New Technologies Let Pornography Producers Stay On Top

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From black-and-white daguerreotypes of nude women to websites full of pouting porn stars, adult content has always followed hot on the heels of technological progress. And despite the highly publicized anti-porn stance of Apple and Microsoft, modern advances are not immune.

"Any time there's a new communication or entertainment technology that comes out, we want to be the very first, if possible, to make our content available," said Quentin Boyer, a spokesman for adult entertainment company Pink Visual.

For example, the company put out an iPad-optimized website the day before the device was even available in the United States, Boyer said.

Meanwhile, other producers are looking at the iPhone's FaceTime videochat software with decidedly non-face-related uses in mind. A few companies are pioneering three-dimensional porn. And augmented reality, which uses a webcam to insert the viewer into the scene, could be one more step on the way to an erotic virtual-reality experience.

[Read also “The History of Pornography No More Prudish Than the Present.”]

Sex and tech

Human beings have been creating images of other naked human beings for as long as cave paint and carving tools have existed. The invention of the printing press soon led to widespread dissemination of pornographic novels, and both photography and video were hijacked for salacious uses almost immediately after their invention.

"As soon as somebody invents a technology, someone else will invent a sexual use for it," said Joseph Slade, a professor of media arts and studies at Ohio University who has studied pornography and culture over the past 40 years.

Porn's adoption of VHS tapes helped ensure the success of the format, Slade said. And while the early influence of porn on the Internet's development has been overstated, he said, the Internet is "the medium of choice these days."

Going mobile

And now the Internet is going mobile. While a mobile device intended for public use might not seem ideal for porn viewing, phones and iPads have proven to be "great" for pornography, Boyer said. People rarely loan or share their phones like they might desktops or laptops, he said, and they can easily take mobile devices on business trips.

The arrangement works well for the porn producers, too.

"The mobile user is someone who is used to paying for every aspect of their experience. They purchase a plan, a device, and there's less free content optimized for mobile delivery," Boyer said. "It's a proven purchaser, you might call them, and it's a much stronger demographic than the general online one."

Apple and Microsoft have both banned pornographic apps from their devices, but streaming video and the iPhone 4's FaceTime software can easily be exploited for erotic uses. Within days of the iPhone 4's release, Craigslist ads were recruiting women to work as phone-sex operators using FaceTime videochat.

Moving into the third dimension

Meanwhile, some porn producers are trying to keep up with their Hollywood counterparts in the 3-D arena. The first porn movie designed for modern 3-D televisions debuted in May of this year, produced by European porn-maker Marc Dorcel. Porn star and director Tommy Gunn has started a company, London Gunn, devoted entirely to 3-D movies, and in January, the company Bad Girls in 3D began offering a complete at-home 3-D system and annual membership plan for just over $4,000.

The idea of three-dimensional porn is as old as those red and green paper glasses, and a few companies still make movies using the old technology. Part of the challenge of modern 3-D porn, Boyer said, is that filming 3-D is so expensive. Porn may be a multibillion-dollar industry, but most movies cost in the tens of thousands to make. Filming 3-D can push those costs even higher: The Hong Kong 3-D porn film "Zen and Sex," which is still in development, was reported to have a budget of $4 million when shooting began last year.

A lower-cost alternative is augmented reality. This technology mixes virtual and real-world images using a webcam. Users print out a "marker" or "target," usually a blocky black-and-white image, and hold it up to their webcam. The target triggers a "digital hologram"  an animation or image superimposed over your own on the computer screen.

Augmented reality has been used as an advertising gimmick by companies such as General Electric and as an interactive feature in Esquire magazine. Companies such as Pink Visual hope to use it to insert the viewer into the porn scene.

"You hold up the marker, and there's all this virtual stuff surrounding you," Boyer said. "It looks like you're in this 3-D environment."

The company has a demo of the technology that triggers some simple animations and floating X-rated photos, but they plan to release a "more complicated, more interesting" version next year, Boyer said.

DIY Porn

Immersive experiences aside, perhaps the biggest transition in porn has been triggered by the availability of cheap digital cameras. Amateur porn has found a thriving niche on websites such as XTube, where the lines between viewer and performer blur.

"Sexting," the act of taking erotic pictures and sending them over a mobile phone, has also become popular. According to a 2009 survey by The National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teenagers have sent or received a "sext."

"Technology is affording people the ability to be their own porn producer and to explore it in ways that they never have before," Boyer said.

"We're just seeing sexuality pushed out by technology in a way that wasn't possible before the last 10 or 12 years."

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.