The future of adult entertainment


Richard Watson, Chief Futurist at Future Exploration Network, has found that his newly launched bestseller Future Files: A History of the Next 50 Years, has generated a very diverse range of interesting opportunities. One of the enquiries was from AVN, a publishing company that focuses on the adult entertainment industry, wanting insights into where their world was heading. Richard invited me to co-write the article on The Future of Adult Entertainment [NOTE: Link deleted as it became even less workplace-friendly]. (The link is not entirely workplace-friendly, even though the article itself is mainly about social and technological trends, so I’ve posted the full article below.)

The Future of Adult Entertainment

New technologies could take it almost anywhere.

Richard Watson and Ross Dawson

We are told the world we live in is changing like never before. We have become exquisitely dependent on technology, which is increasingly pervasive and exponentially fast. Whether this is true is open to debate, but it seems reasonably certain that technology will be one of the key forces shaping how people meet and interact with one another in the future. Hence, technology will heavily influence the future of sex and, with it, the future of adult entertainment – or perhaps vice versa.

The future always has been deeply embedded in the present, and physical relationships are no exception. For example, according to one source, 30 percent of recently married American couples met online. Intimate relationships now can be developed online via email, text messaging and phone sex, and they can be ended this way, too. A few years ago in Malaysia, a man sent his wife a divorce via an SMS message, although a court later said this communication was not legally binding.

Similarly, many a relationship has been terminated because one party (quite often, a woman, it seems) finds evidence of physical or virtual infidelity in sent messages. Will this get worse in the future? It certainly seems so. So-called Internet-porn addiction already is straining some relationships, and it will be interesting to see how future technologies will impact our definitions of virginity, celibacy, adultery and the like.

Of course, technology has a history of being put to unintended uses.

Printing gave rise to the production of “penny dreadfuls,” while one of the early developments of still photography was the “what the butler saw” machine.

More recently, the relative privacy of the VCR drove demand for pornographic films, while, of course, pornography was one of the earliest commercial pioneers of the Internet and one of the very first industries to grapple with online-business models.

In fact, many technologies have developed far faster than they otherwise would have because of the adult-entertainment industry. The VCR only took off because people bought players to watch adult entertainment in the privacy of their homes. Once there were enough machines in homes, other types of movies were worth releasing in the new format. Similarly, the adoption of broadband Internet was greatly accelerated by consumers wanting to watch videos of men and women playing together. Otherwise, it may have taken many years longer to get companies to invest in broadband technologies to the extent they have today.

Technology-wise, what’s next that could lead to the development of new forms of adult entertainment? High-definition TV and surround sound are starting to become more mainstream, so we undoubtedly will see the development of products that, in some way, capture the cinema-going experience. While 3D TV is a possibility too, it has been talked about before and never really made it. What is much more likely is that virtual worlds and fully sensory experiences (i.e., 5D TV) will be a feature of the future, one way or another. These virtual pornographic playgrounds probably will start off appealing to lonely and sexually frustrated young singles and eventually be used by older couples, especially seniors who are prevented from physically exploring sexuality by their aging bodies or societal pressure. Porn for the over-80 crowd? You bet.

If you think fully immersive virtual sex is pure sci-fi, you’re right. But science fiction has a habit of turning into science fact, given enough time, so anything that exists now in comic books, video games or movies eventually will become more than a virtual reality. Moreover, as life becomes faster and more stressful, fantasy and escape will become an even more significant entertainment phenomenon and technology will open up all kinds of previously unattainable pleasures. Some of this will be pure fantasy. Virtually sleeping with celebrities or fighting dragons and seducing damsels in distress will be one option; at the other end of the escapist spectrum, “authentic” experiences with ordinary people will be popular for similar reasons.

Almost every form of entertainment is becoming participatory. When it comes to sex, the more engaged, the better. When Second Life created an alternative world, it didn’t take long before avatars moved beyond chatting to more intimate forms of engagement. Red Light Center and others have created virtual adult worlds where anything goes. The next step is for these worlds to become far more realistic. The latest game consoles already can render nearly lifelike images of people, and it won’t be long before on-screen avatars are indistinguishable from movie stars. There will be many choices of who a user can become online, ranging from an accurate image entered through a body scan to an enhanced image such as the user’s face put on a slightly more toned body to becoming a favorite porn star.

Of course, sex is not nearly as much fun when done through a mouse and keyboard. It already is possible to control an on-screen avatar using a camera that converts a user’s movements into digital actions. For example, when a user lifts a hand and moves it, an avatar could lift his hand to fondle a breast. Since body movements can be replicated by avatars, the result is realistic interactions with other avatars or digital personalities.

In Japan, the telecommunications company NTT DoMoCo is experimenting with ways of downloading smells from the Internet. Other companies are using “haptic technology” to deliver the illusion of touching things that don’t really exist; early examples include nonexistent cell-phone buttons that feel like real buttons when “pushed.”

Scientists have created surfaces that can be digitally made to feel like silk, wood, metal or any other surface – skin, perhaps. Gloves embedded with these kinds of sensors also can be programmed to give the impression of touching hard or soft surfaces, such as bedposts, whip handles or buttocks.

Visionary Marshall McLuhan said the media are extensions of our senses. For example, television is an extension of our eyes, while radio extends our ears around the world. Now, the marvelously named field of “teledildonics” promises to extend the reach of our genitals to wherever the Internet exists. We can maintain marital relationships with our spouses while we are on business trips, or perhaps we might choose to engage with any number of breathless partners around the world, real or digitally created.

At the time this article was written, a U.S. company was about to launch clothing that connects to the Internet to imitate the impact of real punches when a user’s virtual self or avatar is punched or otherwise attacked in cyberspace. Add a dose of pharmaceuticals – legal or illegal – and things could get very interesting.

Incidentally, prior to the 1960s, pharmaceutical companies were not really involved with sex, but the contraceptive pill, HIV/AIDS and Viagra have changed that. And it’s highly likely that this involvement will increase. Viagra for women? Possibly.

Again, we’ve already seen this – in a sense – in an early prototype of a medical implant that gives a woman an orgasm at the touch of a button, so perhaps the sexual-accessories market could develop in a number of unforeseen ways, with industries as distinct as filmmaking, clothing, medicine and medical insurance finding ways to fuse.

The second key force influencing how individuals will behave in the future, both in public and in private, is societal attitudes. In some ways, sexual mores have reversed over time. Sex now sells in the same way that death sold in Victorian times. When Queen Victoria was on the throne, death was a favored topic and sex was a taboo subject. (In private, things perhaps were not that different from today. Look up what a “Prince Albert” is and where the expression came from, and you might agree).

However, some things have moved on, and what was considered sexually unacceptable only 50 years ago now is quite mainstream – and even passé.

Indeed, one could argue that sex, like art, has lost much of its power to shock and offend. For example, S&M is now so out in the open that in London, there’s an S&M café in Covent Garden where you can browse S&M catalogs while sitting on the pavement drinking a cappuccino.

Of course, things could move in the opposite direction. Perhaps a new form of prudery will become a dominant force in reaction to the widespread availability and use of pornography, or maybe an increasing conservative society will move to make virtual infidelity grounds for physical divorce.