As promised, I’ve summarised the responses to my Second Life Sex Survey and the results are surprising in several ways. To my knowledge, there are relatively few quantitative studies in the field of Second Life sexual behaviour, but I’m hoping there will be more.
The only published study I was able to find was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior (Craft, 2012). Entitled A Qualitative Exploration of Sex and Relationships in the Virtual World of Second Life, the author shares results of a web-based survey that received 235 responses (Gilbert, Gonzalez and Murphy, 2011).
The author concluded that the “interest and experience of different sexual practices supported findings by other researchers that online environments facilitated access, but also indicated that interest in certain sexual practices could differ between offline and online environments.”
My findings are very similar.
In addition to this, the researchers concluded that Second Life residents were “more satisfied with the romantic relationships they form in the virtual world than the ones in their real life” and “that their level of sexual satisfaction with virtual world relationships was roughly equal to what they experienced in their real world relationships.”
Further study findings revealed:
Half of respondents felt they could communicate better with their Second Life partner than their real-life partner. One-third of respondents said they felt a “stronger connection” to their Second Life partner.
Most respondents (70%) said their Second Life relationship was like a real-life long-distance relationship, but only 19% of respondents had met their Second Life partner in person. Respondents were split evenly with regard to which type of relationship offered greater sexual satisfaction. Roughly 43% of respondents were more satisfied with sexuality in Second Life, while 42% were more satisfied with real life.
“Most users reported Second Life relationships having a much shorter duration than their real-life relationships. If users are generally spending less time with Second Life partners, then that means fewer opportunities for arguments or miscommunication in the relationship. Second Life avatars may have any appearance, so they are likely to meet ideals of beauty and physical attractiveness better than real persons.
There was some overlap in the questions of my survey compared to the findings in the Cambridge survey above. My findings agree with theirs.
The survey sample
267 people completed my web-based survey. That sounds great, but it’s really very small. For you stat geeks like me, my survey results have a 99% confidence level with a confidence interval (margin for error) of ±8 against a population that I estimate is 50,000 (based mainly on Second Life concurrency). That’s not terrible, but I’d much prefer a sample size of at least 1,000, which would give me a margin or error of about ±4. Sorry guys, but I need more respondents to increase the validity and reliability of my surveys!
52% of respondents where from the United States. 11% were from the UK. Followed by respondents from Finland (7%), Canada (5%) and 23 other countries making up the long tail. 64% of respondents indicated they were sexually active in Second Life – which followed on to complete the survey.
This geographic breakdown in interesting, because studies show that Americans are only 48% sexually satisfied, far behind residents of Switzerland, Spain and Italy – go team Europe! With that said, I’d expect demographic differences of this nature affecting the validity of the data in my survey. Still, Metaverse Business suggests that 45% of Second Life residents log on from within the United States – so in that regard, this sample is geographically valid. I was however surprised to not see more Brazilians represented (I only got 1%), given that they make up 4% of Second Life residents and have the excellent distinction of being the 4th most sexually satisfied country and the 2nd best lovers in the world!
I wanted the results of my survey to represent people’s actual sexual experiences, not their imagined ones. Therefore, I specifically targeted this survey at those who were sexually active in Second Life, resulting in a sample of 172.
Of the sexually active respondents to my survey, most were between 7-9 years in Second Life (44%), followed by residents aged between 4-6 years (30%), then those in Second Life between 1-3 years (12%), 9 years or older (8%) and those less than a year in Second Life (6%). Because this survey was distributed over blogs and social media, I think this data is more representative of Second Life residents who also interact outside of Second Life, than a cross-section of residents that limit their interactions to only with other Second Life residents inworld.
Which is more fun? Virtual sex or real-life sex?
Ask 100 people on the street this question and 99 or more would probably think you’d be crazy for asking it. With that being said, 36% of the respondents find Second Life sex more fun than real life sex. I was surprised that this number was so high at first, but then I had a closer look at the data, and I can see why.
It turns out that those who find Second Life sex more fun than real life sex are similarly distributed across age and real life locations to those that find real life sex more fun – so no clues there.
It’s no surprise, however, that 92% of those that find Second Life sex more fun wished their real life sexual experiences were more like their Second Life sexual experiences. It also follows that this sub-group are having sex in Second Life more frequently (37% between daily and weekly). In real life, they are mainly having sex between monthly and yearly (26%) and often leaving more than a year in between sexual experiences (23%). As a point of comparison, only 11% of the larger group of respondents said they are having sex between daily and weekly in Second Life.
