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Sex dolls, live models make 'virtual intercourse' feel real

Camming site CamSoda calls itself a "virtual strip club." Now new integrations with VR, connected toys and sex dolls will take users into the back rooms to "do it without doing it."

Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Editors' note: Some of the language and descriptions in this story are not suited for younger readers.  

CamSoda is an adult-oriented live "camming" site dubbed "a virtual strip club with no cover" by its creators. At any time, visitors can log on and view the public live feed of the model of their choice, tipping her with the site's digital currency if they enjoy the show. Should they want something more intimate, users can request a private, one-on-one show -- the online equivalent of a back-room lap dance.

As of this week, those users have an even more intimate and interactive option. 

The big idea might sound like something straight out of sci-fi, but here it is: Watch a private, one-on-one feed in virtual reality as you have sex with a "teledildonic" sex doll that transmits your tactile data to the model's matching vibrator (and vice versa).

It's virtual sex, and both parties will "feel" it.

Virtual, but real

This push for virtual sex is the result of a new partnership between CamSoda and Abyss Creations, maker of top-of-the-line sex dolls called RealDolls. CamSoda calls the integration "virtual intercourse with real people," or VIRP (not to be confused with "vurp," which Urban Dictionary defines as "a burp laced with a little vomit").

CamSoda supports all Google-compliant VR headsets, and plans to support headsets like Samsung's Gear VR and the Oculus Rift too.

CamSoda supports all Google-compliant VR headsets, and plans to support headsets like Samsung's Gear VR and the Oculus Rift too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unfortunate acronym choices aside, the company describes "VIRPing" as a new kind of adult experience -- the chance for its users to experience something akin to live sex with their favorite performers in real time. Even as tech steadily creeps into our sex lives, it's an eyebrow-raising idea, and one that raises plenty of questions.

CamSoda has a history of racy promotions, including a sex-smell-distributing "Oh-roma" gas mask attachment for your VR headset, as well as an app that lets you lick your phone to practice oral sex techniques, or log in using a picture of your erect penis. While Parker maintains that none of those were meant as jokes, all seem like marketing stunts.

VIRP, on the other hand, could impact the camming industry -- and maybe even the direction of our tech-infused sex lives.

"You'll feel what the model is doing and she'll feel what you're doing," says Daryn Parker, VP at CamSoda. "By putting on the goggles and having that live model available to you, you now are totally engrossed in this space."

The tech that makes VIRP possible comes from Lovense, one of a growing crop of connected-sex-toy manufacturers. The two-way communication Parker describes happens between the Lovense Max and Lovense Nora, a masturbatory sleeve and rabbit-style vibrator, respectively. Each connects with the user's smartphone, allowing the sharing of controls or even the syncing of devices with a partner. (Lovense says every byte of personal data that passes through its servers is fully encrypted using the same technology Google, Skype and FaceTime use.)

Technically, a single Max or Nora is all you need to VIRP with a Nora-equipped CamSoda model. Neither costs more than $100. But Parker insists the Max-fitted RealDolls are worthwhile upgrades. "They're heavy," he points out. "Physically, it's a large doll and it weighs a lot. It feels real. It definitely pulls you in."

Partial-body dolls (basically just torsos without heads or limbs) start at around $1,500 (about £1,070, or AU$1,875), while full-size dolls typically sell for at least $5,000 and can sell for many thousands more, depending on the level of customization. Abyss Creations tells us the cost of equipping a RealDoll with a specially fitted Max insert hasn't been locked down yet. One key problem: Custom-built RealDolls can take months to ship, and it isn't an easy task to retrofit the Max into existing dolls.

Full-size RealDolls typically cost at least several thousand dollars depending on the level of customization, but CamSoda says you can VIRP without one too.

Full-size RealDolls typically cost at least several thousand dollars depending on the level of customization, but CamSoda says you can VIRP without one too.

Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

As for the VIRP sessions themselves, pricing is up to the model, but CamSoda says pre-negotiated private chats typically cost at least a few dollars per minute. One-on-one chats pull models away from the public rooms where they can best build their fan bases, so many models also request that users commit to a minimum duration before agreeing to go private.

