Designing sexual experiences

Engaging in consented sexual activities is pleasurable and natural to human’s biological need yet sex is often a taboo subject in society and even “shameful” to a more conservative culture. As an ex-Berliner and burner, I have attended a good amount of sex positive parties where people were opening having intercourse by the dance floor. It was weird for me to witnessed that for the first time in the beginning of my Berlin life four years ago. As liberal as New York City is, what was acceptable at a standard techno party in Berlin would never be allowed here in the US.

In New York City, performing sexual intercourse in a club is prohibited and will  be escorted by security guards if caught in action. After visiting several techno clubs in Berlin, I got used to the sex culture there. I would move my stare away if I happened to pass by attendees who were in the middle of an intimate act to give them a bit of privacy. I was sure they weren’t expecting any but it was rather a reflex move for me. As comfortable as I was with seeing others enjoying intimacy in public,  I didn’t have the courage to engage the same act with a friend or a stranger.

It was fascinating reading about Benedetto’s study on The Dirty Gentleman sex masquerade from “Patterns of Transformation.” It was indeed necessary to put weight into designing social gatherings to remove moments of awkward encounter with strangers trying to strike up a conversation hence the role of the curator is important. The bouncers at techno clubs in Berlin filtered the crowd at the door to ensure they bring in party goers who would not only enjoy the music but also respect the culture inside. Despite haven’t yet participated in sex parties myself, I agree that sexual experiences are valuable and transformative that we should be able to share them with confidence instead of associating them with negativity. To design an experience for this taboo subject, I find The Dirty Gentleman’s strategy of using packaging materials as the core of the gathering very clever as it loosen up attendees’ potential tension towards sex and allows open communication.

As someone who started learning VR last year, I resonate with Romero’s “Gaming for understanding” TED talk a lot. People often considered VR experiences and video games as a fun pastime due to their imaginary environments and relatively plain narrative. However, they are capable of high degree of emotional simulation. My fellow Big Screens collaborator Fanni made a VR project based on a real rape incident on a Hungarian woman. In the experience, user entered a bar while chatting with two strangers at the bar. As soon as user drank the cocktail given to her, she could no longer make her own choice and was moved by the two strangers side by side from inside the bar to the street outside and then eventually into a dark corner. I have a friend (woman) tried out that project which was also her first encounter with VR. She removed her headset halfway through because the experience was too real and terrifying to process. It was a crucial moment for me to recognize VR’s impact on people despite all its surreal visual elements and also realized the importance to figure out a balance when designing a difficult story that won’t overwhelm users yet still captures its complexity. I think Romero brought up a really good point that we should utilize these tool to create discourses that are not necessarily fun but meaningful to yourself and the broader community.

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