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Cybersex and sex work in Second Life

The virtual world is still a sanctuary for folks leaning into their sexual fantasies.

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S. NICOLE LANE/SECOND LIFE
  • S. Nicole Lane/Second Life

When I first walked into Black Planet, a sci-fi-themed erotic adult night club, I stood around for a few minutes. I started to jump and fly a little, but quickly realized this wasn't proper sex club etiquette—some clubs even ban it. This particular club offers live music every day from 2 PM to 4 PM, and I arrived just in time. Neon phallic shapes lit up the room and a figure with large black wings led the dance floor. The dark electro pumped throughout the club as I stood there, beneath the purple and blue lights, unsure of what to do. Don't worry, I didn't break my quarantine, but being in my virtual club atmosphere, I had flashbacks of the real-life club. The stench of sweat and beer came rushing back. However, I felt content in Black Planet, sitting in my pajamas in real life, completely nude in Second Life.

Currently, there are about 800,000 to 900,000 users in Second Life (SL), which has declined from its 2013 peak of 1.1 million. The virtual world came to life in 2003 and is one of the oldest 3D cyberspace simulators. After picking an avatar, the free virtual simulator takes you through a short tutorial, and after that, the world is yours. While the fanbase may be dwindling, SL is still incredibly strong with dedicated users, especially those with an interest in BDSM and fetishes. Users can voice chat, send messages, or simply float around (like a voyeur) in SL. Without leaving the comfort of their home, a user can teleport to any fantasy they've ever had—sexual or otherwise.

User MistressLove is a full-time club owner and former sex worker on SL. "I've been playing since 2005," she says. "I'm an oldie!" While every club may ask for different requirements, the basics are that the avatar must be 18 years old in real life (user entered) and have an outfit that appears appropriate for the club (the less, the better). Some clubs, like MistressLove's club, require voice verification. Users only need to be 13 years old when signing up for SL, but there are age restrictions on entering areas with adult content, as well as on purchasing certain items from the marketplace.

In the Adults Only section of SL, there is an abundance of fantasies, kinks, and desires to choose from (over 100 to be exact). The Femdom Mansion offers discussions, parties, and contests on a weekly basis. It's newbie-friendly and invites open conversation to the femdom side of BDSM. Places like the Forest Mansion are set in a German adventure world where you can participate in moderate BDSM in the space amongst live singers, tribute bands, and DJs. Traveling even further, Planet Enzyion offers a magical, otherworldly experience and is a popular honeymoon destination. Adult-only photographers travel here for photoshoots. Bootys 'n Beauties is a genderfluid hangout spot for all sizes and identities. Nookies Gay Club is for gay men to hit the gym, shop together, or enter private rooms. People who participate in specific lifestyles, like furries, can head over to Furry Hangout for private rooms, monthly raffles, events, and live DJs. And if you're looking for your vanilla gentlemen's club, look no further than Labyrinth, and go to Unleashed for an adult venue geared toward women.

There are burlesque clubs, nude beaches, sacred forests, roleplay clubs, and swingers resorts. It's a catalog of sexual preferences.

MistressLove was a virtual sex worker for a few years before opening her club in the virtual world. "I wanted to see more dungeons in the game. Fetish wear and BDSM are popular communities in SL but I wanted to see a very specific type of dungeon, which I wasn't getting." After working in the scene for a few years as a dancer in an LGBTQ-friendly strip club, she decided to take the business plunge. "It's important to know that investing in a club in SL [has] cost me hundreds of U.S. dollars."

Like real life, SL's groundwork lies within commerce, as money is still imperative to the survival of businesses and the future of the virtual world. In SL, however, ways of making or spending money are much more surreal and alternative (like purchasing virtual pubic hair from a seller). Users have Lindens, which are the currency within SL, to purchase items, skins, and pay for services at clubs like MistressLove's. A premium membership for SL costs $11.99 a month and includes a weekly stipend of L$300 and a signup bonus of L$1,000. Premium members can buy land, invest, and purchase items more freely in the marketplace. "So you basically always have some kind of money and are technically making money just by being on the game every week," says MistressLove. "In addition to hosting particular events (which include raffles), I also sell items that I think are beneficial in running my business. I sell skins and accessories for those interested in bondage. This gives me extra revenue in running my venue. Not everyone is going to pay for a Dominatrix. Some people just [come] in to stand around."

Approximately L$252 equal one U.S. dollar. Linden Lab's wholly-owned subsidiary Tilia handles the transaction between SLD and USD for users who want to convert their Lindens to real-life dollars. VirWox, a virtual currency exchange that closed in January 2020, was the easiest way for SL players to convert their Lindens. Other popular ways of converting money include Open Metaverse Currency, Robinhood, Upload, and Buttercoin. Folks on SL can also exchange their money with Bitcoin and on LindeX, SL's official virtual exchange. "Overall, the exchange isn't much," says MistressLove. "My club is a labor of love. I don't pull as much as I put in. But that's okay with me." SL is filled with so many clubs, worlds, beaches, resorts, and anything else you can dream of that sometimes the clubs are more empty than filled. "With so many clubs, there aren't enough players to fill the space. That's why specific clubs are so successful. Hosting events and contests at particular times are key to a great business model in SL. It brings people to the club and fills the space."

Of course, not every club makes it in SL. MistressLove says she knows many people who have opened and closed clubs within a six-month timespan. "Land, building, marketing, advertising, staff, music, security all cost money for me. I have invested a lot of time and finances into my club and I'm really proud of it but it wasn't easy." MistressLove decided to purchase land instead of renting, which would include a landlord and could create an extra headache since it's an adult-only business. "Linden Lab can come to me if they have any issues with my business. I've owned it since 2016 and haven't had any problems! I consider myself a success story," she says.

