VRChat — the world’s most popular social virtual reality platform — bans sexually explicit content in its public spaces. But behind the scenes, attendees at one of its most prominent underground sex clubs were starting to gather for an invitation-only event. It was raining, so the club’s expansive roof terrace was slick and wet. In a corner of the rooftop, a muscled white man with fox ears and a prominent erection made small talk with a busty, purple-haired fox woman half his size. Her only clothing was a pair of thigh-high boots.
The weather forced most attendees — all of whom were naked or scantily clad — inside, where they mingled on an enormous couch–bed hybrid sunken into the floor. A female avatar, legs spread wide, used a mirror that lined the couch to inspect her virtual vagina. A dinosaur–human with an enormous phallus started a massage train with several naked women. People giggled and made small talk about the last time they ate at a McDonald’s. Someone complained about the lack of bread in their IRL home. No one appeared to be having any sex just yet.
This vibe isn’t uncommon at the start of such an evening. “You’ll often see people hanging around completely naked, genitals exposed, and they’ll just be talking,” explained Jade, a 28-year-old nonbinary VR sex party attendee from Tennessee. (Most of the interviews in this story asked to use aliases for privacy reasons.) “They're seeing if they click on a meaningful level with the people they’re interacting with.”
Once a spark is ignited, however, the pace of the evening will change quickly — and orgies involving up to 40 users take place over a period of hours. Some attendees, meanwhile, opt to stay on the sidelines. “They’ll either be having casual conversations,” said Jade, who favors a “snow leopardess” avatar, “or just going at it.”
As the night rolled on in the sex club, which BuzzFeed News is not naming to protect it from deletion, people really did “go at it.” At one end of the sunken couch, the dinosaur–human’s penis disappeared into a woman who straddled him. Two women avatars — one with an erect penis — sat atop each other in the lotus position and fondled each other's breasts. People lay naked in piles and gently caressed the faces and chests of those nearest to them. In the corner, two formless avatars — vaguely human in shape and made of something akin to black mist — mercilessly humped each other. A levitating man in glittering pants laid back in the air, and watched everyone from above.
Occasionally, moaning, kissing sounds, and panting could be heard. Such evenings can get messy toward the end. “There is a method of setting up ejaculate on an avatar,” Jade said. “You’ll start seeing those fluids splatter everywhere.”
But the experience is about way more than money shots. “It’s about being able to connect — that’s a lot of why I participate,” Jade said. Like many others in the VR sex scene, they view the act of digital fornication as an emotional exercise. They said it requires deeper emotional bonds, and more vulnerability, than the type of IRL sex that’s based solely on physical attraction. “Somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten to know these people on a meaningful level,” Jade continued, “and been comfortable enough to share myself with them in those ways.”
Jade is one of several thousand VRChat users who engage in the underground world of erotic role play (ERP), or VR sex. Partakers spend hundreds of dollars on Bluetooth-enabled sex toys and tools that help to make fornication-via-avatar an immersive and more physically pleasurable experience. They often pursue casual and kinky sex online to fulfill the needs or desires they may not be able to meet IRL.
But while these X-rated communities are popular, they are shrouded in secrecy. The advertisement, live streaming, or public sharing of avatars that simulate sex is against VRChat’s community guidelines and can result in a permanent ban. Although ERPers make every effort to conceal their activities from prying eyes — by creating private, invitation-only VR worlds for their sex clubs, and organizing events in age-restricted Discord servers — they claim that they are still subject to unfair content bans.
So how does this all work? Sex in VR is enabled by in-game tools developed by independent coders. For instance, there are the Dynamic Penetration System, which allows VRChat users to have their avatars penetrate or be penetrated by others’ avatars, and RealFeel, which lets users sync Bluetooth-connected sex toys to their movements in VR.
