At a time when multiple research reports indicate that people are having less sex globally, 27-year-old Anna Petukhova decided to combine technology, sex toys and good old-fashioned sex appeal to open a sex club in her hometown of Moscow, Russia. Regarded as one of Russia’s leading fashion and fitness models, Petukhova is also a graduate of Russia’s equivalent of Harvard, earning a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in Russian literature and linguistics (English) from Lomonosov Moscow State University.
Upon graduating, Petukhova worked as an English language translator for several consulting firms and businesses, while also modeling and conducting walking tours for tourists throughout Russia. A born entrepreneur, Petukhova researched Russia’s business industry looking for an opportunity to open her own company. An email advertising how to take excursions in virtual reality (VR) led her to try on a virtual reality headset for the first time. According to Petukhova, “The moment I put on the headset, I found myself in Moscow in the 1920s. For me, it was an incredible feeling. It made such a strong impression on me, and I began to research the topic of virtual reality.”
Over a period of several weeks, Petukhova immersed herself in the topic of VR. A conversation with a fellow VR enthusiast led to the discovery that watching pornography on a VR headset was a popular pastime. After renting a VR headset loaded with sexual content, Petukhova had her first VR sexual experience.
“I will never forget this feeling. I put on the headset and then I look at my hands, and they were the hands of a man!! Not my thin hands with a French manicure but big, hairy man hands,” Petukhova told Observer. “I was shocked. Then, a sexy female hairdresser comes to me and starts trying to seduce me. The experience was so real that I ceased to understand where I was.”
Petukhova knew that she had found her business idea—open VR sex clubs but with a focus on attracting women as well as men.
I interviewed Petukhova for this story at her club in Moscow, VRayu, (a play upon words that mean ‘VR paradise’ in Russian). Seemingly honest and willing to answer any question that I asked, Petukhova is in many ways a female version of Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner. Hefner changed the national discourse on sexuality through his magazine; Petukhova wants to use sex and technology to create a movement. I have no doubt that Hefner would have enjoyed meeting Petukhova.
First and foremost, in our conversations, Petukhova wanted to make sure I understood the current landscape of VR clubs. “There are many VR clubs for consumers to visit, but there is only one VRayu,” Petukhova explained. “What I discovered after evaluating VR clubs globally is that the customer experience is very poor. I wanted to remove the mystery of VR for customers, so I decided to put the focus on providing an immersive experience whereby customers can purchase or rent a headset and learn how to use the headset properly; customers are provided detailed information on the types of games and other content that’s available; and they receive lessons on how to play games. In addition, customers can interact and socialize with other club members. Instead of sitting at home alone wearing a headset and watching a game, VRayu gives VR enthusiasts a reason to get the most out of the VR experience. I have created the hottest VR sex club in the world.”
During my time with Petukhova, I was able to speak with several customers who came into her club (four women and two men). I asked them why were they interested in VR and what they wanted to watch the most. Each customer I interviewed replied with nearly the same answer—although games and movies were of interest, what they wanted to watch and experience the most in VR was sex. When I asked why they didn’t just buy a VR headset online and watch sex at home, again the answers were similar: they didn’t fully understand VR and they wanted to be able to speak with someone in private about the types of sexual content available.
Petukhova also discovered that the adults who visit her club have been willing to sit and talk with her about why they came to the club and what they’re hoping to get out of the experience. As a result of these discussions, Petukhova has been able to identify key reasons why adults become attracted to VR after just one session:
- VR allows someone to find themselves in a body of a stranger, even a body of a person of another sex, and understand what it is like to be a man or a woman.
- VR protects the family from unnecessary experiences and dangerous experiments, limiting itself to an adventure in virtual reality. Couples interested in experimenting with swinging or other fantasies can start with virtual reality and decide if it is truly something they want to pursue.
- VRayu is a safe place to learn about sex. To the surprise of Petukhova, a growing number of customers are young adults who are virgins wanting to learn about sex virtually before engaging in sex physically.
- VR increases self-esteem. Many adults have a fear that their bodies aren’t good enough for someone to want to have sex with them. Sexual content in VR contains real people and not models with flawless bodies.
- VR relieves stress. Engaging in a sexual fantasy in VR has many of the same stimulating effects on the human body as having sex in real life.
- Many individuals wonder what it would be like to have sex with members of another race. VR offers unlimited opportunities to travel the world and find sexual partners from different countries due to the amount of sexual content available.
VRayu has attracted massive amounts of attention in Russia, resulting in movie stars, politicians, sports stars and wealthy Russian oligarchs all stopping by to experience the club. (I have committed to keeping the names of celebrities and others I met at the club confidential.) Let me state that a good time was had by all, especially me.
Beyond the Matrix
Although sex is certainly a major topic of interest for individuals who visit a VR sex club or who want to experience VR for the first time, sex isn’t enough to sell all consumers on the idea of virtual reality. The primary reason why VR is growing in popularity is that it allows an individual to go beyond the “matrix” of the world in which they live. Want to experience outer space? Go to the deepest depths of the ocean? Fly a vintage fighter plane? Go on a safari? Parachute out of a plane? All the things I listed—plus many more—can be done using VR. What makes VR unlike anything else is that customers aren’t watching something in VR, they are immersed in an experience to the point where it becomes reality. (I watched hours of content, and I can attest to the power of VR to overtake the senses and transport mind, body and spirit to another dimension. The phrase I use to describe VR is that it is “The Twilight Zone in real life.”)
