VR gets its own killer app - and it’s pornography

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VR gets its own killer app - and it’s pornography

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Park, a 16-year-old freshman at a high school in Sangdo-dong of southern Seoul, is into virtual reality — really into virtual reality. Thanks to virtual reality, or VR, Park can watch pornography during class breaks. He knows he’ll never get caught. When he has a VR headset on, no teacher or fellow student will have the slightest idea what he’s looking at.

Mr. Lee, a 34-year-old teacher at a high school in Anyang, Gyeonggi, was shocked when he confiscated a VR headset from a student after noticing lots of other students trying to get a look. It was playing porn.

“I’ve confiscated pornographic magazines before, but never have I had to confiscate virtual reality pornography,” Lee said.

Park and his friends call VR pornography “udon,” as in the Japanese noodle, which is derived from Korean slang for pornographic videos, or yadong.

“The most popular yadong among my friends today are udon,” said Park. “When you watch porn on VR, you can watch it at home and your parents can’t catch you as easily. A lot of my friends watch them together by passing around the VR gear.”

They watch porn on VR by connecting their smartphones to an electronic helmet by companies like Samsung and Oculus, or, even cheaper and simpler, inserting their smartphone in a cardboard headset sold by companies like Google.

VR pornography is quickly expanding its online presence: hundreds of VR pornographic films were available on peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing websites when a reporter checked three of them on Monday. Each 30 to 40-minute video sold at prices ranging from 100 to 200 won ($0.08 to $0.17).

Some are shared at no cost whatsoever. Blog websites sharing VR pornography for free are growing in numbers. Most do not have adult authentication system, and under-aged adolescents simply need to register as a user to access pornography.

“Downloading and watching VR pornography from these blog sites is as easy as [illegally] downloading movies and animations online,” said a 16-year-old surnamed Lim, a freshman student at a high school in Bupyeong District, Incheon.

In addition, Korea’s censors haven’t started blocking VR porn, as they do Internet porn. It appears they haven’t caught onto the nickname “udon.”

Some online stores are even selling second-hand VR gear and pornography together as a package deal. A seller on such a website provided a description of his product that read, “Specific instructions on how to navigate pornography websites, as well as 64 gigabytes of VR porno is included [with the VR gear].”

The price of VR headsets sold online and popular among consumers range from 30,000 won to 120,000 won.

VR pornography is gaining traction worldwide. A porn site based in the United States that enjoys 16 billion hits per year created a separate channel for free VR pornography on March 25.

“Just as the circulation of pornography went viral in the early years of the Internet, so VR pornography is likely to go through a similar phase of spikes in production and distribution,” said Lee Jae-hyun, professor of media and information at Seoul National University.
Experts are concerned about the effect of VR pornography on adolescents.

“Adolescents’ brains are more sensitive to visual stimulation, and frontal lobes involved in impulse control are not yet fully developed, meaning that students watching VR pornography can experience strong sexual impulses they cannot control,” said Kim Eun-joo, a doctor at Gangnam Severance Hospital specializing in mental health and Internet addiction. “VR porn also blurs the lines of what is real and what is not, and will be extremely harmful to the development of adolescents’ emotions.”

Parents are concerned.

“I wish the schools would ban use of VR gear except for educational purposes,” said a parent who has a son in seventh grade.

President Lee Kyung-hwa of the Parents’ Union on Net called on the Ministry of Education to provide guidelines on healthy usage of VR equipment and offer students lessons on the harmful effects of pornography.

Police will be proposing to Korea Communications Standards Commission the possibility of censoring VR porn websites, as selling and distributing VR pornography is punishable by law in Korea.


BY SOHN GUK-HEE, PECK SOO-JIN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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