Nightflower Reports on the Reality of Virtual Love & Relationships for NWN
If the limited mainstream media coverage of Second Life is to be believed, sex is the axis upon which the virtual world spins. But while there’s no denying that SLex (avatar sex within Second Life) is a culture-shaping force in the metaverse, most Residents realize the media has latched onto a selective and skewed perception of what goes on in-world. To get to the truth, I’ve spent the past few weeks in-world talking both with good friends and total strangers about SLex - how they do it, how it makes them feel, and how it shapes their virtual lives.
This week I’ll focus on women. Armed with a boatload of conversations, and the results of my recent survey on women and SLex, I’ve reached the following conclusion:
While women may sometimes enjoy an outlet for risque adventure and consequence-free exploration, there’s just a whole lot less SLex going on than you might think, and the majority of it takes place within the context of meaningful relationships.
Of course, it would be naive not to acknowledge that the collision of limitless creativity and safe anonymity almost demands some level of experimentation. I've had my share of SLex experiences myself:
In my survey, 54% of respondents said that one of the primary appeals of SLex is as a playful, creative exercise and roleplay -- and I can certainly relate. For example, during one particularly randy evening, a friend and I had sex with a horse, a prodigiously endowed evil clown, and some sort of horny octopus. Admittedly, the only thing this aroused within me was a strong urge to pee, as my friend and I laughed ourselves silly.
But not all my experimentation has felt as absurd. I remember a short phase quite early in my Second Life when I frequented a place called Hard Alley. My first time there, I stumbled into a very extreme sexual roleplay scene with two men - in a sewer. It was surprising, almost disturbing...but hot as hell! I’ve never had more than one partner at a time in RL, and never had sex in an extreme or dangerous setting, so it became a safe and extremely arousing way to experiment.
As that experience illustrates, these explorations can often be more than just fun and games. My friend and fashion diva Gabby Panacek shares, “SLex gives me the freedom to explore fantasies and desires that I wouldn't have the opportunity to act upon in real life. I get to tap into my creative side, sometimes my dark side, and yes, even my deeply hidden kinky side.” For some, this sexually-charged roleplay becomes a central part of their virtual life, as I shared in my recent post on Gorean women. However, my feel is that -- for me, and for most Residents -- extreme or fantastical escapades are more often a phase than a lifestyle.
So if it’s true, what do Residents find once the phase has played out? Well, my survey suggests that the answer is...very little sex! Only 33% responded that they have SLex one or more times a week, while 16% described it as a monthly occurrence and 51% described it as “seldom or never”.
Why is that? Well, my belief is that after the initial novelty wears off, Residents realize that SLex is usually awkward, clunky, and far from arousing. Acclaimed meatverse artist soror Nishi directed me to a blog post where she described an early SLexual experience, one that everyone I spoke with could relate to: “My [partner] was humping thin air. I was bald. And a hitherto unknown gentleman was trying to insert a pink balloon which he had fixed to the front of his trousers into the back of my knee.” Despite the excellent work of many animators, Second Life has a long way to go in capturing the most profound expression of human intimacy. The unavoidable clunkiness of SLex likely has a lot to do with why nearly 70% of survey respondents reported only reaching real-life orgasm during SLex “sometimes” or “never”.
But despite its inherent awkwardness, most Residents also know that SLex has the potential to be a powerful and deeply moving experience. For many, the ingredient that makes the difference between fizzle and sizzle is committed intimacy. Nearly 70% of women responded that they “rarely” or “never” have SLex outside of a committed in-world relationship. Well-known blogger Tymmerie Thorne puts the appeal of monogamous SLex like this: “Being in a committed relationship means there are things that are just for him, me and us -– no one else. I love that part -– we have something unique to share.” In a world that is a buffet line of SLexual choices, perhaps some assume that monogamous sex would have limited appeal. But Tymmerie disagrees: “If it has changed [over time], it has become richer and even more special to me. But SLex is not a basis for a whole relationship. It is only a part of what makes a good relationship.”
Gabby Panacek echoes those sentiments when describing how the role of SLex has changed over the course of her longtime partnership with Codebastard Redgrave: “Shortly after I first met my partner, SLex was somewhat important. She is a fantastic SLex partner. Witty, intelligent, adventurous and fun. In the beginning, props and poseballs were important; later, the story itself was enough and we'd find ourselves just standing or cuddling in our skybox while we crafted our story.” And as time passed, Gabby shares that SLex eventually fell away completely. “With each step away from traditional SLex, from text messages, to phone conversations, to Skype and eventually real life, each additional point of contact has strengthened our relationship and brought us closer together. We don't really engage in traditional SLex any longer, and that's okay. It had its place in our relationship, and I'm grateful for the role SLex played in helping us to form our original bond.”
While I’ve certainly been surprised by the way the results of my survey and the stories of Residents have shot down the media stereotype of the promiscuous, oversexed SLer, I also recognize that there are always exceptions. If you’re an SL woman, and I’ve totally missed the boat on your SLexual perspective, let me hear from you in the comments below!
And men...you’re up next time :)
Nightflower is currently dividing her time between writing, raising virtual reptiles, and enjoying the new expansion just released for Lord of the Rings Online. You can read more at her blog, NightLight. Contact her on Twitter @nightflowerSL, and via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.