Most respondents said they find real-life sex more fun than Second Life sex. Yet, at first surprisingly, 64% wished their real-life experiences were more like their Second Life sexual experiences. This sub-group enjoys real-life sex more than Second Life sex, but one could assume they would like more kinky sex (87%), and sex with different partners (89%) – even if they are of lower quality. Despite finding real-life sex more fun, 27% of this sub-group find the time to have sex in Second Life on a daily to weekly basis. By comparison, this sub-group are less sexually active in real-life (20% responding they do have sex in real-life between daily and weekly) than in Second Life.
Does one’s longevity in Second Life affect sexual behaviour?
It turns out that 20% of those with less than one year of residency find Second Life sex more fun. However, that number rockets up to 60%, for residents between 1 year and 3 years. This sub-group is the only group that finds Second Life sex more fun than real life sex. One to three years seems to be the Second Life sexual enjoyment peak, because this number drops to 37% for those aged between 4 and 6, then 34% for those aged between 7 and 9. For those with over 9 years in Second Life, only 23% find SL more fun. In a way, one could argue that this curve mirrors the conventional wisdom of our real life sexual performance, with a peak being found in between our 20s and 40s, followed by a slow but inexorable decline. This conventional wisdom is clearly echoed in this chart from the largest nationally representative study of sexual and sexual-health behaviours ever fielded in the US.
What can we glean from these findings? 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. Is this former group replacing a void in their RL sex lives with Second Life sex? It might seem so. This conclusion is hardly groundbreaking, and the same could be said for masturbation in general (which in fact is not true – people in sexual relationships masturbate more than those not in sexual relationships), but at least now we have some numbers.
Do we wish our real life sex lives were more like our Second Life sex lives?
74% wished their real life sexual experiences were like their Second Life sexual experiences.
This didn’t come as a surprise to me at all. On the surface, Second Life offers a Pandora’s Box of sexual experiences that I’d imagine many people would avoid for some reason or another in their real lives. Dangers, both to physical health and reputation, relatively vanish in a virtual world. Still, emotional risks are likely no less prevalent than in real life. Yet, many will happily accept these risks in exchange for sexual liberation.
It follows too that 45% of those who wish their real-life sexual experiences to be more like their Second Life sexual experiences reported they find Second Life sex more fun than RL sex (which is higher than the average for the group – 36%).
The data says this sub-group (that wishes real-life sex was more like Second Life sex) is keen due to a generally more liberal attitude toward kinks (86% find themselves more liberal in Second Life than in RL), quantity or partners (86%), and sexual preference (83%).
It’s also not surprising that 89% of those that wished their Second Life sexual experiences were more like their real-life sexual experiences, find RL sex more fun than Second Life sex.
How often are we having sex in real-life vs Second Life?
Many people assume that one’s sex life all but dies when one marries. In reality, the average couple in the US reports having sex about 7 times a month (or slightly less than twice a week). This number decreases with both age and relationship duration.
Many pundits and even some Second Life residents assume that every body (else) is having sex in Second Life all the time. My data suggests that this is far from the case, but there is truth to the notion that sex ismore common in Second Life than you’d find it in real life.
First off, does this matter? Yes, studies show that having more sex is linked with more positive outcomes in a relationship – such as overall satisfaction, greater relationship happiness. This can be a virtuous cycle: “satisfied couples have sex more often and frequent sex leads to increases in sexual satisfaction” (Source)
18% of respondents reported having sex in real life once a year or less, which in my opinion, is a bit troubling. Having sex is healthy. It improves for one’s mental and emotional health balance, one’s hormonal health, longevity, physical fitness, attractiveness, sensory awareness, pain relief, and a whole bunch of other positive outcomes, whether one is in a relationship or not.
I was curious about this sub-group, to see how their habits were reflected in Second Life. Unsurprisingly, 45% of this sub-group finds Second Life sex more fun than real-life sex, compared to 36% for the group as a whole. 77% said they wished their RL sexual experiences were more like their Second Life sexual experiences, and 19% of them are having daily sex in Second Life (compared to 10% for the group) with 26% having sex in Second Life between daily and weekly (compared to 30% for the group).