Research indicates that as consumers become comfortable with VR, they invariably become more curious regarding what they can do with it, which launched the growth of sexual content. This video (turn on English subtitles if they don’t appear) teases how VR allows for sexual experimentation and fantasy on a level that can’t be experienced in the real world.
According to Petukhova, “VR clubs that don’t embrace the growing popularity of sexual content and the desire of adults to not only watch sexual content but also interact and even engage with fellow VR sex enthusiasts, will eventually close.” I had several phone conversations with Petukhova as she toured Japan’s much vaunted sex clubs and VR technology stores. Most VR club owners who Petukhova spoke with stated that without sexual content, their clubs wouldn’t survive. This is Petukhova’s report regarding her trip to Japan.
Petukhova has learned that other VR clubs around the world, even if they provide a VR sexual experience, provide it as a product, whereas Petukhova offers VR as a service. In discussions with customers, Petukhova has learned that individuals go to virtual reality clubs because they want to feel like they are Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan in Neverland or Harry Potter on the first day of arrival to Hogwarts. They want to be fully immersed into different possibilities of virtual reality, and they want to be able to feel it everywhere: at home, school, in the street or during their business lunch. (Research has identified that a VR experience can have a lasting impression on the body for 24 to 48 hours. To state that VR is addictive for many people is an understatement.)
VRayu was created to provide adults with an opportunity to experience VR in many forms from portraying a character in a film or taking part in a video game to being fully immersed into virtual yet highly realistic erotic scenarios. If watching pornography is like riding a bicycle, then being immersed in virtual erotica is like driving a Tesla in Ludicrous mode. A big difference. Petukhova also organizes parties and meetings for people—first in virtual reality and then in the real world. This helps couples break the ice when they first meet and is a funny and relaxed way of meeting other people and flirting with them. Petukhova expects VR to gain in popularity due to the number of studies confirming that Millennials, and especially Generation Z, have a difficult time engaging with people of the opposite sex. The fastest growing segment of her business is Millennials and Gen Z.
A question that Petukhova is asked often is who visits the club and why? According to Petukhova, 40 percent of the individuals who visit her club are women and range in age from 18 to 45. This is surprising because women are traditionally the objects of sexual attraction in games, but with VR, women can immerse themselves into the experience. Petukhova’s female customers are highly interested in making their sexual life brighter and more interesting. VR allows women an opportunity to try new things that they otherwise would never try in real life. (I must admit that the women I watched and spoke with at the club all expressed their appreciation that VR gives them an opportunity to be as naughty or as nice as they want. All the women thoroughly enjoyed the experience.)
What I find interesting is that regardless of the difference in age, most women who try VR enjoy watching the same type of sexual content—BDSM, a popular topic in the best-selling book 50 Shades of Grey. In discussions with her clients, Petukhova learned that many women are sexually curious and using VR allows them to explore different types of sex in a way that is safe and private. Women also enjoy exploring sex with different races and acting out specific fantasies, like having sex with multiple men or women at the same time.
As for men, they prefer watching videos where they interact with multiple women with little desire to act out a specific fantasy or engage in BDSM. Petukhova is working on content to help men better understand the desires of women, and she is also creating a dating service sponsored by the club to help take the virtual to the physical with a focus on dinners and walks around scenic Moscow. Relationships can’t be built on VR alone.
As word of VRayu has spread, Petukhova has been inundated by requests from interested persons globally asking if VRayu can be franchised. Petukhova resisted franchising until she was certain she had created a business model that would generate revenue and provide a quality experience for the franchisee and customers. Now, that day has come; Petukhova is in the process of selling franchises of VRayu.
The beauty of a VRayu franchise is that start-up costs are minimal (headsets, content), and a club can be opened in a retail location full-time; temporarily set-up only on Friday’s and Saturday’s to attract weekend customers; or be a mobile opportunity where the franchisee hosts parties.
According to Petukhova, “Entrepreneurs don’t have to advertise their VR business as a sex club, they can just list ‘sexually immersive content’ along with content for games, movies and other experiences. Bars, dance clubs and coffee shops should explore adding VRayu headsets and content to their menus.”
Petukhova also sees the value of VR in education. “Schools across all grades should incorporate VR into their curriculum,” she noted. “An interesting franchise opportunity is providing schools with VR headsets loaded with educational content. Want to study World War ll? What better way to do so than by taking the controls of a P-51 Mustang or being an infantryman about to storm the beaches at Normandy, France during D-Day? There is a tremendous market for VR.”
Petukhova believes all VRayu clubs should try and attract as many men and women as possible. However, she likes the idea of women buying a VRayu franchise and hosting parties at homes to earn additional income. “VR empowers women in many countries to earn a living,” she said. “I have hosted VR parties in Moscow and the response was overwhelmingly positive. VR is like a modern-day digital birth control pill freeing women to experience sex in a way they never dreamed possible.”
Is a VR franchise in your future?