Ready to Play? VR, Gaming and New Vistas for Sexual Education

Video games promise new and immersive forms of sex ed.


Gaming has lead to all kinds amazing innovations. To quickly name just two: it has been a major factor in the growth of social media and, technologically, it has been been the spur of several breakthroughs.

A wildly popular and extremely profitable form of entertainment—surpassing $23 billion in 2015—it is also showing signs that it’s fast becoming a brilliant new educational tool for everything from engineering and the medical sciences to a way for students to experience practically every corner of the globe.

Gaming is also set to change education in another all-important area: sex.

As good as getting behind the wheel

Sticking with that analogy, the problem is that there are a lot of students and not a lot of cars. Using computer gaming you can have students practice for as long as they need to—in perfect safety. While not the same as actually being behind the wheel, it can still be a huge bridge between study and direct experience.

It is easy to say that people learn by doing, but quite another thing to effectively put that into practice. Take driving a car: you can read the manual cover to cover for years and still end up running off the road. Stick someone behind the wheel, though, and they’ll be parallel parking in practically no time.

Educators have known about the power of simulations for a long time. Back to cars, some of the earliest simulators existed as far back as the 1920s. But it’s only relatively recently that gaming technology has allowed students a close-to-lifelike way of training and learning.

The next best thing to being there

Gaming’s ability to teach is particularly seen in the power of virtual reality. With its power of total immersion, VR is being heralded as a way for teachers to not just give their students a unique way of seeing what they otherwise wouldn’t, but also to learn through interactivity.

Google, who many credit with beginning the boom with Google Cardboard, has clearly recognized the power of virtual reality as an educational experience. Its Expeditions program will allow teachers to take their classes on VR tours of everywhere from outer space to deep coral reefs.

Virtual reality educational development programs are already in place for a wide variety of fields. For example, there’s the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies’ Medical Virtual Reality (MedVR) group “…devoted to the study and advancement of uses of virtual reality (VR) simulation technology for clinical purposes… including psychology, medicine, neuroscience, and physical and occupational therapy.”

For engineers, there are setups like the one at the London South Bank University (LSBU), which allows students to—virtually—gain experience with mechanical systems.

The Academic Director of LSBU’s engineering school, Tony Roberts, says of VR:

“[W]e know that this technology gives engineers a much more realistic insight into how complex concepts behave in scenarios which are difficult to contemplate using other geometry visualization methods.”

How to do it well and safely

There is, without a doubt, a global need for more comprehensive sexual education. While some have emplaced the power of the Internet as a resource for non-judgmental sexual information, there are far too many people, even in so-called developed countries, without even a basic knowledge of sexuality.

“There is so much guilt and shame and fear imbued in people,” says Patti Britton, Ph.D, a sexuality educator, quoted by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), “because they don’t have any place where they can get permission to accept themselves as sexual beings.”

Britton, though, points out that technology as an education tool, is still leading the way—and could be a major breakthrough—toward more comprehensive sexual education: “the advent of technology has created a way of breaking down the barriers and access to information… let’s use the devices they’re really habituated to use. Let’s get through to them in that way because that’s where they’re hanging out and that’s why we need to be savvy.”

And what better way to use technology than through an interactive, and immersive, system like virtual reality?

Sexual education: the game

Rasheeta Chandler, a nursing professor at Emory University, and Henry Ross, the nursing program director, are working on a prototype VR system to help women make informed and educated decisions around sexuality, particularly in regards to safe(r) sex.

Created with the high instances of HIV transmission involving women of color in mind, the interactive game offers a range of experiences that, if the player neglects to have condoms available or is absolutely certain of their partner’s HIV status, will result in a warning of AT RISK BEHAVIOR.

Speaking to Motherboard, Chandler explained the importance of the gaming platform: “We’re trying to make it like interactive gaming. We want to model the virtual environment on descriptions of what happens on college campuses.”

While not as immersive as the virtual reality of Chandler and Ross’s system, Catt Small’s SenseU app shows that she and others are taking the teaching potential of gaming in regards to human sexuality seriously.

Even perhaps more importantly, Small’s game addresses another crucial component to sex: empathy.

Talking to TheMomTropolis, she says: “A lot of the projects I work on are focused on making it possible for people to live another’s experience so that they can understand it better. SenseU achieves this by creating many different characters from different backgrounds and different sexualities. And hopefully by interacting with all these characters it opens up the mind of the user to see many different kinds of normal.”

Are you ready to play?

It’s pretty clear that gaming—especially of the virtual reality type—is big and getting bigger. It’s also more than apparent that there are many people working very hard to merge the interactivity and immersion of gaming technology with sexual education.

So what’s around the bend? For one thing, as off-the-shelf programming tools become both easier to use, as well as more affordable, we’ll more than likely see an explosion of educational games. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the fuel porn giants—like BaDoinkVR [NSFW], Naughty America VR [NSFW], and PornHub [NSFW]—will add when they realize that their audience doesn’t just want to enjoy their 3D entertainment but interact with it as well. Especially when it could very well mean they’d be better lovers in the process.

The explosion will also be aided by the privacy factor inherent in virtual reality. Put on your goggles and you are in your own little world—where you can make all kinds of clumsy mistakes as you trial-and-error your ways through the pleasures, and pitfalls, of human sexuality.

We’ll also no doubt be seeing personalized sexual training: Learn To Make Love Like Your Favorite Porn Star! With VR lessons in everything from oral sex (giving) to BDSM (safety), people will be able to get all kinds of customized tips and erotic tricks.

Best of all though, harking back to SenseU, playing games can put you in someone else’s life. What happens to homophobia, racism, transphobia, or the myriad over bigoties that sadly continue to plague the world when you can, at any time, immerse yourself in a game that shows their life, that gives you the experiences of an entirely different sexuality—and entirely different human being?

Soon we’ll have both hardware as well as software that will not just sexually entertain us, but will have the ability to educate us as well: to not just be better lovers but, more importantly, to be better people.

Image Sources: Maurizio Pesce, othree