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The Future of Porn: People Can Now Have Virtual Sex with 3D Versions of Celebrities and Ex-Partners

An online community of 3D graphics designers is making virtual avatars that can look like anyone whose likeness can be used for any reason, without consent of the person.

By December 21, 2019No Comments
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There are a number of themes that run through our coverage of porn-related research, personal accounts, and relevant news—one of those themes is porn’s problematic relationship to consent.

As our society takes steps toward greater respect for sexual consent on college campuses, in the business arena, in Hollywood, and in our daily lives, the porn industry has seemingly celebrated from the sidelines while also producing nonconsensual content every day and profiting from technologies that exploit others.

Meet the latest example of the industry’s backward momentum: 3D sex avatars.

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Computer-generated exploitation

A cousin of deepfakes porn, which involves a real person’s face being transposed onto preexisting explicit content, these avatars are entire computer-generated models made to holistically resemble a real person. The face, the body, the expressions—all of it is tailored in order to “recreate” a virtual version of someone you’d like to have sex with—whether or not this person would actually want to have sex with you.

Vice’s Motherboard recently covered this emerging trend, explaining how forums and marketplaces such as Reddit, Patreon, and independent websites serve as hubs where “communities of anonymous users are making, selling, and getting off to the computer-generated likenesses of celebrities and other real people.”

The process involves the same technologies used in creating virtual reality games or special effects for movies. Programs like Foto2Vam can turn pictures of a real person into an automatically generated 3D model. That model can then be imported into software such as Virt-A-Mate, which turns the model into an interactive VR character. At this point, the avatars can be “articulated into any position, animated, modified, interacted with in real time, and manipulated in ways that defy the constraints of physical reality.”

Related: Creating Deepfakes Porn Could Soon Be As Easy As Using An Instagram Filter, Experts Say

And it’s all for virtual reality sex. As one creator put it, the genre exists as a “sandbox that allows users to create their own fantasies.”

These avatar communities are exploring a number of programs, softwares, and technologies to make the models more and more lifelike—and make the “sex” more realistic. Some users have already created ways to connect popular sex toys to the avatar experience, connecting avatars’ movements to toys’ real-time stimulation.

Avatar-based online forums are full of creators and users discussing how to use avatars to relive sexual acts with ex-girlfriends, give a girl you know body enhancements based on specific tastes, and manufacture sexual experiences with whoever seems appealing—consenting in reality, or not.

A double standard of consent

As it becomes clear through Vice’s interviews with people in the fields of ethical research, actors’ rights, and VR technology, the waters of consent are incredibly muddy when it comes to sex avatars.

Nonconsensual use of a person’s likeness is difficult to regulate or control in an industry so overwhelmingly ubiquitous, where the avatars are made and exchanged on a number of online platforms and often in a low profile and untraceable manner.

Traditionally, as Vice discusses, studios creating 3D likenesses of real people for games or movies have had to obtain the rights to those likenesses before they could even create them, much less use them in any way.

Related: Deepfakes Tech Makes It Possible To Create Fake Porn Videos Of Almost Anyone

But as these technologies advance, hobbyists and independent creators are ignoring those rules of engagement and creating avatars with no consent at all.

The worst part? Anyone is at risk. Most often, avatar creators are choosing to replicate celebrities or ex-partners, but the options are limited only by the available photos of someone online. If a creator can collect photos of someone from several different positions, and with different expressions, they can generate a pretty realistic avatar.

While some lawmakers and industry leaders are seeking ways to protect consent, many people involved in this industry think it should not be regulated at all. Some see this type of virtual sex as simply the result of human sexuality moving forward with modern technologies.

Related: Programmer Creates Facial Recognition Tech To Identify Women In Porn By Comparing Social Media Selfies

As one avatar user put it: “Everyone [gets off] to everyone, it’s human nature, you can’t stop it unless you just stay off grid and never go anywhere or show [yourself] anywhere and nobody knows you even exist…It’s our world and freedom, they can’t stop us from [getting] off, nobody can, they can merely choose extreme privacy.”

See how toxic this mindset is?

Sexuality is intrinsic to human nature, but that does not mean any and every sexual exploit is safe or healthy, that any person with photos online should be exploited, sexualized, and virtually raped by whatever anonymous avatar user feels like it.

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Not a new problem, but not stagnant either

Vice points out that Photoshop and other drawing or 3D programs have been used for years to create nonconsensual porn. Sex avatars are not a totally new problem.

“The difference here,” Motherboard writes, “is that new technologies have democratized the tools for creating this kind of adult content, making them cheaper and easier to use.”

Related: Here’s What It’s Like To See Yourself In A Deepfake Porn Video

With increased affordability and accessibility, it is easier for an average consumer to gain access to an avatar created without consent. People no longer need the skills to create 3D replicas themselves—they can buy a Natalie Portman avatar for $19.95 right alongside any other online shopping they need to get done.

This kind of abuse of consent might have been confined to a small group of tech wizards in the 90s, but now it’s becoming mainstream.

And this accessibility matters, because popular trends influence our norms and beliefs of what’s acceptable and healthy as a society. Porn has done this before, to the detriment of real people. Porn has played a major role in fueling a culture of sexual entitlement, fueling a culture that revolves around personal pleasure and satisfaction at the expense of others.

Related: 7 Things You Can Do If You’re A Victim Of Deepfakes Or Revenge Porn

If using an avatar of your ex-girlfriend, Emma Watson, or Chris Pratt will make a consumer feel good or fulfill a fantasy, what’s stopping them?

To be consistent with our modern and strengthening ideals of respect and consensual sexuality as a culture, we can’t be okay with our culture adopting these practices as healthy. 3D sex avatars, and the porn industry in general, are taking serious backward strides in the fight against rape culture and sexual assault. Consider taking a stand with us for consent by speaking out against an industry that thrives on the exploitation of human beings.