the earliest days of on-screen kisses were banned by censors, however, there is no concrete set of rules or genre conventions which define what makes a film ‘erotic’. More pointedly, erotic films are subjective in that they encourage the viewer’s emotions or arousal through the depiction of sexual activity, but not necessarily through the acts themselves. To put it plainly, pornography can be thrown into the same arena as the Oscar-sweep It Happened One Night (1934) when looking at films under the umbrella term of ‘erotic’ films.
Why is it so popular?
The heightened reality offered by VR technologies has seen an opportunity for filmmakers of all disciplines to exploit the medium for their storytelling, and this opportunity has not been missed by erotic filmmakers and pornographers alike. With the mainstreaming of VR technologies and the increasing accessibility of pornographic content, it’s no surprise that adult VR apps are now readily available – even streaming giant Pornhub now offers a VR capability – along with other sites promising viewers a more realistic viewing experience.
Erotic films tap into our innate nature as humans to be voyeurs, and the physical means of a headset and headphones to construct a completely private, first-person perspective inserts the viewer within the action itself, free to watch and explore their environment.
So, how has the face of adult filmmaking changed in light of this new technology?
The immersive nature of VR heightens the perception of reality, allowing viewers to experience erotic spectacles in a very intimate, private manner. Erotic VR presents a first-person perspective into a genre that mixes fear and fascination – an experience that has only perhaps be rivalled in 2D film by the introduction of hand-held, ‘found footage’ that spawned the success of horror films such as Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. The fascination of VR collides with the taboo of erotic spectacle to create a controversial new means of depicting sex on screen. However, the technical challenges of VR filmmaking alongside the practical challenges faced when creating an erotic scene, suggests that this method of filmmaking is much more than a simple, modern-day ‘cinema of attractions’ and instead, could be considered a complex and innovative contemporary art-form that makes the most of this new technology by constantly stretching its filmmaking capabilities.
Jennifer Lyon Bell’s recent VR short film, Second Date, does just that, challenging both the VR technology and its audience with the risqué nature of the film and what it portrays. Second Date had its world premiere at Raindance 2017, screening as part of the Best Sensual VR Experience competition strand. Set on an Amsterdam houseboat, Second Date is a lighthearted, unscripted Virtual Reality portrait of two young people fumbling towards ecstasy.
The field of erotic VR poses a challenge to developers to keep up with the demand of its audience, already merging visual spectacle with video-game like interaction that allows the viewer some control over what they’re viewing. But how long before this immersive experience ventures into new, experimental technologies, perhaps finding ways to incorporate touch into the sensory viewing experience? Or expanding into AR and merging reality with simulation? All that we can say for sure is that: sex sells, and as long as people are making new and innovative erotic films, there’s no limit to the potentials of VR in shaping the future of erotic filmmaking.