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Virtual Sex

The future of intimacy.

Key points

  • Technology has changed how we experience intimacy.
  • We can have potent sexual emotions in virtual situations that feel identical to those we experience in real life.
  • Virtual sex will hold power to the extent it meets our unmet needs.

Louise was ready to head home. She loved her grandchildren more than anything but babysitting them could be a bit much. She told everyone it was the highlight of her week, and she didn’t mind lying.

Most people wouldn’t understand the pleasures of sex with her avatar, Lucy. Louise called herself Lucy in virtual reality because everyone cautioned about using your real name in VR. Plus, it was so much easier to have sex as Lucy–Lucy was gorgeous and got lots of attention when she entered a party or chat room.

Louise considered Lucy her sexy alter-ego. Louise’s first romance in VR was with Patricia–she loved Patricia’s company, and sex just sort of naturally evolved from their friendship. It took a while before Louise stopped feeling guilty, though, cause Walter was gone for less than a year when her relationship with Patricia became sexual.

But lately, all Louise wanted to do was hang out with her new virtual boyfriend, Greg. Greg was so ripped and strong and confident–all the things Walter–rest his soul–never was.

VR gave Louise an opportunity to experience the kind of romance she’d always wished for–interesting conversation that didn’t center around family drama, a sexy man who clearly enjoyed her body–really, who wouldn’t prefer this to babysitting grandchildren?

Louise rushed to get Lucy ready for her date that evening–she had purchased Lucy a tight red dress–the kind Louise never dared to wear back in the day. Louise was already getting excited as she anticipated Greg’s response.

In the back of her mind, she wondered if Greg really was a 38-year-old gorgeous hunk in real life. No matter, she never intended to tell him her real age. Back to Lucy–which pair of stilettos look best with that dress?

BNP Design Studio/Shutterstock
Source: BNP Design Studio/Shutterstock

We are part of a massive social experiment. Technology is changing what it means to be intimate right before our eyes. For the first time in human history, we have the technology to experience an intimate relationship with fantasy partners, robots, and humans in faraway places we would never otherwise have the chance to meet–let alone have sex with.

In some ways, the social battles being waged today to support gender fluidity and orientation will become less critical as our lives, including our intimate ones, become more centered in virtual worlds. That’s because, in virtual reality, we will write our own script, develop new identities, and experience sexual adventures that we may feel too shy or awkward to initiate in real life. Any biological limits of your physical body will no longer prevent you from literally feeling “as if” you are someone else or “as if” you are doing something else.

Here the boundaries blur considerably between virtual life and real life. For example, recent research suggests that memories we form in virtual reality may behave more like those of real-life experiences than memories of information shared in a 2-D environment. That’s probably because VR is such a visceral experience that we form body memories of our virtual experiences.

Similarly, we can experience powerful emotions in virtual situations identical to those we feel in reality. Lust, tenderness, and sexual attraction, for example, can feel as real with your headset on as they can without it, so if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck.

Lynette was tired for sure. She was the primary caretaker for her husband, whom she quickly lost to Alzheimer’s. Despite her exhaustion, she was looking forward to leaving her complicated, heavy world for a while.

Greg, her favorite avatar and virtual opposite, was a powerful masculine icon with a super-sexy barbie doll girlfriend. Greg offered Lynette an intoxicating experience of power and control that she just didn’t experience in life these days–if ever. Lynette ensured her headset was powered up and ready for her juicy evening rendezvous.

Virtual lovers will arrive in various forms–such as within VR, augmented reality, and robotics. But all will aim to please – at least if that’s what you find erotic. In addition, depending on the type of virtual lover you engage, they may bring no emotional baggage to the relationship and may have no sexual or emotional needs. Ultimately, VR will hold the most power when it gratifies our unmet needs or at least satisfies them more efficiently and effectively than we can fulfill in the real world.

Yet here’s the million-dollar question–what does this mean for humanity? It’s anyone’s guess right now. While most people ignore or disregard our increasing reliance on virtual intimacy, strong positive and negative opinions are voiced.

“It’s fabulous!” say those who see VR as an opportunity for people without romantic partners to experience intimacy and for folks who long to express their sexuality in more diverse ways. “It’s the end of intimacy!” say folks who fear virtual ones will replace human lovers.

I suspect all will be true for subsets of the population–some will feel advancing tech benefits them, and others will find it destructive to their personal lives and relationships. But tech and AI experts nearly unanimously agree that few of us will avoid its impact.

Sex and intimacy today are so different than it was even 40 years ago. In the span of Louise’s and Lynette’s lives, sex went from something you ideally had with only one partner for your lifetime to practically infinite sex tech opportunities with essentially unlimited partners. What will the next 40 years hold for us?

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