A few weeks ago Mark Metaberg burst onto the scene. Mark Zuckerberg is dragging himself from purgatory, post the whistleblowing drama of a certain Cambridge Analytica scandal, and re-baptizing himself through reimagining Facebook to Meta. Repenting for his sins, Mark anointed his rebrand with strong ties to the ‘metaverse’, beckoning us all to the heavenly tech ether like it is the pony we never got for Christmas. Meta is the glossy immortal new tech-god that scripture entices:
"A hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together—and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world."
As a luddite, my initial reaction was to flee for the commune, hopefully somewhere high in the Swiss Alps or deep in the Amazon. Surprisingly, as a spawn of the twentieth century, I have barely managed to wrap my head around PhotoShop or this reality, let alone the possibility of having to build a Sims-for-adults world to integrate into trans-modern society. So, what the fuck is the Metaverse?
Meta’s enticing tagline that champions the programmability of connection as evolution has become unavoidable, largely due to the light-speed production of our technological world. The ‘metaverse’ is not new – for a brilliantly articulated and informative read, I suggest my fellow CV contributor, Barron Hanson’s piece titled “What’s the big deal about the Metaverse?” as a crash course on our not so distant, increasingly tangible future. The metaverse is the technological embodiment of virtual everything: smart glasses that allow for shared experience, 3D spaces for learning, collaboration, play, virtual reality and augmented reality. Accessibility is through but not limited to our phones, computers, headsets and wearable technology. Regardless of my bias, Zuckerberg’s shiny new tech-toy and the all-encompassing metaverse will allow for an otherness, an extension of our physical realm in which we are transformed into a virtual world stacked atop our current concept of reality.
Leading me down an internet spiral, the metaverse has prompted me to question connection and, ultimately, sex. Where does connection fit into this projection? Is sex embodied in this previously sci-fi interpretation of our world? What are the great possibilities and the unforeseen perils? The two central questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s pop-culture lips. The sex-tech industry is worth $30 billion, with a 30% increase in profit margins every year. With this in mind, one could argue that it is inevitable due to profits, capitalism, globalisation and consumer demand (all intricately linked in with technology) that our most primal and intimate relations will be commodified, expanded, reimagined and augmented.
The expansion of artificial intelligence within the sex toy industry, once a utopian niche, is proving to be the driving force of achieving a more personalised and sensually interactive experience. It seems the manual masturbation of the past, of hands and fingers, is being replaced by a cooler, sleeker, more enticing model; is this what it was like when porn became available on the internet rather than just from the forbidden section in Video Ezy?
At the 2018 Asian Adult Entertainment Expo, company BBK presented a seminar campaigning upcoming technology that takes disconnected online sex to immersive sex. The proposed sex experience in the metaverse is further embodied by adding smell, gloves and body captors to increase “realness”. Their technology specifically included virtual reality headsets and wireless masturbators. Additionally, BBK allows users to customise their very own cyber lover – cue NSFW Sims for consenting adults. Female-led companies are currently pioneering the way, with brands like Lioness and Ose, championing innovative award-winning technology described as the “Fitbits of female orgasms”. Additionally, there is the buzz about “teledildonics”, the intersection between sex toys and the smartphone. This allows greater immersion, for example, for long-distance connections between lovers, Omegle chat meet-ers or sex-cam customers. However, like all tech industries, the sex tech industry collects data to improve the aforementioned experiences. Which leads me to question, how do we control privacy in this way? Do I need my orgasm being used on a feedback data loop? Is it selfish to not want better orgasms for all? Or is that our sacred practice that should be patented for our own usage? The sexverse, an arm of the metaverse, currently seems to have more questions than answers.
Furthermore, virtual reality (VR) technologies are expanding rapidly, taking sexual fantasies along with them. But what does this look like? My favourite scene from Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock’s 1993 flick Demolition Man speaks to the polarised experiences within this new paradigm: Should sex stay the old-school mouth-to-mouth, hands on thighs routine or transcend (I use this loosely) to new possibilities? Because we should no longer subscribe to the archaic ideologies of sex as only a means for reproduction, and also campaign for consensual pleasure, it seems like an inevitable extension of the sex-positive paradigm we are moving towards. Expression of sexuality and pleasure, I believe, is one of our sacred birthrights. For people unable to have skin-on-skin contact or freely express their sexuality, the possibility to still be exposed to an embodied pleasure experience aligned with their desires appears to be a vital resource that virtual reality sex could give space for. For those in relationships, is sex in the cyber world just an extension of masturbation or is it cheating given the immersive quality of VR? Are we now polyamorous if we have a cyber-other that fills voids our flesh partner cannot? Whilst it is not a conversation I would’ve ever imagined having within my intimate relationships, it currently feels somewhat unavoidable because ‘the future’ is here, staring us in the face.
As the evolution of connection is advancing two-fold and programmed out of our control, are we peaking as homosapiens? Or is this the final disconnect from our humble beginnings? Whilst I mostly have questions with little answers, the discourse surrounding sex in the metaverse is imperative. The expression of sexuality, within spaces of consensual, fundamentally healthy and pleasurable sex experiences should allow for experimentation and immersion into one’s desired experience; perhaps, this is what sex in the metaverse is about? I’ll let you decide. Regardless of your stance, hold onto your IRL and virtual hats cowboys and cowgirls; this is going to be a wild ride.