History of Pornography and Technology

Pornography and the Internet

Virtual Reality Sex

Pornography and Technology

History of Pornography and Technology

The spread of pornography is inexorably linked to the development of technology.

Almost every communication-oriented technology has been used for sexual purposes. The printing press is used to print sexually explicit images and text, the telephone created phone sex, and videotapes brought full motion pornography into the living room.

Companies that have attempted to prevent their technologies from being used for sexual purposes have often failed. One reason often given for the victory of VHS video tapes over the Beta format is that Beta refused to let their tapes be used for pornography. Similarly, many believe that AOL triumphed over Prodigy because of Prodigy's refusal to allow sexually oriented chat rooms or sexual content.

Pornography and the Internet

The Internet has contributed to the spread of pornography more than any other technology to date. Now, a large variety of pornographic chat rooms, photographs, and videos are available for little or no charge to anyone with an Internet connection and a little patience.

We have reached the point where broadband connections -- high speed connections that allow for transmission of high quality video -- are becoming commonplace. It is estimated that 100 million people worldwide have access to the Internet [1], and of those, an estimated 2 million people have access to broadband through a digital subscriber line (DSL) or a cable modem. [2]

There is an abundance of porn on the Internet, and it is popular. The Playboy website averages 5 million hits per day. Adult entertainment is estimated to be the highest grossing sector on the Internet. It is difficult to estimate the number of sexually explicit sites on the Internet, but as of November 1998 there were 60,000 sexually explicit sites on the Internet in the United States, and the adult industry has reported a growth rate of 40% yearly since 1997. [3]

Virtual Reality Sex

Advancements in computer technology have sparked a revolution in online pornography. Instead of simply being viewed, pornography can now be experienced through virtual reality and teledildonic[4] devices.

Companies such as Safe Sex Plus, VR Innovations, and Digital Sexations manufacture products that provide a virtual sex experience. The products sold by these companies serve as an interface between the computer and one to four sexual appliances. The sex toys can be controlled by a remote partner, a DVD or streaming Internet video, or by clicking on links on a web page. Often, the appliances can be stimulated at various intensities.

“If you can control a sex toy through your monitor, you can control just about anything. Controlling devices remotely through an everyday Internet connection isn’t the future. It’s here now.”
- Allen Hadazy (president of Safe Sex Plus)

SSP Adapter with attached "RoboSuck" sex toy (courtesy of www.safesexplus.com)

These devices vary in their function. For example, Safe Sex Plus's SSP Adapter (priced at $24.99) is designed to facilitate cybersex between two remote human partners through the Internet. The adapter is simply a small box with light sensors that attaches to the computer's monitor with a suction cup. The adapter has a port for one compatible sexual appliance. The SSP software simply brings up a square window that the adapter is placed over. A user is able to control the movement and intensity of a remote partner's sexual appliance by adjusting the color and brightness of the window.

The Virtual Sex Machine, manufactured by VR Innovations, takes a different approach to computer aided sex. (The Virtual Sex Machine, at $370, is significantly more expensive than the SSP adapter.) Their product, which connects to the computer's parallel port, is a machine that fits over the male genitalia. (A female version is in the works.) By combining the sensations of massage, vibration, and vacuum, The Virtual Sex Machine claims to be able to simulate a wide variety of sexual interactions.

Virtual Sex Machine (courtesy of www.vrinnovations.com)

In some ways, this device exceeds the ability of a "real" sexual partner, as the sensations are longer and more intense. Not only that, the machine NEVER gets tired.
- VR Innovations

The Virtual Sex Machine is controlled by specially formatted movies that stimulate the machine in concert with the action on the screen. The user is able to pause, fast-forward, and rewind the video without the machine getting out of synch. The movies can either be viewed from a CD-ROM or DVD, or through streaming Internet media.

The product put out by Digital Sexations (retailing at $49.99) provides a combination of the two products listed above. Their "Black Box" connects directly to a computer's serial port, and supports one to four compatible sex toys. The product can be utilized while chatting, reading erotic stories, or watching pornographic videos.

The Digital Sexations chat interface is basically a updated version of the SSP adapter. It is logistically more convient to deal with a serial port than suction cups. The user has the capability to stimulate each of the possible four sex toys that the remote partner is using. Also, the interface contains an advanced setting that will search for specific keywords in the conversation and stimulate the toys accordingly. The Digital Sexations device also has the ability to respond to embedded signals in specially formatted movies in a similar manner to the Virtual Sex Machine. One additional feature is that the software is advanced enough to allow instructions for the devices to be embedded in hyperlinks in web pages. For example, clicking on a link in an erotic story would cause the sexual devices to be stimulated in a manner relevant to the story.

Digital Sexations chat interface
(courtesy of http://www.feelthe.net/chat.html)

Vivid Entertainment, a leading player in the adult industry, has developed a full body "cybersex suit" with 36 sensation-delivering sensors. The sensors are able to deliver five different sensations - tickle, pinprick, vibration, hot, and cold. Through a combination of these sensations, Vivid believes that their suit can reasonably approximate a variety of sexual sensations. The suit is expected to cost about $170, and will be available as soon as Vivid irons out a few safety issues, most of which deal with varying electrical sources in different countries. [5]

Vivid Entertainment's first ever all-body cyber sex suit
(courtesy of MSNBC)

In another perspective on cybersex, Australian scientist Dominic Choy has been granted a patent to create a computer controlled life-like sex doll. This doll would provide aural and tactile sensations to the user. The doll would not have human-like movement, but "certain key body parts would be motor driven." [6] In combination with a virtual reality headset, the user could engage in more realistic virtual sex through the Internet with another person, or with an artificial sexual intelligence.

Our current computer-based sex technology ranges from extremely simple to moderately advanced, and it is inevitable that as virtual reality technology advances, cybersex will be on the cutting edge. We have reached the point in our society where technology is advancing at such a rate that our social values have trouble keeping up. Sex is such an integral part of human nature that we must start considering how the advancement of cybersex will affect our society.

1. Cyberporn Facts At A Glance. [back]
2.The Washington Post. "SEAMY AND STEAMY; A Group of Savvy Entrepreneurs Is Exploiting the
Latest Technology To Pioneer the Web's Full Commercial Potential--They're Smut
Merchants" By John Schwartz. p. G06. May 17, 2000. Lexis Nexis. [back]
3. Filtering and Pornography. By Courtney Glazer, Zaz Harris, Wendy Marinaccio, Dave Panitz, Katie Pittman, and Mike Zhu. [back]
4. teledildonics - the proposed use of virtual reality to mediate sexual interaction between computer users operating in different places. (Oxford English Dictionary) [back]
5. Sex toys blaze tactile trail on Net. By Mike Brunker. [back]
6. Scientist cooks up virtual sex technology. By Laura Rohde. [back]