Is virtual reality sex for hire "prostitution?" The US State Department seems to think so, although a misunderstanding may be to blame.
Hex, a British sex worker who sells "erotic roleplay" experiences in virtual reality social platform VRChat, told Motherboard (opens in new tab) that her application for a US tourist visa was denied after she tried to explain her work to an immigration official. The reason eventually given was "inadmissibility due to prostitution."
Much of Hex's online sex work happens through motion-controlled 3D avatars. She offers "IRL" photos on her subscription Fansly page (opens in new tab), but also images and streams of her 3D avatars, as well as one-on-one simulated sex in VRChat, which can include remote control of sex toy settings.
The US State Department can deny entry to the country for any reason it wants, but engagement in prostitution is one of the specific ineligibilities listed by the department (opens in new tab). Speaking to Motherboard, an expert on the subject from The Sex Workers Project (opens in new tab) said that travelers are increasingly being interrogated at borders under suspicion of "prostitution" due to their online presence. Hex said on her now-private Twitter account that she didn't bring up her Fansly page in her visa application; it was something the US discovered itself.
VR sex is not prostitution by the typical legal definition, which requires physical contact between two people. When asked about her work, Hex says she told the immigration officer directly that her work is legal and involves no in-person contact.
"The woman gave me a very dirty look when I explained everything to her," Hex told Motherboard. "I told her it was a virtual game and I use a VR headset. She didn't understand anything I said, all she said to me is, 'So do you meet these people on this website?' I said, 'No, absolutely not.'"
Nevertheless, Hex received a letter denying her entry to the US, which she posted to Twitter. The reason given was the handwritten code "2DI," which points to the visa ineligibility clause about prostitution. Specifically, the law states that a traveler will be ineligible to enter the US if they are "coming to the United States solely, principally, or incidentally to engage in prostitution" or if they have "engaged in prostitution within 10 years of the date of application for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status."
Hex had planned to visit friends, she told Motherboard, and still hopes to make it happen. "I want to clear my name and get this resolved as it's unfair and not true," she said.
I've contacted Hex to ask if there have been new developments. I've also asked the US State Department for comment.
Motherboard's article (opens in new tab) includes more information on the visa approval process, and the difficulty sex workers face when traveling.