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The approaching scourge of virtual-reality porn

Alex Bersin

Before the Internet, it was easy to think of pornography as a worldly problem far removed from the church. Videos and magazines could only be bought in stores, which required showing one’s face at a public establishment - something most Christians probably avoided. But by the time I was 15, I had a computer in my room with a wire to the world. Suddenly, pornography could be accessed at the touch of a button and, more importantly, with complete anonymity.

This puts me in the unfortunate 97 percent of Christian men who’ve viewed pornography, according to a recent survey of 1,000 subjects (64 percent of Christian men view it at least once a month). It’s not only a problem outside of the church; it’s pervasive. And it’s only going to get worse.

TechCrunch recently reported on collaboration between a virtual-reality pornography company and a sex toy company that may represent the future of porn. Speaking from regrettable experience, I have to agree.

During the time I was addicted to it, a new trend had developed: interactive porn. Videos and stories began offering a variety of optional scenarios, allowing the consumer to feel more a part of the action. I no longer had to join in on a particular producer’s fantasy; I could create my own. The addition of Internet-connected sex toys, coined "teledildonics" and programmed to respond to a virtual reality environment, only increases the user’s control.

Connecting pornography with virtual reality is dangerous because, even more so than traditional pornography, it acts as a replacement for relational intimacy. Earlier this year comedian Russell Brand, of all people, noted the destructive effects of this in a confessional video that surprisingly echoed Christian thinking on sex, integrity and community.

Connecting pornography with virtual reality is dangerous because it further acts as a replacement for relational intimacy.

Some think pornography is nothing more than naked people and explicit sexual situations, but it’s really about fantasy and pre-packaged intimacy that promises 100-percent satisfaction. Actual, relational intimacy is difficult and comes with no shortage of bumps and bruises along the way. Meaning that sometimes it’s satisfying and sometimes it’s not. In fact, the lie that healthy, marital sex will provide greater satisfaction than pornography is almost as damaging as the lie that porn is harmless. Because the truth is love and intimacy require effort, just like anything else.

Thus, the allure of pornography is its convenience-store intimacy. And the more it mimics the real thing (to an extent), the less appealing the real thing, with its attendant "work," becomes. Even the TechCrunch article points out that virtual-reality porn could become a substitute to real relationships for those who struggle to maintain them. Author Dan Kaplan wrote:

It’s not difficult to imagine a future where a cohort of the male population - especially those who have trouble connecting with members of their preferred sex - sits at home many nights with the Oculus Rift strapped to their heads, living out their sexual fantasies in VR, having their psychology further shaped and distorted by the persistent absence of connection with real life people.

This is a long way from love, to say nothing of the sort of love that Jesus commanded. And I take the need for it to be commanded as an implication that loving people isn’t easy. Love teaches us to put others first and ourselves second, sometimes last. Love humbles us and refines us into the kind of people God wants in His kingdom. And this sort of love extends to sexual intimacy. As John Piper says, “happy and fulfilling sexual relations in marriage depend on each partner aiming to give satisfaction to the other.”

Relationships teach us self-sacrifice, but porn teaches us self-gratification. It teaches us to rely on ourselves and become insular, to not even bother reaching for relationship. And in a virtual-reality future, real relationships will drift even further away.

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