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Sex & Relationships

Meet Ela Darling: The 21st Century’s First Virtual Reality Porn Star

VR has been around since the 1980s, but its current incarnation might finally make it a popular porn phenomenon.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

“I think VR porn has the capacity to bring an entirely new side of porn to the masses,” proclaims Ela Darling, who is the star, creative director and co-owner of VRTube, a fledging virtual reality (VR) porn company.

“Porn is my livelihood, it’s my everything,” she gushes, “so when I come across emerging technologies I see it through the lens of porn.” 

VR has been around since the 1980s, but its current incarnation, with lighter and more powerful headsets, more sophisticated programming and real-time connectivity, might finally make it a popular porn phenomenon.

Darling, a classic girl-next-door, unlikely porn star in the mold of Marilyn Monroe or Bettie Page, represents a further extension of that sexuality for today’s all-digital world. She is developing what’s described as “holographic 3D porn” for Facebook’s Oculus Rift system.

At the January 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, more than 40 companies displayed their latest “immersive multimedia” or 3D environment systems of device and programming. Among the big players showing off their latest stuff were Facebook’s Oculus Rift (for Microsoft’s Xbox); Sony’s Morpheus (for PlayStation 4); Samsung Gear VR (for its Galaxy smartphone); Microsoft’s HoloLens (mixed virtual and augmented reality); and Google’s Cardboard VR headset. Indicating what’s at stake, Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion even before its product was introduced. While the ostensible target users of the new VR systems are into education and videogames, everyone in the know knows that porn will be a big driver.

VR porn moves beyond traditional analog or computer-enhanced digital movies by combining representation with immersion, merging the phantasy of imagination with the power of physical pleasure. It seeks to fashion a historically unique experience, one enveloping and erotically fulfilling. A viewer can experience it in private as part of a live cam show or simulated without a non-live other.

A distinct form of sexual expression accompanies each new generation of media technology. Each new form of pornographic expression has been symbolically represented by a defining female sex symbol; as VR porn takes shape, its symbol may well be Ela Darling.

Darling grew up in Denton, Texas, and was on the high school spelling team and chess club and was selected for the National Honor Society. She attended UT Dallas and studied forensic psychology, graduating in three years. She got an MA in library and information science from the University of Illinois and then took a job as the associate director at a library at age 22. But she knew she wanted something more sexually fun and fulfilling. She proudly admits she was sexually precocious at an early age. “The first time I messed around with a girl, just vaguely sexually, was seventh grade,” she recalls. By 15, she had sex with her boyfriend, “a very tough, badass kind of guy. He was 16 and he had these tattoos that he had done himself."

While a librarian she dabbled with modeling and slowly got into the porn industry. She took Ela Darling as a stage name, inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald and the literary characters Wendy Darling (from “Peter Pan”) and Jessica Darling (Megan McCafferty’s series). She regularly attends ComicCon and is a fan of Batgirl and Harry Potter. Her first porn performance was a solo scene for a Kink film. Her first girl/girl video was with Bobbi Starr, who she recalls as “kind and lovely. She’s very intelligent. We started talking and she used to work in a library too and went to college and she was so sweet.”

She soon after hooked up with James Ashfield on Reddit and cofounded VRTube. She was drawn to VR because, as she says, “you’re just immersed in it. There are no distractions, you’re just in it. It’s awesome.” VRTube is creating a 3D visually rendered environment program called “Unity.”

She proclaims herself “the world’s first VR cam girl” and says, “We made a Virtual Reality dating simulator where you can date me in VR.” She adds, “I’m still a little bit in awe today that people will take me into a private room for two hours—they’re paying $6 to $10 a minute—to talk about comic books, their dogs, how shitty their bosses are.”

Darling finds both positive and negative aspects to the porn business. “I used to really hate my body and I used to eat not very much at all,” she says. “My sexual experiences have taught me so much that I didn’t previously know about myself. I’ve learned a lot about my body, about female anatomy in general.…You’ve got to know everything. How to take care of things. I’ve gained a lot of respect for myself and I value my body and my sexuality a lot more. I take much better care of myself.”

Darling is an active member and officer of Adult Performers Association Committee, a trade group. A realist, she acknowledges that, “of course I sometimes feel exploited in my job. I’ve never had a job, from waiting tables at Waffle House to running grant programs at a library where I didn’t feel exploited sometimes. The idea that the adult industry can or should be a paragon of empowerment is baffling to me.”

She says, “It’s a tough time to work in porn and rates are constantly decreasing while work opportunities are few and far between after your first few months in the industry.” Darling adds a piece of advice: “If you decide to do it, develop your brand and monetize across as many platforms as you can. Produce, cam, do customs, stat a clips store, do it all.”

Over the last century, innumerable female sex symbols have captivated the popular imagination. Female stars from Mae West to Madonna and Lady Gaga have been gatekeepers for each new generation of the evolving culture industry, especially involving sex. For those who have not yet played with a VR system, Ela Darling may well be the way into the new media.

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