When MistressLove was a sex worker a few years ago, she remembers teleporting a patron to an island to perform for him. "He kept telling me how he could never do this in real life and how his shyness prevented him from visiting a real club." For some sex-club beginners, SL offers the ability to learn more about a certain kink or fetish. Workshops, seminars, conversations, and libraries geared towards sexual interests are available for avatars to explore. Users can indulge in their desires without any restraints. "I loved being able to work as a dancer and an escort. It's something I would never do in real life. I would never own a dungeon in real life either. I love being someone else on Second Life, and I love being able to please people and give them what they want." MistressLove may not be making millions off of her sex work and sex club, but she says, "I'm a disabled woman who suffers from chronic illness. I couldn't get up and dance on a stage even if you paid me in real life! Second Life has given me the freedom to be who I fantasize about. I don't think I would be a sex worker if I was able-bodied per se, but I do enjoy being able to dance, slide down a pole, perform sexual acts, do backbends, and whatever else all while sitting in a wheelchair in real life. That's worth so much more than the money."

S. NICOLE LANE/SECOND LIFE
  • S. Nicole Lane/Second Life

I found myself in oRgAsMs, a free adult sex lounge with poles and vivid videos displaying sexual acts.

"You're basically up my ass," someone typed to me when I realized my avatar was literally on top of them. This room prohibits voice chat so the chat feature is appreciated for a novice like me. Still, I gasped, not knowing where to go or where to run. I ran straight into another avatar who was completely naked and whose penis almost reached his toes. With a large whip between his legs, Jorg578 typed, "Hi sweety, how's your day going?" Panicked, I teleported to another world. Yes, I was chickenshit. Even in this virtual reality world, I ran away from men talking to me. But I found that in every world I went to I was met with another unsolicited conversation. In retrospect, what did I think was going to happen? It's a sex club in cyberspace. I ended up in Skinny Dip Nude Beach where I watched dancers, chatted with a man-deer hybrid, and sat on a pink dildo machine.

I'm a bit relieved I didn't indulge in SL at an earlier age. I can easily see how I would have been slack-jawed, sleep-deprived, and finger-cramped at 14 years old. It's better that I explore now when deadlines are due and I have real-life responsibilities that prohibit me from denying myself any sleep.

User HaileyNicole has been playing SL since she was 12 years old. Back in 2009, users could join as a teen sim, but now, you have to be 13 years old and there are restrictions for younger folks.

Since she's not working during the pandemic, HaileyNicole has been playing SL every day. Normally, she plays four days a week at night. When HaileyNicole first reached out to me, she mentioned that SL can be judged and stereotyped. I asked about this, via e-mail correspondence, and she explained that SL is seen as something that features adult content and is played by someone who is "in a basement that never sees daylight."

HaileyNicole says, of course, SL does have those types of people but "there are also some amazing communities, churches, events, games, parties. There are people that had a really bad childhood and they can recreate it in Second Life to have a good one. Disabled people that can do anything their heart desires that they can't do in real life, women that can't have kids can go through a virtual pregnancy and have a child and grow a family. There are businesses that support people's families in real life, there are fundraisers that raise money for real-life people and places and events. People meet lifelong friends, partners, lovers."

HaileyNicole created a large family, which is something that she doesn't have in real life. She met her SL family in real life this past year. Her SL parents are the same age as her real-life parents and her SL sister is just two years younger than her. She says there was no awkwardness. They ate at a restaurant, went to a garden, took a tour of a museum, and stayed at an Airbnb. "Our parents consider us their real kids that they didn't get to have together because they met later in life," she says.

SL has given HaileyNicole the freedom to escape without any worries. "I can look however I want, do whatever I want, and be the person I may not be so comfortable being in real life." It wasn't until last year that HaileyNicole participated in sexual activities on SL. She says while she doesn't date much in SL, as she's more into dating in real life, she did see potential in someone last year. They went on a date, listened to soft music, and sailed across open waters. After hours of talking and dancing, the duo had virtual voice-chat sex. HaileyNicole doesn't visit the several sex avatars and clubs on SL because she's personally not a huge club fan. She's more into exploring, shopping, and playing games. But her real-life best friend was a sex worker on SL so she knows a bit about the lifestyle. "At those clubs, the girls get paid, DJs and hosts get paid, live singers get paid, and they all make pretty good money off of these tips," HaileyNicole explains. "There are a lot of ways you can make money in Second Life. It is some people's full-time jobs (mainly creators)."

I've dabbled in SL as a lifelong Sims player, but I became overwhelmed and frustrated at not understanding it right away. HaileyNicole says this is common. "People will come and try to play it but when you are new it is so hard to get into it and figure it out unless you have someone helping you. Everybody has a different Second Life experience and this is just mine and my opinion from what I have seen and experienced."

You can be a banker, real estate agent, wedding planner, tattoo artist, a person who sits in a camping chair (long durations of sitting can earn you the small amount of L$1 per 10 minutes), or a sex worker in the groundbreaking reality of Second Life.

I signed off of Second Life after visiting Skinny Dip Nude Beach. "Thunderstruck" by ACDC played as the DJ announced that for the next two hours they would be playing 80s hard rock hits. I passed signs that advertised "free cock" and found my way to the nude beach to join the dance party. I was reprimanded for wearing stockings and was instructed to remove them. All nude or swimwear only allowed. Yes, sir!

As "More Than Words" by Extreme slowly started playing on the dance floor, a user began to sing the lyrics to me on voice chat. The rest is Second Life cybersex history.   v

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