Digital Liberation: How Blockchain Can Be Sexy (and Safe)

Tech is changing the way individuals live and innovate. How will this affect "the oldest profession," sex work? This article is part of CoinDesk's Sin Week.

By James KeyLayer 2
AccessTimeIconAug 30, 2022 at 1:48 p.m. UTCUpdated Aug 30, 2022 at 10:21 p.m. UTC
By James KeyLayer 2
AccessTimeIconAug 30, 2022 at 1:48 p.m. UTCUpdated Aug 30, 2022 at 10:21 p.m. UTC

James Key is the CEO of decentralized automation protocol Autonomy Network, which is designed for Web3 builders.

It’s the year 2030 and sex work in the metaverse is booming. Digital users are leaning into their sexuality and exploring IRL (in real life) fantasies on an endlessly expanding menu of virtual experiences. Developers all over the world are making a decent (and at times opulent) living meeting demand for the technology, and platforms are looking the other way as long as it means more users and total value locked (TVL).

Flash back to 2022: The sex work industry is just starting to dip its toes into the blockchain, and the writing is already on the wall. Emerging tech is enabling creativity and innovation across industries, and it would be naive to assume those forces won’t eventually bring “the oldest profession” into a cypherpunkian utopia in some truly unique ways.

James Key is the CEO of Autonomy Network, a decentralized automation protocol designed for Web3 builders. This piece is part of CoinDesk's Sin Week.

After all, the adult entertainment industry has been an early adopter of new technologies. If the metaverse is meant to reflect people’s wildest fantasies, then sexual exploration will definitely be a part of the scene, as we’re already seeing in virtual dating.

What would a Web3 take on OnlyFans look like if anyone could create a sex worker avatar? What’s stopping someone from opening up a sex club in the metaverse? Can anyone date a digital version of a celebrity without their consent? After all, Lebron James and Ariana Grande are currently playable as licensed skins on Fortnite, but my guess is they aren’t clamoring to get their likeness on the “casual encounters” corner of an adults-only metaverse.

While the specific answers to these questions remain to be seen, there are certainly some ambitious developers working on some version of all these things at this very moment.

What is presently clear is that the business of sex relies on facilitating personal intimacy and privacy. No other industry places such a large premium on it. This presents a compelling use case for blockchain technology, both for back-end security processes and, perhaps more interestingly, NSFW metaversal encounters. One of Web3’s biggest value propositions is its ability to simultaneously enhance users’ privacy and online verifiability.

Crypto lover

Let’s talk about the power of data in the context of personal preference and privacy. For instance, the physical appearance of the female robot in the 2014 movie “Deus Ex Machina” was based on the protagonist’s porn search history, which comes across as an invasive overreach to most watchers. We encounter similar algorithms and machine learning tools that study our behaviors to manipulate our desires every time we use proprietary software, like Google Search. This is exactly what Web3 aims to disrupt.

It would be entirely possible to encrypt data reflecting someone’s sexual preferences into an on-chain avatar that evolves based on their changing preferences. This could be done without ever divulging any personal information or search history, in-platform or to outside parties.

This avatar could then be applied to something like Vex Ruby, a virtual cam girl that engages with viewers in real time, or to create an interactive autonomous non-fungible token (NFT) like Alice, a GPT-3-powered virtual human that was auctioned off at Sotheby’s for nearly half a million dollars.

Alternatively, people’s custom sex avatars may also be discretely ported to an adult metaverse, where real-world sex workers could apply it as a skin when interacting with a client in a virtual setting secured by a privacy-enhancing blockchain network.

As virtual reality (VR) sexuality researcher Angelina Aleksandrovich puts it: “Sex workers can jump into any kind of avatar that the client wants to play with [in the metaverse]; they can change the world on demand and play out different scenarios that the clients want.”

All of which is to say, virtual reality will be key to creating many of the actual sensory experiences future sex workers and clients participate in, but blockchain technology will be key to making these experiences more individualized, accessible and secure.

Erotic encounters in the virtual realm are not beholden to the constraints of the physical world or even our own biological realities (see Viro Playspace’s “smokin’ hot dragon babe”), especially with the rise of haptic bodysuits and other sensory devices.

Safer play

Perhaps more importantly, VR can also be leveraged to help people safely experiment with their sexual identity and gender expressions. If so, it will be blockchain technology that helps ensure that participants on both sides of the market are kept safe while they explore, in terms of both physical wellbeing and desired level of anonymity.

After all both sex workers and clients want better ways to vet their counterparts while protecting their own right to privacy. Decentralized, on-chain reputation systems have more potential to address this issue than any other existing technology.

The point of applying new technologies to existing industries is to make future products and services fundamentally better in some enduring way – not for the sake of adding new bells and whistles. In that sense, blockchain’s role in enhancing the adult entertainment industry’s discovery process and quality of engagement – while enhancing participants’ safety and control – will be an interesting story to follow, even for individuals who aren’t participating in the space.

Blockchain technology was founded on a socially positive ideology and the majority of serious builders within the space are working on some kind of virtual experience that encourages more high-quality connections and individual empowerment – regardless of whether they’re working on something “sexy” or not.

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James Key is the CEO of decentralized automation protocol Autonomy Network, which is designed for Web3 builders.

James Key is the CEO of decentralized automation protocol Autonomy Network, which is designed for Web3 builders.