HoloFilm Productions

It's Thursday night and I'm on the top floor of the Kink.com castle in San Francisco's Mission District. There's a virtual reality porn summit going on, so 70 strangers and I are strapping on VR headsets and immersing ourselves in our own private XXX scenes. Thankfully, it didn't cause a near-riot like a similar event held in Japan last month.

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A HoloFilm Productions rep straps me into a headset. Like the vast majority of virtual reality porn, this is a first person point of view movie. It's a little strange to look down and see that I have a penis; like all the movies I watched at the summit, this has been designed for a male audience. The rep tells me to look up. (Ideally, I'd be laying down while watching.) A redhead is making out with me, her nose seemingly crushed against mine; then she takes off her underwear, sits on my face and starts widening various holes. It's like Human Anatomy 101 up in there and not my cup of tea so I immediately take off the headset.

Apparently I'm not alone in being turned off by something this graphic in VR. The fans of the new genre keep telling producers that they want their virtual reality to feel realistic, with sexual encounters where they can make an emotional connection.

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Anna Lee, the president of Vancouver-based HoloFilms, as well as a director of its movies, says customers have been requesting VR movies with "a very specific girlfriend experience."

"They want emotional connection and cuddling more than just sex. They want the actresses to look them in the eyes and say 'I love you,'" Lee told me. "We're moving away from the gonzo hardcore stuff to more intimate experiences. They're requesting more average penis sizes from the actors. They want it to be easier to feel like they're in it."

She loads the company's top seller, Flix and Chill, into my headset, and suddenly I'm transported to a white-walled apartment. I'm sitting on the couch watching a movie with a woman curled up next to me. She gets up, turns off the TV, and starts making out with me.

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There's no cheesy music. The scene is dimly lit. There are things I can't see happening because her face is right up against mine. There's small talk, whispering in my ear. It feels like a real make-out session (and it does eventually move into sex when she straddles me). Unlike most porn I've watched, I actually find it appealing.

"I ask performers, 'What would you really do with your boyfriend?,'" said Lee. "And then I tell them, 'Do that! That's what people want.'"

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This is the message I hear over and over again from the companies making VR porn for the burgeoning new customer base of people who bought Oculus Rifts, Google Cardboards, Samsung Gear VR, and HTC Vive headsets in the last year. When actually placed inside porn scenes virtually, men want the kind of porn that traditionally appeals to women.

As one director put it to the Guardian, "Women enjoy seeing a curve of arousal and like to understand why these people are having sex and how they got turned on."

"Traditional porn lacks a connection," one VR porn fan told me. "Virtual reality gives the whole thing meaning with a few closeup scenes and some reasonably well acted lines."

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The other thing I hear repeatedly at the summit is that the number one hub for VR porn enthusiasts on the internet is a subreddit called OculusNSFW. This is where everyone in the nascent VR porn industry now goes for feedback, so that's where I head to hear from fans about how VR porn has changed their adult content diet. They all asked that only their first names be used.

A Reddit user in his 40s who identifies himself as "Karl from Sweden" tells me that he's turned almost exclusively to VR porn since getting an Oculus Rift a couple of months ago, which is unfortunate because he's an avid porn collector who has "several large boxes of [porn] VHS tapes and DVDs that are gathering dust and something like 12 terabytes worth of hard-drives."

A VR camera rig

Karl says the challenge for VR porn is technical. When they mess up technically, so that the perspective is off, or a woman looks 8-feet-tall, or the seams of the multiple cameras used to make VR films don't line up so that her arm disappears, it is "immersion-breaking" and thus "erection-killing."

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"If you lose immersion," said another fan, "suddenly you're a half naked person sitting in a room with a piece of technology strapped to your head.

"When producers get things right, though, VR porn is mind-blowing," says Karl. "The viewer gets a sense of actually being there, having sex with a real person (or persons). This is what 2D POV porn wanted to be, but never could. When VR porn gets it right, it completely blows traditional flatland porn out of the water."

Karl says he was taken by surprise by how much he enjoyed kissing in VR. "Being that close to the face of a really attractive porn-star like Riley Reid, smiling and looking into your eyes as she leans in for a kiss, just sent shockwaves of pure pleasure through me," he wrote.

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Technology has progressed to a point where it is so real that we want reality over fantasy. Karl has since shared the Oculus porn experience with four friends; two of them decided to buy Oculus Rifts: "Not because of games, but because of porn," Karl explains.

Another Reddit user named Jason, who is married and works in the tech sector, says he loves that VR porn removes the frame from porn, so you move from being a voyeur to a participant.

"The first time you are looking at VR Porn you look instinctively at the genitals, then your eyes begin to wander, as they do in real intercourse, to your partner's hands, then maybe an anklet they're wearing, then maybe back up to their chest," he said. "Then you look up at their face and you see them making eye contact, a bit of a smile. BAM! You've been tricked into experiencing something like intimacy. In 2D porn the director/editor decides where you look. If they want you to stare at the back of someone's ass for five minutes you gotta put up with it or scroll forward."

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Jason said lots of fans have been asking producers to include more time in VR movies after the sex act is concluded, unlike in traditional porn where "there's a money shot and the file ends."

"I hope that VR allows people to hitch the desire for intimacy with porn," said Jason.

Badoink, another company making VR porn, plans to start releasing sex therapy movies. I watched one where a sex therapist whispered in my ear during a sexual encounter, advising me to breathe in for 3 seconds and out for 6 seconds, and to push my partner's legs back for deeper penetration. If it's true that pornography has "ruined sex," it's possible that VR porn could make men better, more emotional lovers because they're less distanced from the sexual act they're watching.

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While a few fans told me that they're mostly consuming VR porn now, others said it's still a luxury experience. Because app stores are prudish, they won't carry adult content, including VR porn streaming apps. So if you want to watch a VR porn, you have to go to a producer's website or adult video store GameLink, wait for a huge file to download, and then strap some tech to your head. "It's a hassle," says one fan, explaining why VR porn hasn't completely replaced 2D porn for him.

But fans are willing to go through the hassle, and even willing to pay for VR porn. According to them, it's just that good.

"I'm not one to normally pay for porn considering how much free 2D stuff is out there," a VR porn fan on Reddit told me. "But I have no problem paying for this."