As with every medium since cave paintings, sex is a big part of Second Life. The virtual world is a haven where people can fulfill their sexual fantasies. But it also has a dark side.
Fitzpatrick agreed. "We're not talking about 17-year-old girls with plaid skirts above their knees playing schoolgirl. We're talking about eight-year-olds being bound, whipped. It's extreme," she said.
Although Rosedale says sexual ageplay was always banned in Second Life, longtime residents say it was widespread until about January. Everybody knew about it. Then, in January, Linden Lab cracked down and started shutting down sexual ageplay areas.
Sex work in Second Life can often be exploitive, Fitzpatrick said. "These girls work, they work hard, and they don't get paid very much," she said. "There's a lot of people from developing countries. It attracts people who are unemployed." Sex work in Second Life also attracts stay-at-home Moms. "She can get in there, turn some tricks and hope that she's going to make enough to pay her gasoline money for a week," she said.
But other Second Life sex workers are just having fun, looking it as a way to pick up some extra money which they then spend in-world, she said. "I know people who are engineers, who get good salaries and have full lives, and they do prostitution in Second Life because they think it's fun and cool," she said. "Most of the ones I know who rent from me, or that I come across, they do prostitution to pay for the [in-world] shopping."
Sex advice columnist Dan Savage said cybersex, both on the Internet in general and in Second Life in particular, can be beneficial.
Savage's column, SavageLove combines raunchy language, celebration of alternate sexuality, and hardheaded advice. The column runs in the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger and is syndicated to alt-weeklies like New York's Village Voice nationwide.
He said sex in Second Lifeis now being viewed with suspicion, as Internet dating and phone sex were initially. But Second Life sex, like Internet dating and phone sex, will become mainstream. It has its risks, but sex often does. "We've become acclimated to the risks and rewards of technologies as people apply them to sex, and all new technologies are applied to sex. Sex is always the leader," he said.
Cybersex allows people to explore their sexual fantasies, some of which are physically impossible in real life, like men pretending to be women for sexual gratification, Savage noted.
Second Life is also a place where people who are unattractive in real life can experience being attractive and sexually sought after, he said.
Savage says he doesn't use Second Life himself, but has friends who do, and he's looked over their shoulders when they used it. "It seemed like a colossal waste of time to me," he said, but then he added, "I'm a writer. I live in front of my laptop, and the last thing I want to do when I get home at night is power up the laptop and live in the laptop. That's an 'I,' 'me' statement, not a general statement," he said.
Linden Lab Cracking Down
Until recently, Linden Lab didn't do much enforcement of rules on sexual activity in Second Life. But, spurred by European investigators, they've started cracking down on sexual ageplay.
And they recently announced plans to \institute age verification, requiring content providers in Second Life -- known in Second Life jargon as "land owners" -- to flag adult content, and requiring residents to provide proof of age before being allowed to access adult content.
A Second Life resident who goes by the name "Gwyneth LLewelyn" said in a blog post that most participants in cybersex -- especially patrons of Second Life sex businesses -- will likely refuse to go through the validation process, and that will mean that sexual activity will be reduced drastically. Some professional content creators will be willing to take the privacy risks, and their remaining customers will be willing to pay more for high-quality content. The result: Sex in Second Life will become a lot less popular for amateurs and boutique businesses, and more of the domain of big businesses.
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