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What's the future of virtual sex?

        Health | Sexuality

Wake up and Smell the Future
How will we encounter each other in virtual worlds?
How will we encounter each other in virtual worlds?
Colin Anderson/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Smell and taste complete the human sensory experience, and rest assured that research continues into the creation of digitally transmitted smells. Before you scoff at the importance of smell in human sexuality, just remember that about one out of every 50 genes in the human genome concern this most ancient of senses [source: Shell].

Without smell in the mix, how can we expect to fully buy into a virtual experience? And as smell plays such a vital role in our sense of taste, too, the importance of digital scent technology becomes obvious.

Printable odors follow the same logic of your standard laser printer. While the printer creates a wide variety of colors from a limited pallet of primary colors, so too does an odor printer create a variety of smells out of primary scents.

This brings us at last back to our sense of vision. While visual rendering technology continues to advance at an amazing rate, the addition of smell, taste and touch into the virtual reality experience actually lightens the burden for visual simulation. This is due to what scientists call crossmodal attention affects, which govern the way the brain prioritizes some sensory inputs over others.

For instance, the kiss you feel on your cheek takes sensory priority over the texture of the sofa cushion underneath you -- and it takes priority at a neurological level. In fact, the amount of brainpower allotted to sight drastically decreases once sound, smell and touch are introduced [source: Madrigal].

Researchers at the University of York's Audio Laboratory are working to employ crossmodal attention affects to fine-tune the virtual reality experience, orchestrating the full range of human senses in the required intensities. They've even considered employing a mouthpiece to simulate different textures against the tongue and mouth -- for virtual food chewing, they claim.

The technology continues to emerge, but the day is fast approaching when two lovers may slip into their virtual reality cocoons and fall into each others' arms across intercontinental or even interplanetary distances.

Still others may turn their backs on real-world romance altogether. They'll embrace simulated celebrities, impossible anime bodies and fetishes previously only imagined.

This virtual hedonaut will reach out with a haptic glove, stare into programmed eyes and touch flesh that exists as little more than a dream.


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