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Here are the allegations against virtual sex in Second Life: it’s tawdry. It’s not only pornography, but cartoon pornography, and not only cartoon pornography, but bad cartoon pornography. It’s not real sex. It’s all about staring at your computer screen. It’s a form of masturbation. It’s not sexy, and if it is sexy, the sexy things about it are all lies.

And there’s often the implication that anyone who has virtual sex only has it because they can’t get physical sex and must be desperate and unattractive, not to mention lying about their age, attractiveness and gender.

I can hardly blame people for having these opinions about virtual sex. For every sensitive, creative, graceful virtual lover there seem to be a dozen default avatars wielding cheap, oversized prim penises in inappropriate locations and IMing people nearly at random saying “u r so hott, u wanna have sx???”

And standing up for virtual sex isn’t exactly the way to stand out as a respectable person. Of course it’s much easier for me, being anonymous, than it would be for most people who aren’t. After all, I can talk about this subject all I want and not have to worry about tomorrow getting a raised eyebrow from a client at one of the companies where I do work or frantically e-mailed Dr. Phil lectures from a concerned aunt. But regardless, someone has to stand up for virtual sex, because virtual sex can be a beautiful and a wonderful thing.

Before I go on, let me mention one thing: I’m not advocating for anyone who isn’t interested to go out and have virtual sex. Lots of people aren’t interested and I think that’s fine and good. There’s a lot more to virtual environments than cybersex.

With that out of the way, let me address a question wyldside put out on the Second Lifers’ discussion group here. “Which is better,” he asks, “cybersex or real sex?”

No one has answered “cybersex” so far. A couple of people have mentioned that cybersex is nice, but most quickly follow-up by saying they prefer physical sex by a wide margin. Several people say the kinds of things I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Here’s what I say: sometimes physical sex is better, and sometimes virtual sex is better. Yes, better. Why?

Well, first let’s look at what can be good about virtual sex. People who think of it as strictly visual are either stereotypical men or missing the point. I’m sure some men can use Second Life sex as pornographic computer animation and nothing more, and by and large I think that’s fine. Orgasms are a good thing. They’re normal, healthy, and lots of fun. If that’s the way you want to get them, why should anyone be complaining, providing you’re treating people with respect?

But while there are exceptions, I’d like to point out that by and large for women, watching animated characters poking things into each other will not get us *anywhere*. Sex occurs primarily in the brain. As such, there’s no reason that virtual sex needs to be a pathetic wannabe form of sex.

Different people prefer different things. In both First Life and Second Life, the only kind of sex that really works for me is emotional. I know that’s a very girly thing to say, but I think it applies to men sometimes too. You want to feel like you have an impact on the other person’s emotions, that you are attractive. You want to feel drawn to the other person, compelled, and them to you. Perhaps you even want to feel some kind of emotional closeness, a mutual vulnerability, a willingness to do things with each other and to say and think things you wouldn’t do or say or think with just anyone. All of this can happen in First Life, and all of it can happen in Second Life. The kind of virtual sex I admire is the kind where there is a lot of lead-up, a lot of talking, and some animations to set the stage. A sex animation in Second Life doesn’t need to be the central thing going on: it can be the bearskin rug, the provocative negligee, the ice cube gently touching the base of your throat.

As to virtual sex being masturbation, sure, it can be. It can be just some animations on the screen and two or more people either not communicating or role-playing, with no real connection. But it can also be two people communicating and connecting and pushing each others’ buttons as well as they can with nothing but a keyboard and mouse (and perhaps a microphone) to work with. It can be done with a lot less, to tell you the truth. Have you ever read a truly passionate letter? Have you ever had phone sex?

As far as I’m concerned, if two people are communicating with each other and causing each other to have orgasms, anyone who says that’s not sex is trying to get off on a technicality. Um…no pun intended.

Still not convinced that virtual sex can be better than physical sex? Good, because I hadn’t gotten to that part yet. If what I’m saying is that virtual sex can have some of the same virtues as physical sex, just in a much more limited way (and yes, that’s what I’m saying), then how can it be *better* than physical sex?

Because of what it doesn’t have.

I mean, obviously virtual sex doesn’t have sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancies, messy linens to clean up, or the same expense as physical sex. What’s more important is that virtual sex also offers complete physical safety (not a minor consideration if you’re a woman having casual sex!) and certain limits, boundaries that make the relationship much lower stakes than a physical relationship would be.

Let me tell you a little about my First Life self. You’ll have to take my word on this, if you’re willing, and since I’m not willing to publicly connect my First and Second Lives, I won’t be offended if you don’t want to, but for what it’s worth, here’s my honest summary of my situation: I can get physical sex. I head off situations that are leading to physical sex with friendly, healthy, attractive people on a regular basis. I’m fit and attractive. I’m single and free to do as I please. I’m in my late thirties, old enough to know very well what I’m doing, but young enough to have some of the tautness of youth that so many people seem to like. Why am I spending my time having (occasional) virtual sex rather than having regular physical sex?

Because I haven’t found my long-term partner yet, and casual physical sex doesn’t appeal to me. It goes back to that emotional involvement thing: for me to really enjoy sex, I want to get emotionally involved…but emotionally involved is exactly what I don’t want to be with somebody whom I’ve decided is nice but not for me, especially someone (and there seem to be a lot of these somebodies lately) who would gladly take it to the next level. Virtual sex allows me to be emotionally intimate without having people trying to thrust rings onto my finger (or wait, maybe that’s the opposite of the image I should be evoking). It allows me to have sex with good friends, which is a wonderful pasttime to pursue while I wait to find the person I’m really looking for.

I don’t claim that other people have this exact same situation. I’m not even claiming that there isn’t a lot of cheap, tawdry virtual sex. What I am saying is that virtual sex deserves some respect as one appropriate way that two (or more) people can open up to their erotic sides. I know that many of us (especially Americans) come from a background of people who were frightened to death of sex. Let’s try to shake that off, not only about physical sex, but about any kind of sexual expression that has some beauty in it.

^^^\ Kate /^^^