“If someone was masturbating someone else, rubbing back and forth, then their Fleshlight would react according to that,” explained Plague, a 22-year-old programmer and developer of RealFeel, who lives in Scotland. (Plague declined to describe or provide pictures of their avatar to BuzzFeed News. “The avatars I use are controversial to some Americans,” they said in a post-interview text. “And I want to avoid as much drama as possible.”)
Plague said that RealFeel users can tweak their settings to make toys respond to various in-game movements and interactions in different ways. The support tool has also made group sex more seamless. “Really big groups don’t have to worry about control links” — setting up their toys to correspond with a particular partner’s toys — “anymore, or have their toys switched between partners,” Plague added. “RealFeel changed that, because it effectively works with anyone.”
Although VRChat sex parties are free to access, it can still be pricy to take part. Bambi, a 22-year-old ERPer from the East Coast, spent roughly $180 on a Lovense Max 2 Fleshlight and a Lovense Edge 2 prostate massager; he incorporated the toys with VR using RealFeel, which charges a monthly fee of $10. This is on top of a minimum $10 donation for access to the Dynamic Penetration System, as well as at least $300 for headsets and trackers.
“If someone touches my [avatar’s] crotch, breasts, or butt, my toy will start vibrating,” said Bambi, who has a humanoid, fox–tiger hybrid avatar with large blue eyes and a side-fringe. “It basically gives me that feeling that I’m getting touched.”
Other users spend even more to make the experience as realistic as possible. Elaine, a 25-year-old telemarketer and ERPer from California, uses a $500 haptics vest and a $120 Lovense Nora rabbit vibrator. “Wherever people touch my avatar’s chest, it creates a low-frequency vibration,” explained Elaine, who has a voluptuous, pink-haired VR stand-in, complete with Jessica Rabbit–style bunny ears. “That feels like a slight tingle on your skin. It’s quite pleasant.”
Once ERPers have perfected their setup, they’re ready to join the fun. Most attend events that are organized through Discord servers, and take place in private, invite-only VR worlds meant to protect attendees from detection. Participant favorites include “cuddle puddles” — in which they gather to watch films and snuggle, setting each other's sex toys off in sessions that can last up to four hours — as well as “lewd game nights,” which are themed.
The lewd game nights “go really deep into roleplay,” said LuSaffi, a 20-year-old nonbinary Texan who coruns a VRChat ERP Discord server. According to LuSaffi — who uses a cat girl–style avatar with long, flowing dark hair to match their IRL locks — a much-loved event is the group’s regular cops and robbers night. “Instead of being caught and brought back to your cell,” they said, “you can opt for a more optimal exchange.” They added that their ERP group had security guards to protect attendees from harassment and recently employed a photographer to document the fun.
At the events, attendees engage in all sorts of adventurous acts, including spit roasts and gangbangs. The main draw, however, is the opportunity to interact with virtual partners in real time. “There’s something about hearing the sounds people make in response to the sensations they experience that is satisfying to me,” Jade said. “That means they’re enjoying themselves, and I’m helping them have that enjoyment.”
Jade added that they particularly like finding partners who use face-tracking, a special setup that allows someone’s avatar to mimic their IRL expressions. “Sometimes when people are making these faces that look like they're in pure ecstasy,” Jade said, “they're actually making that face in real life.”
Other users are even more adventurous. “There’s definitely a lot of BDSM going on in the ERP community,” Elaine said. “There are paddles to spank each other with, whips, cages to lock your partner with, collars — you name it.” Other attendees told BuzzFeed News about their exploits in private sex dungeons that feature suspension rigs and even disembodied tentacles designed to work with Bluetooth-enabled sex toys.
“I don’t mind being restrained, or getting shut up with a ball gag,” said Bambi, who often has BDSM sex with his dedicated mistress on VRChat. Although he’s a virgin in the real world, Bambi has enjoyed exploring BDSM in a safe environment. Part of the fun, he said, is being able to experiment without worrying about getting hurt. “Most of the time your arms will get constrained [in VR], so you can put your controllers down, and feel like you can’t move, which is exhilarating and very fun,” he added. “We have safe words and everything.”
