Adult VR gaining popularity, but could hurt real relationships

- You've heard of online dating, but what about using virtual reality to interact with the opposite sex? More and more people are turning to adult virtual reality in place of real intimacy.

Virtual reality can take us face to face with a Great White shark or to the highest peak on Earth, but some are slipping on headsets for a "steamier" experience: virtual reality sex.

"It's instant gratification and we are in a society where we love to have instant gratification and this is very accessible and sex feels really good," said Dr. Morgan Francis of Scottsdale Premier Counseling.

Francis is a therapist, specializing in sex and relationships. Clients seek her help when virtual lovers become a very real problem.

"Instead of a person having feelings for a real affair partner, they're having feelings now for an avatar that's not even real," she said.

Just like mainstream games, adult virtual reality, or VR, takes gamers to an alternate world. Dr. Francis says users can interact with the digital stars and some VR headsets even release pheromones.

"Most people who experience VR are surprised by how actually realistic it is and they feel as if they are transported into another space," said Tristan Parrish Moore, Creative Director and founder of Broken Window Studios in Phoenix.

Moore says developers are constantly upping their game. In fact, some VR content comes with physical accessories designed to mimic human contact.

"There's kind of like life vest things that have vibrations and punches into it or there's definitely controllers that have a vibration feedback," he said.

Tishin Donkersley is the Managing Editor at Tech.co. She says this year's prestigious Consumer Electronics Show included demos of adult VR. Proof of the demand for ever-more life-like experiences.

"They feel like they're in the game or in that environment, so they get an adrenaline or emotional response from that because they feel like I'm here, I'm doing this," she said.

According to Piper Jaffray Investment Bank, the Adult VR industry could rake in over $1 billion by 2020, just behind VR gaming and VR sports. But the psychological cost of using Adult VR is immeasurable. 

"It does inhibit and it does create poor memory, working memory, impulsivity, long term depression -- it can create isolation," said Dr. Francis.

Dr. Francis says Adult VR can also compromise real-life partners and lovers.

"The avatar is doing what the person is wanting them to do, so they don't feel like they can compete with that, so there's a real true sense of rejection..  their own sense of isolation, their own fear about their attractiveness."

Dr. Francis hopes the VR industry will regulate content to protect users. Because even those who design these games know there's a fine line between fantasy and fixation.

"As immersive experiences get better, I think that more people who would be less inclined to do that with a lower quality product might be feeling the temptation to sync into that and become overly obsessed with that in a way that could be destructive to their personal lives if they're not careful," said Moore.

Dr. Francis says that there are appropriate, healthy ways couples can use adult virtual reality to strengthen their relationships. She says in some countries, the technology is also used for health education.

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