Second Life Users Anonymously Discuss How They Juggle Real & Virtual Romances at the Same Time

Night and Scooter Second Life Sex

Really interesting anonymous thread on Plurk*, a social network popular with SLers, which starts by asking Second Life users how they're able to manage both a real life relationship while also spending lots of time in a virtual relationship. "I can barely keep up with one relationship in one world," the thread creator notes. "No idea how you manage both."

Communication, communication, communication:

For me it's emotionally fulfilling to have both and I do agree that I love each person differently. The heart has this amazing capacity when you allow it... My relationship with my SL partner is fully separate from my relationship with my RL partner. They are friends and speak openly though... I have a RL partner who understands my SL relationship. My SL partner and I had very similar needs so we have worked well together for years.

... with some pointed commentary:

I look at everyone who tells me its not real, like they are a bunch of liars and I just want them to admit it is real. Like when my friends tell me about it I'm like, i need you to stop bullshitting me if we're going to talk about this and stop telling me "oh it's not real because it's SL." I wasn't born yesterday.

I think a lot of married couples are inconsiderate of the RL people behind the SL relationship. At the end of the day, that person is alone and the married couple isn't. Just seems wrong to string them along.

And helpful advice:

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In Academic Study of Sex in Second Life, 60% Enjoy Virtual Version Over Real Life Thing

Sex in Second Life

Just came across this WTF factoid arguing that virtual reality will kill porn as we know it:

In the journal Psychology and Sexuality, Gilbert and his team investigated the sexual behavior and attitudes in Second Life. He and his team looked at 217 participators in the virtual world game — about 51 percent who were in a real-life relationship and 49 percent who were not. Within the game, 43 percent of the players had sexual experiences. In Second Life users can purchase and attach virtual genitalia and engage in sexual relationships with other players. They found that 60 percent of the subjects actually had more satisfying sexual sexual experiences in Second Life than in real life.

That from an academically rigorous study from California university researchers. Which is notable partly because a recent informal survey suggested two-thirds of SLers prefer the real thing. I continue to be stunned how many people, when given the chance, prefer the simulation of what's fundamental about the human experience at its best than the thing itself. Even happiness.

The study [.pdf link here], which was published in 2011 (academic results often move out of academia at a glacial pace) does have some consolation for the reality biased:

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Why Second Life Users & Linden Lab Need to Honestly & Openly Address SL's "Weird Sex" Branding Problem

Second Life Sex Branding Problem

Above is the top upvoted comment on that Reddit "Today I Learned" topic about Second Life I mentioned yesterday. It's yet another illustration of why I don't think it's realistic for either Second Life users or Linden Lab to pretend like SL doesn't have a "weird sex" branding problem. Reddit's /TodayILearned group has nearly 9 million subscribers, and a good percent of them (perhaps 10-20%) are reading this comment. And so, if those millions aren't already like this Redditor "kidamy", and they don't remember notorious, widely-covered "weird sex" incidents from Second Life's 12 year history, comments like his will be their first impression of Second Life. (But really, thanks to countless "weird sex in Second Life" memes like this one, any extremely active Internet user is going to have that brand association already.)

Which brings us to a very important realization about product branding:

Once a brand is associated with a divisive or deeply negative connotation, it's nearly impossible to remove that association from the general public perception.

Note that I say "divisive or deeply negative". Because many Second Life users will think, "But there's nothing wrong with weird virtual sex, you're just a prude if you think otherwise!" Even if that were true, however, the fact remains that many or most of the public does indeed believe weird virtual sex to be strange/offensive/etc., and that assumption isn't about to be changed any time soon.

In fact, there's generally just three ways to remove a bad branding association:

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Debate Over Media Coverage of Second Life Sex Continues

Second Life sex drama

Nalates Urriah has an interesting post on the debate over how the media should cover sexual content in Second Life, largely based around an interview I gave to Vice about Twitch banning SL, entitled (of course), "Second Life Is Banned From Twitch Because Cocks Can Happen at Any Moment". I didn't bother mentioning the Vice article when it ran last Monday, partly because I'm fairly weary of beating that topic (heh heh he said "beating"), and partly because it's difficult to have a calm conversation around it. As Nalates notes:

Politicians know they can stampede a significant number of people and achieve their goals. So, I never know if someone skilled at emotional manipulation is believing what they say because they are in it or if they are just working the crowd. I do know, either way, it can draw out the haters.

"Haters" seems a bit harsh (as does the Saul Alinsky reference), because I do understand why the topic makes some of SL's most passionate defenders so defensive. But seeing as I've basically been in that role since 2003, I'll just offer my own perspective:

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In Survey of Second Life Sexual Activity, Over One-Third of Participants Find Virtual Sex More Fun Than the Real Thing

Sex in Second Life

Canary Beck has a really interesting summary of a survey she conducted of Second Life users, asking them about their SL-based sexual activity. Of the 267 who responded, 172 reported that they were sexually active in Second Life. From that data set, some striking results emerged, including:

  • "36% of the respondents find Second Life sex more fun than real life sex."
  • "74% wished their real life sexual experiences were like their Second Life sexual experiences."
  • "92% of those that find Second Life sex more fun wished their real life sexual experiences were more like their Second Life sexual experiences."

Her data suggests the latter result is attributable to the ability to engage through Second Life the kind of sexual activity that's likely less frequent in real life for many people for various reasons ("kinky sex (87%), and sex with different partners (89%)"). The top item mirrors the results of an academic study from leading virtual world academic Edward Castronova, co-authored with Gert G. Wagner, that people get more happiness from being in Second Life than good news from real life. Indeed, Canary concludes "The data suggests those who like Second Life Sex more are having less real-life sex than those who prefer real-life sex over Second Life sex."

