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What It's Like to Experience a Virtual Reality Orgy

If you thought real orgies weren't nerve-racking enough, try sitting through a tantric sex film shot in 360 degree virtual reality.

Katherine Templar Lewis

Katherine Templar Lewis

All photos via "Viens!"

"Put your feet on the ground. Don't hold the headset. And breathe." The experience will only last 12 minutes, I'm told. But 12 minutes is a very long time in the middle of a virtual reality orgy.

Where do I look? Every time I move my head, playful, naked writhing bodies loom out of a white billowing cloud of abstract space. They are looking right at me; they are all fucking. My swivel chair swings me round and round, and inside my headset the world itself slowly turns upside down. There are bodies now above and below me. All smiling straight at me. I keep my hands still. I try to breathe. I try to set my face in a look of neutral artistic appreciation in case anyone is watching me. Twelve minutes is a long time...

This is my first sexual experience in VR: a real orgy filmed in 360 degrees, played around me in a virtual world, and I'm right in the middle. I'm arguably being very selfish, as I'm the only one here receiving and not giving. I can look, but I can't touch anybody except myself—I'm guessing a warehouse in South Tottenham, London, surrounded by strangers on a Tuesday afternoon, is neither the time nor place. Am I a voyeur? Am I empowered? What the hell are the rules?

"Don't be a dick and don't be a pussy. It's that simple," smiles Carl Guyenette, the man leading me down this sexual rabbit hole. Guyenette's orange dreadlocks tumble across his smiling face, which features multiple piercings. He is also the cofounder and creative technologist at SpheresVR and the creative behind the VR film Viens! (French for "Come!"), which I am currently experiencing.

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Don't be fooled by the dreads—Guyenette was recently described as a "brilliant creative technologist and futurist" and tipped as one to watch by the founders of the World VR Forum, where he was invited to give this year's closing speech. He delivered his talk on the role of VR on future human consciousness while wearing a multicolored leopard print onesie. This year, his films have made the official selection at both Sundance and Cannes. Refuge, his recent piece of 360-degree journalism shot in Lesvos about the current refugee crisis, is breathtakingly powerful.

He also has his eyes firmly trained on the radical possibilities of virtual reality—even if it does make him sound like a character from a William Gibson novel. "We've got to start thinking about what reality will like when we are not limited by our human form," he tells me. "With social VR we are effectively going into the meta-mindspace. We'll be able to travel inside someone's mind in the same way as if travelling through their own room at home. Holoportation Tinder will be a thing and it will be happening the next couple of years."

Directed by VR filmmaker Michel Reilhac and filmed by Guyenette, Viens! involved 14 cameras, ambisomic surround sound recording, and seven people all having tantric sex in a sunlit warehouse in Paris last year. But it is not a porn film. As Reilhac explained at Cannes, where it was officially selected for the film festival's first VR pavilion, it's an experiment meant to transform and "test the boundaries of intimacy, presence and empathy."

So do I feel transformed? It's undeniably a very sexual experience, and it definitely isn't like watching a porn film. But then 360 degree VR films aren't films. There is no shot-led narrative. It is not like watching a surround cinema. Done right, your brain actually interprets it as a real experience, physically and emotionally.

Dr Slyvia Xueni Pan, a lecturer in computing science at Goldsmiths, explained at the recent Virtual Futures Forum that VR creates both a placement and plausibility illusionwithin the human brain. Real time positioning, 3D stereo display, and total field of view convinces your brain you really are there. "If situations and events that happen in VR actually correlates to your actions and relates personally to you," she said in her talk, "then you react towards these events as if they were real."

As the sex nymphs in Viens! are filmed to look straight at me, my brain believes I'm not just watching an orgy but am participating in it, albeit in a hands-off way. Their smiles trigger an automatic positive impression in my brain. Which is why, despite my attempt at a neutral face, I can't help but smile back.

The second spinoff of the plausibility illusion is that my brain is well on its way to storing this in its real memory bank. It means that next time I'm actually in an orgy, I may already have a wealth of so-called experience to help me handle the situation. It doesn't just have great potential for fast track learning—it also opens a door to a whole new world for experimental sex. "Whatever your kink or fetish, there's a whole new way to experience it," Guyenette grins. "Reality becomes whatever you perceive it to be. VR is spatial and temporal storytelling, it's about changing your perception, challenging stuff, we are pioneering consciousness."

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Is this the future of sex? I haven't even taken my clothes off. A huge problem—both for me and everyone else in the world, or so I'm assured—is heartbreak through the inability to separate sex and attachment, or lust and love. During sex and post-coital cuddling, the brain releases the chemical oxytocin, making you feel happy, loved, and attached to the person in your arms.

My mother warned me about getting pregnant, but had less advice about being ghosted. Virtual sex could allow you to avoid the morning after, when the attachment impulse crashes into the empty space beside you.

Is virtual intimacy more empowering for women; more emotionally safe? Films like Viens! actively hack your brain and take you on a genuine sexual journey without you even having to leave your swivel chair. And without the danger of getting pregnant. Sex, reality, life: It's all about to become next level, so buckle up and enjoy. As Guyenette says, "Here's your experience ticket. You get one ride only. Try not to hurt anyone. Go."