Some users go even further than Bambi and produce their own risky, at-home setups to better mimic the physical sensations of BDSM-based play. “Someone made a dildo gun that was strapped around their face, and they made that react when they were strangled in-game,” Plague said. “It stopped them breathing” — as it would thrust in and out of their mouth — “but only for a second.”
Piston-enabled dildo guns can cost more than $1,000 — although it may not be advisable to set one up with “strangulation” in mind, especially without supervision. “The way that they did it [was safe],” Plague assured BuzzFeed News. “It could be unsafe for someone otherwise, but [the creator] actually knew what they were doing.”
Lovense — the manufacturer of Bluetooth-enabled sex toys that VR users seem to favor, and which RealFeel is designed to work with best — was quick to point out that such use cases aren’t encouraged. “Lovense does not have toys in its portfolio that simulate strangulation or produce electrical stimulation or other potentially dangerous features,” Dan Liu, founder of Lovense, told BuzzFeed News over email.
Although Liu assured BuzzFeed News that Lovense “does not support those platforms on which minors can be found” — like VRChat, where the minimum age of use is 13 — he did acknowledge that the company’s application programming interface was free for independent developers to use for their own projects.
While everyone in the virtual sex space that BuzzFeed News spoke to agreed that minors should be kept away from X-rated content, most believe that the demonization of virtual sex is unfair given the potential benefits it holds.
“I think it makes it a lot easier for people to explore something about themselves that might be too taboo to do with their intimate partner or within their community, or even within some parts of their own mind,” said Ela Darling, an adult film performer, tech entrepreneur, and advocate who has observed the scene from afar.
“It's a way to dip your toes and feel a sense of presence in that scenario,” Darling continued. “It offers that access without risk. It takes away a lot of the things that hinder or restrict people from just exploring something. It democratizes sex.”
For people like Bambi, the discovery of VR sex clubs has been life-changing. “I’m waiting for the right person,” Bambi said of losing his IRL virginity, “but I’ve gained more self-confidence [in VR]. I can express more feelings.” It’s also helped him to learn what he wants out of a partner. That said, he doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea. “I’m not that person that’s, like, overly wanting to have sex,” he said. “I’m looking for someone that can help take care of me, but that I can also take care of.”
It’s an ethos that underpins most interactions in the ERP world: Although players enjoy casual hookups as much as the next person, they’re ultimately looking for an emotional connection rather than a physical one. “When we have sex in ERP, we’re really having sex with [our partners’] minds, not their bodies. Their emotional core,” said Elaine, who warned BuzzFeed News that ERPers should not be dismissed as “horny weirdos on the internet.”
As a survivor of sexual assault, Elaine has found VR sex to be freeing. “I feel afraid when people are physically touching my body. It feels too close,” she explained. “But when I ERP, I feel like I'm having sex with them in a psychologically intimate way. I experience the joys of sexuality without any of the fear or distrust.”
With time, Elaine hopes that more people will open their minds to trying ERP. “The separation between what you do in ERP and what you would do in a real-life sexual situation is not nearly as different as you think it is. It’s very great, normal, adult behavior,” she said. And it could bring about all kinds of opportunities. “I have met someone in-game, ERPed with them in the game, dated them for several months, flew them out to meet me, and had sex with them in person,” Elaine said. “We had an intimate and real relationship.”
Of course, not everyone thinks that ERP partners are the best option. “IRL is definitely preferable,” said Jade, who explained that VR orgies pale in comparison to the ones they’ve attended in the flesh. But when Jade can’t indulge in sexual escapades IRL, VRChat helps to tide them over.
“Being able to experience these things in VR is definitely a game-changer, because that sense of isolation kind of melts away,” Jade said. “That, to me, is phenomenal.” ●