That's not to say everyone's like that -- Canary's survey included an open question which includes answers like this:

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Twitch is Technically Correct to Ban Second Life for Adult Content Focus & Graphically Nude Avatar Feature

Twitch's policy prohibiting Second Life streaming has caused a lot of outrage among some SLers, but that annoyance overlooks an inconvenient fact: It's technically correct. Twitch's statement says Second Life content "is sexually explicit, which is content we do not allow on our services". And in fact, the majority of Second Life's most popular sims are Adult-rated for extreme sexual and violent content -- look:

Second Life Adult content Twitch ban

Courtesy Louis Platini's Metaverse Business, these are the top 25 most active Second Life sims this month, listed by average avatar visitor count at any given period, visitor range, and previous position -- 13 of which are Adult-rated. So that's already a problem for Twitch.

Now let's look at the full statement from Twitch:

Content in [Second Life] is unrated and often sexually explicit, which is content we do not allow on our services. We also do not permit Adults-Only rated games and games where nudity is the core focus, feature, or goal.

Second Life is not rated by the ESRB, but if it was, it'd be rated Adults-only.

But what about the idea that nudity in Second Life is "the core focus, feature, or goal?" The fact that most popular Second Life sims are Adult-rated definitely suggests nudity is a core focus/feature/goal.

But here's an even more pressing point:

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SL Sex With a RL Lover - Jenn Frank's "All the Spaces Between Us" (Part 2)

Sex in Second Life

Originally published in Kill Screen Magazine and now serially featured in NWN with new screenshots and an afterword by the author, “All the Spaces Between Us - Struggling to Connect in a Pixelated World” is Jenn Frank’s deeply personal account of exploring Second Life and what she learned about identity, sex, creativity, life, and death along the way. (Read Part 1 here) -- Hamlet Au

When I asked Zachary if he wanted to have sex in Second Life with me, he said yes. He and I had been dating, rockily, for five years. He said he missed me.

I was in another state. I’d been living with my parents for a few months. I was getting scared. I still rented the apartment in San Francisco, and Zachary still had a pair of keys to it. He was taking care of my pets and plants. Maybe if he really missed me, he could let himself into the apartment and sit inside. He could even use the Xbox if he wanted. He could read my books. He could use the kitchen, he could use the shower and the toilet.

Sure, he missed me. So he said yes.

I explained that Virtual Amsterdam was a place that couples went, and that I’d—really! Really!—never been there before. But I’d read about it. We could rent a room?

Zachary said yes.

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RIP Eddie Escher, Pioneering Second Life Creator UPDATED: Added Short Video Documentary

Eddie Escher Chris Edwards Second Life

Fallingwater Cellardoor & Eddie Escher in Second Life, 2004; Alayne Wartell & Chris Edwards at his 40th birthday, 2010

Once upon a time, two shy but talented 3D artists met as avatars in Second Life, fell in love with each others' virtual creativity, and then finally, fell in love with each other, and moved across an ocean, to be together. In Second Life they were known as Fallingwater Cellardoor and Eddie Escher, and in 2004, they were among the world's best 3D artists. I wrote about how they met and fell in love then, but sad to say that Eddie, called Chris Edwards, passed away eariler this year, tragically just shy of his 45th birthday. Years before mesh or even sculpted prims, Eddie (a game dev artist by trade), showed how beautiful Second Life prims can be (see below). Fallingwater recently posted this sad news on the new Facebook group for longtime SLers, and since the story of their meeting is among my favorites, I wanted to share it here:

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"Happily Ever Avatar" Documentary Seeking UK-Based Love Stories From the Metaverse

6a00d8341bf74053ef017d4110665d970c-800wiJanine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There's a documentary about virtual world to real world romances in the works and Back2back, the documentary company developing it, are looking for participants based in the UK to share their stories about Second Life, World of Warcraft and beyond. 

According to this quote straight from the casting call shared by Linden Lab, Back2back seem like they're interested in telling a fairly flattering story about virtual romances:

 The programme is a completely positive documentation of these relationships, where we look at relationships that have blossomed through online gaming, with players falling in love through their avatars and going on to have meaningful, committed relationships in the real world. It will look at unconventional relationships in a counterintuitive way, overturning many of our prejudices and misconceptions with honest storytelling. It will challenge us to realise that committed, successful relationships can embrace the unusual.

If you'd be interested in participating, or know someone who would be, get all the details from the original post from Linden Lab here.

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Cheating in Second Life Relationships Extremely Upsetting to Many SLers, Study Finds


Cheating in Second Life-based romantic relationships is extremely disturbing to the person being betrayed, a new study by a Belgian academic finds. This won't come as a shock to longtime SLers, but the study, led by PhD candidate Katleen Gabriels (of Vrije Universiteit Brussel), puts some quantified numbers to this insight. Surveying nearly 400 volunteers, both Second Life users (250 of that 400) and non-users, she explains, the researchers "asked to imagine as vividly as possible one of two scenarios: You are being cheated on by your actual partner, versus you are being cheated on by your partner in Second Life." Unsurprisingly, non-SLers were disturbed by the former scenario, but didn't react much to the Second Life hypothetical.

However, when SLers were asked to rate their reaction on a scale of "not at all" to "extreme", here's the percent who went with the strongest response:

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