Virtual Sex: NFT Vibrators Now Exist: What Will Sex Be Like In The Metaverse? | science and technology
In a scene from the first season of the TV show To download, Ingrid tells her boyfriend Nathan that she wants to take their relationship to the next level and has bought a “sex costume”. To give some context, Nathan is dead and he’s been uploaded to some sort of fancy digital compound, where he lives as an avatar. People in the real world, like his girlfriend, can visit him by putting on virtual reality (VR) glasses.
But if a visitor wants to do more than just chat, things get complicated. In the Metaverse, Ingrid and Nathan can be together in bed. But in the real world, Ingrid is actually in the tub, wearing VR goggles and dressed in a sex suit: a sort of bulky scuba gear, which we’re guessing is packed with sensors and haptic technology. It’s all pretty ridiculous.
The show’s first season was released in 2020, more than a year before Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg changed his company’s name to Meta and announced to great fanfare that he was working on building his own metaverse.
In the video for Zuckerberg’s Metaverse announcement, various avatars are seen doing things like going to a concert and talking to each other. Each of these avatars is a real person in their home, wearing VR glasses from Oculus, the brand owned by Meta. Upon entering the metaverse, they can interact with others as if they were in the same space.
But how far can this interaction go? Will sex be possible in the metaverse, and if so, how?
Currently, it is not possible to have sex in the metaverse as we know it in the real world. But it is already part of the online world in a different way. Long before Meta, there was second life, an online game founded in 2003 where users can interact with others in a parallel world. And according to the stories, it also includes many spaces where users can express and experience their sexual fantasies through their avatars.
second life, however, is not VR, but rather a world experienced through a computer screen. There’s not the same sense of immersion, and users looking for sexual pleasure are limited to chat, audio, and looking at their avatars.
But could that change in the Metaverse? A few weeks ago, Spanish sex toy company Diversual announced that it was launching the first collection of vibrators in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – an announcement that left many scratching their heads. “Right now, experiencing sexual pleasure as we know it is not possible in the metaverse and we don’t know if it will ever be,” said Ana Escudero, Diversual’s marketing manager, adding that there is no virtual universe in which avatars “can masturbate with an erotic toy or have an orgasm”.
In other words, the company’s NFT vibrators are currently just decorative items. But Escudero thinks that is changing. “Research is underway to develop an artificial skin that, once placed on our skin, will allow us to feel what is happening in virtual reality. There are also many well-known dating sites that are working on developing social interactivity, which could change the way we interact in the future,” she says. “In this context, one can hope that sexual pleasure can be experienced in the virtual world, even if we are still far from it.”
Research is underway to develop an artificial skin that, once placed on our skin, will allow us to feel what is happening in virtual reality
Ana Escudero, marketing manager of sex toy company Diversual
It is also important to understand that the metaverse and virtual reality are not the same thing, explains Laura Raya, head of the postgraduate program in virtual reality at the University Center for Technology and Digital Art (U-Tad) in Madrid. . While VR is “technology that creates immersive virtual contexts,” a metaverse is a parallel virtual world that doesn’t necessarily require access to VR glasses, although the experience is more limited without them.
“In VR porn, the interaction between avatars doesn’t have to be limited to the virtual, but can also include other sensory channels such as virtual touch, kinesthesia, and virtual smell,” says Raya. “It could provide a more interactive and realistic virtual experience, giving the user a greater sense of presence.”
Another issue is whether sex will even be allowed in the metaverse. Given Facebook and Instagram’s aversion to anything considered the least sexual, such as a woman’s nipples or artwork of female nudes, sex – even if technologically possible – can be prohibited.
For sexologist Ángela Aznárez, this would come at the expense of new sexual experiences. “I think they [metaverses] are spaces that could foster new and different experiences from the usual, and that could be particularly interesting for recreating fantasies that you don’t want to live out in real life,” she explains.
But there is also the danger of sexual harassment. In an article published on Mediumjournalist Nina Jane Patel describes how her avatar was “gang raped” just 60 seconds after joining Meta’s virtual reality social platform Venues.
“I was verbally and sexually harassed – three to four male avatars, with male voices, basically, but I practically raped my avatar and took pictures – as I tried to run away they screamed – ‘don’t pretend you didn’t love him’ and go get your picture shot’,” she wrote.
Raya says regulation is needed to prevent such attacks. “Allowing different types of sexual actions without control could lead to sexual abuse in the metaverse, which has a high psychological impact on the actual user,” she warns.
In other words, while sex as we know it is still far away in the metaverse, sexual harassment is already here.