Over the past few years, we have written extensively about the potential of the metaverse as a place where meaningful social activities take place. For many tech players and commentators, it is the next big thing and something they long for one way or another. Yet, one topic remains underexposed amid all the buzz around the metaverse: porn.
Porn is worth studying as it has always been closely linked with technological innovation and the porn sector has often been an early adopter (some even argue it has been an important driver of innovation). Especially the analogy with the early days of the internet is worth keeping in mind when imagining the metaverse. Comparable to the internet in the 90s, the metaverse is often idealized as an interactive medium, where users participate in collective practices such as visiting a virtual exposition or festival. However, instead of this radically creative and democratic “information superhighway”, most of the internet has become a giant passive streaming and swiping entertainment universe, with porn accounting for a significant portion of daily internet traffic and Google searches. Does the metaverse await the same fate? Interface improvements such as haptic suits and virtual glasses will only amplify the attractiveness of porn in these immersive worlds. And Gen Z, sometimes labeled the “puriteen” generation, is developing a complex relationship with intimacy in our digital society. If these underlying economic and cultural trends do not change, we should not be surprised if the (early phase of the) metaverse turns out as a virtual Red Light District.