3D sex avatars could be latest revenge porn weapon

3D sex avatars could be latest revenge porn weapon
The growth of virtual reality pornography could see vindictive exes creating sex avatars of former lovers to carry out perverse and violent acts on them, experts have warned.

Newcastle University researchers have been studying the rise of virtual reality porn, which allows users to step into the heart of the action using headsets such as the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR.

They have warned that the headsets allow people to experience extreme, degrading or even abusive imagery in an alarmingly ‘real’ way, and could challenge the laws of consent. Researchers say with the availability of 3D imaging tools and the rise in DIY porn, models based on real people could soon become the future of revenge porn.

Researchers are calling on manufacturers to set guidelines on what can be viewed through their technology, a “very prominent, but not often talked about, ‘human-computer’ interaction.”

Research lead Matthew Wood told the Telegraph that although revenge porn is illegal, there are many “get arounds.” He says once digital content has been published, “there is very little you can do.”

To find out about what the future of VR porn might look like, researchers asked 45 participants to create their perfect 3D fantasy as well as a second scenario in which volunteers were invited to delve deeper into taboo areas.

They found those fantasies often went beyond what was acceptable in real life, including men performing degrading sexual acts on women or forcing themselves on them.

“We found that for most people the potential of a VR porn experience opened the doors to an apparently ‘perfect’ sexual experience – a scenario which in the real world no-one could live up to,” Wood says.

“For others it meant pushing the boundaries, often with highly explicit and violent imagery, and we know from current research into pornography that exposure to this content has the potential to become addictive and more extreme over time.”

The team also warned that the rise of 3D porn could damage relationships, and increase sexism and the exploitation of women. It says a greater sense of realism provided by VR may also heighten body image issues in women.

“One of our findings suggested VR pornography could be something more like cheating on a partner because of the increasing ‘reality’ of the VR experience,” Wood says.

Dr Madeline Balaam, co-author of the research, said: “As a society we are always looking for new and novel experiences but the porn industry brings with it an added risk because of its sexist stance and exploitation of women.

“We are already obsessed with body image and the digital industry is no different, creating the perfect virtual woman from Lara Croft to sex robots. VR porn has the potential to escalate this.

“Our research highlighted not only a drive for perfection, but also a crossover between reality and fantasy. Some of our findings highlighted the potential for creating 3D models of real life people, raising questions over what consent means in VR experiences.

“If a user created a VR version of their real-life girlfriend, for example, would they do things to her that they knew she would refuse in the real world?”