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LOS ANGELES — Virtual reality porn may well be able to reverse the financial fortunes of an industry that has been as much a victim of internet disruption as any other. But to get it out to the masses of potential paying customers, performers might have to make an unholy alliance with the industry’s biggest boogeyman: Pornhub.

Mainstream consumer VR hit overdrive on Monday when the first Oculus Rift headsets began shipping to customers who had preordered the highly anticipated gear. Meanwhile, Pornhub, a video streaming site that’s basically the YouTube of porn, launched a free VR offering on Wednesday. And while the website — where users upload videos that may or may not be authorized — has long been a nemesis of porn producers and performers, it could soon be a gateway for hordes of paying VR customers.

At least that’s what performer Ela Darling hopes.

“Generally, I am not a fan of Pornhub,” she told International Business Times. “But I do think this could be really good. I think the Pornhub thing can really drive adoption.”

She added that increased access to VR porn, even if it’s free, could help demonstrate its value more quickly. “People who have never paid for porn at all see value in paying for this porn,” she said.

Adult film actress Ela Darling, shown at home in Los Angeles, is a VR porn pioneer. PHOTO: ELA DARLING

Adult film actress Ela Darling, shown at home in Los Angeles, is a VR porn pioneer.
PHOTO: ELA DARLING

For now, Pornhub and other studios dabbling in VR are focusing mostly on prerecorded videos, which are certainly a lot more immersive than traditional videos. But Darling thinks the live “cam show,” where a client pays for one-on-one video chats with a performer, is really VR porn’s killer app.

“The main draw for live cam is an intimate relationship,” she said. “And in VR, I find that the relationships accelerate at a quicker pace. In a regular 2D cam session it might take several sessions to build that chemistry, but in VR, now I’ve got people who after one session feel like they really know me. They were in my bedroom. In VR, you’re not checking your phone or Facebook.”

And to help get those viewers in her bedroom, Darling, who did her first VR porn shoot in 2014 and is one of the industry’s earliest adopters, is a co-owner of VRtube, which has developed a camera system and proprietary software that will sell for about $250. She wasn’t ready to announce an official release date, but said the system will empower performers to make their own VR content. Unlike some previous VR setups, which used a green screen, the VRtube footage plays back just as well in two dimensions, so people who don’t (yet) have a VR headset aren’t left out.

“This allows porn performers to monetize,” Darling said, adding that the immersive nature of VR porn should command a higher price point than traditional video or cam shows. She said the system, which requires nothing more than the camera, a quad-core computer and a private room, can also be a platform for the niche content that big studios aren’t necessarily doing in VR — and which have substantial fan bases.

“Just in the past year there was the first p—ing scene and trans scene in VR,” she said. “There are a lot of aspects of pornography that haven’t yet been done in VR.”


Virtual reality has been branded the “empathy machine,” and Darling believes cam shows in particular can help provide some intimacy to people who aren’t getting it. “There are some people who don’t have access to personal romantic relationships,” Darling said. “Maybe they have mobility issues, are isolated or because of other social constructs.”

And doing live VR performances for fans cuts out the middlemen — most important, those uploading footage illegally on sites like Pornhub. Sure, someone could record and upload a cam show, but it’s not going to be live or interactive.

“If I were still only making prerecorded content, I’d be scared [Pornhub] would eat into my sales,” Darling said. “But in a live scene, I control everything. You can’t pirate a personal relationship.”

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