Parker says the company is in the "super early adopter phase" and VIRP isn't intended to be a moneymaker yet. "This is really more to explore the technology to see what's going to work and what's not going to work," he says.

But is this sex?

Few would challenge the legality of consenting adults baring all online, but VIRP may be headed for murky waters. To be clear, explicit masturbation broadcasts are already one of the main draws on sites like CamSoda, and that's essentially what a VIRP session is. The difference is the direct, intimate connection with the viewer. CamSoda calls it virtual intercourse, but is that something it can legally sell?

CamSoda says yes, rejecting the notion that there's anything illegal about VIRP. "It would be turning prostitution laws on their head to say that a virtual relationship using self-pleasure devices across countries, continents and time zones violates a real-world prostitution law," Parker says.

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Still, it might depend on where you live. Regulation of prostitution in the US is left to the states, and definitions vary. Nevada legalized the practice in some counties, for instance, while here in Louisville, Kentucky, "a person is guilty of prostitution when he engages or agrees or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee."

The Kentucky penal code goes on to define "sexual conduct" as "sexual intercourse or any act of sexual gratification involving the sex organs." It also prohibits things like permitting or promoting prostitution.

The idea of laws like that applying to remote, web-connected individuals might sound like a stretch, but their framers likely didn't foresee direct, genital-to-genital Bluetooth transmissions. It's also not hard to imagine the technology improving as time goes on, blurring the lines even further.

As it sometimes tends to, the tech may be evolving faster than the culture surrounding it.

A sexual safe space

"The beauty of this is that you can do so many things that you can't do in the real world," Parker says, listing concerns like disease and pregnancy that don't apply to virtual sex. "It's completely safe." 

Parker even goes on to describe users with wives or girlfriends who've sought out CamSoda models for virtual threesomes, telling me it happens more often than you might think. (Granted, there's no accounting for second or third parties who feel pressured to participate in an act that to them feels ambiguous, morally or otherwise, due to the virtual nature of VIRP.)

"The problem with a threesome is that inevitably someone gets jealous and you're not in complete control," Parker says. "Here, this user's girlfriend was in complete control because she could turn this model off at the touch of a button. She wasn't intimidated that her boyfriend was having virtual sex with a cam model while she was participating, because she was in control."

CamSoda model Charley Hart sees VIRPing as an exciting new way to connect with fans. "It's whatever we want it to be," she says.

CamSoda model Charley Hart sees VIRPing as an exciting new way to connect with fans. "It's whatever we want it to be," she says.

Charley Hart

That sense of control extends to the models, too. Private sessions are pre-negotiated, and models can kick abusive users out of their rooms with a click.

"I don't do anything unless I'm OK with it," says Charley Hart, an adult entertainer and CamSoda model. "It's all about what we're comfortable with."

To be sure, there's probably plenty to say no to. Lewd demands from viewers can often cross the line, but Hart also describes users who just want someone to talk to.

"We're there for so many different reasons," she adds, before listing various motivations men might have for spending time with a model in virtual space -- not all of them sexual. As for VIRPing?

"I think all of us girls are really excited to reach out to our fans in a new and different way."

An ambiguous future

The idea of virtual space providing a sort of sexual surrogacy has long been the fodder of sci-fi sequences (think of the cybersex headsets from "Demolition Man," or the holographic threesome scene in last year's "Blade Runner: 2049"). VIRP may be a way for users to realize those fantasies, Hart says. But she adds there's plenty of uncertainty about this new frontier among the model community.

"We realize that we're ushering in a new dawn," she says, "so there's that excitedness of, 'Oh my gosh we're advancing so far, and how cool that we can do it without doing it? Everyone gets what they want,' along with, 'Oh my gosh, how scary and how disconnected it is.'"

In the end, Hart says it all comes back to control. At one point during our conversation, she casually makes a colorful (and unprintable) comparison to porn as she describes what it's like to have fans lining up for private, Nora-enabled sessions. My eyebrow raises, but to her, it's an exciting fantasy where she sets the terms.

"I mean, in my head, I can make it as sexual or as nice as I want when a guy is controlling my toy. It's whatever we want it to be."