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A viral VR sex suit and what it says about us

Engadget Engadget 28/04/2016 Christopher Trout
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He'd had a terrible morning and an even worse afternoon.

Exhausted by human interaction, Roger returned home, eager to slam a beer, throw on his bathrobe and lie back in his big leather recliner while Rhonda gave him one of her signature hand jobs. Unfortunately, Rhonda was programmed to make him dinner that night and, anticipating his mood, readjusted her earlier, more optimistic projections for the day's outcome.

Assuming he wouldn't want to be bothered, she decided to make Roger his favorite meal. Rhonda was just four months out of the factory and was still getting to know her new human companion. She would soon learn that he valued sex over food, but for now, she was all in on dinner.

Beef Wellington doesn't make itself, and Roger realized it would be hours before Rhonda would be free to service him. While her nimble robot fingers were occupied by another slab of meat, he proceeded to "Plan B," a beta program that delivered live holographic camgirls right to your bedroom.

The service was shaky at best, occasionally delivering only the upper or lower torso and cutting out at key moments, but if he couldn't have Rhonda, it was the next best thing. Anyway, he'd grown tired of the interactive VR sex clubs of his youth and longed for uncomplicated, one-on-one action.

It's a future defined by the same phrase that applies to so much of mainstream consumer electronics: Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

As Angelo the hologram swiveled like a doped-up water snake on a floating bed just feet from his face, he could feel the bionic penis in his pants begin to stir. Roger had lost his johnson years prior through a series of unfortunate mistakes involving a drone, a teledildonic sex sleeve and a pot of hot wax. As his brain's pleasure centers fired off, his soft robotic appendage responded in kind.

This is the jaw-dropping future of sex that scientists, futurists and technologists are selling us today. Roger's experience, no matter how far-out, is the stuff the media and its readers eat up. It's a far-out, but seemingly attainable, future.

But there's another, clumsier future of sex -- one that no one asked for and will likely never come to be. It's a future defined by the same phrase that applies to so much of mainstream consumer electronics: Just because you can doesn't mean you should. As the excitement around sexbots and holographic brothels heats up, sex-tech vaporware, raunchy April Fools' jokes and libidinous crap gadgets are just as likely to go viral as the truly exciting, life-changing advances in sexual health.

Even seemingly exciting advancements like the "world's first bionic penis" tend toward the sensational. As it turns out, that penis was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill penile implant.

When it comes to sex and tech, the press has a tendency to take everything at face value. Why dig deep on a subject that touches us all, when we can make a dick joke instead?

Just days after April Fools,' Elite Daily reported on a virtual reality sex suit called the "Full Body Virtual Interface." The article sourced Rice Digital as the origin of a video showing the haptic sex suit in action. The ridiculously cumbersome getup consists of a failed gaming peripheral called the Novint Falcon, a Tenga sex sleeve, a pair of silicone breasts, what appears to be a Gear VR and a white spandex bodysuit covered in black velcro straps and power cords. The suit apparently syncs to a VR videogame from Illusion VR called "Sexy Beach." Rice Digital betrayed its clickbait-y motivation in the conclusion of its story, exemplifying just how mindless most coverage of sex and tech truly is with the following:

"The Full Body Virtual Interface, as it has been clinically named, will set you back a paltry £300 and will perfectly simulate a clumsy sexual encounter I once had with a girl called Jenny, on the periphery of an ice rink in Swindon, as a 14 year old boy.

Which is more detail than I had originally planned to give you on this, but apparently I need another 95 words to fill the SEO quota as recommended by the WordPress editor underneath the text box I'm typing into."

And yet, for at least one week this month, this awkward unitard was the hottest thing on the internet. The Rice Digital demo video went viral, garnering more than 2 million views on YouTube, and eventually appeared on The Daily Show. Trevor Noah took the "Japanese so foolish" approach to mocking the suit saying "Yeah, that's a real thing my friends;" Maxim warned that "the future of sex is here, and it's a sad, lonely nightmare;" and Refinery29 said "... if you're a straight man who is sick of hooking up with living, breathing women and don't mind shelling out tons of cash to sweat inside a sex suit, it looks like the internet has answered your prayers."

Reports said the $400 makeshift unitard had sold out with zero citation. Some nodded to the timing of the news, but no one was calling bullshit. The internet reveled in its ridiculousness, warning of a technosexual apocalypse. And yet a simple YouTube search surfaces a video posted by user "Are You Like Adult Video Game,' titled "Illusion VR -- is real or April Fools,'" dated April 1st. The account's previous entries include demos of "Sexy Beach," the video game at the heart of a hopeful and successful viral video campaign.

The suit was likely no more than a smartly timed PR stunt gone viral, but it illustrates our awkward relationship with sex. No matter how groundbreaking or viable the technology, we spin puns and poke fun at the expense of having a real conversation about innovation in the field of sexual health. We conjure our best adolescent dick jokes instead of discussing our relationship with machines. And we allow even the most ridiculous news to become truth because, despite its fundamental role in human existence, sex has the ability to turn society into a classroom full of 13-year-olds who just heard the words "Lake Titicaca" for the first time.

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