This is excellent news, and suggests that Second Life can in fact be used to derive similar benefits as real-life sex might when in a relationship. To be sure, sex in Second Life primarily involves masturbation to orgasm (I think, I’ll have to add this question to my next survey). Likewise, it carries all the physical, mental and sexual health benefits that a daily masturbation habit endows for both men and women alike.
5% of survey respondents reported enjoying daily sex in real life. Strangely, to me at least, 25% of this sub-group still reported finding sex in Second Life more fun than sex in real life. These are clearly very sexually active people, with 50% of them having daily sex in Second Life too! Granted, this is a very small group (8 respondents), but I have to wonder: Where do they find the energy? I’m guessing they are having a lot of green smoothies.
30% of respondents reported having sex in Second Life between daily and weekly. This subset prefers real-life sex only 56% of the time. 75% of them wish their RL sex lives were like their Second Life sex lives. Still 23% of them are having sex in Second Life between monthly and yearly, and 21% are having it between daily and weekly.
2% of respondents haven’t had sex in second life for over a year. This is a very small subset (3 respondents), so there is little representative value in this statistic. Still, 100% of these respondents find real-life sex more fun than Second Life sex, which might be the reason. These residents tend to have more longevity in Second Life. Oddly, 100% of them wished their RL sex life was more like their Second Life sex life. There’s something I don’t understand about that finding at all. This group was also surprising, in that they are more liberal when it comes to sexual privacy in their real lives than in SL – another very odd finding.
How have sex lives in Second Life affected sex lives in real-life?
I wanted to add at least one free text question in the survey to explore people’s views on Second Life sex. In answer to the question: How have your sexual experiences in Second Life altered your sexual experiences in real life? I selected the following quotes:
“I’ve used SL to explore bdsm themes that i’ve transferred to rl… it’s a good platform to learn about ideas, experience some of the thought processes associated before attempting rl versions.”
“Not really altered, but I do sometimes find myself quire aroused after sexual experiences in SL and very keen to have some RL fun as a result.”
“Yes, absolutely – It’s been a mind opener, but you can’t achieve the kind of intimacy in SL that you can in RL. When you mix the two – magic.”
“Helped me decide to get on a plane to Paris in RL and experience RL sex with my SL partner 🙂 Best thing I ever did for myself. I encourage others to meet SL partners for real.”
“They haven’t. No sex in RL. I must say, in some ways, I think it makes me miss it more.”
“I suppose they’ve made me more imaginative and taught me how to use my words. (Unf, and I do.) I don’t think that SL has encouraged me to try anything I wouldn’t have tried anyway. It has just enabled me to experiment with those things safely while I located a suitable partner in RL.”
“when I had a partner in SL, decreased my interest in searching for a partner RL.”
“I have very limited amount of partners both lives. I do feel intimacy in both lives and certain deep trust. Pleasure is quite different kind in my rl and sl sex relationships.. I am much more limited in trying new and challenge my limits in RL… SL filles my needs in different level.. fantasy part and my deepest needs. My life in SL is drama free and I have found partner who takes me as I am.. he means much for me in very special level.”
“I want more out of my RL sex life because of my experiences with SL sexual encounters/rp. Sex in SL is like an erotica novel coming to life. For me it is the story, the role play, not pose balls and pixels, though I am picky about avatar appearance. They have to have invested some time in that, just like I have. A bad looking avi ruins the story and the magic for me and just isn’t worth my time.”
“rl sex is performed out of obligation. sl sex is performed because i want to. rl sex is not satisfying. sl sex is always satisfying with the right partner and if i’m in the mood. if rl sex was good i wouldn’t need sl sex. simple as that.”
“I can get off with masturbation & good SL sex easier than I did wih just masturbation alone. In that respect I’m more sexually active now, even though I don’t have a partner in RL.”
“They’ve made me fantasize more, and made me want to better learn all that my body likes, sexually. I feel less repressed, meaning, I allow myself to fantasize and feel more than I used to, because I’ve realized that playing some fantasies in my mind doesn’t mean that I want them really happening in the real world. I enjoy the risk without the possible dangerous consequences, because it all happens in my mind.”
In these comments, and in conversations I’ve had inworld (e.g. at the Basilique Chat Salon held on this subject last week), sex in Second Life opens minds, enriches experiences, offers relief to those with less than satisfying real-life sex lives, and might even help one explore one’s own sexuality to a greater degree.
In many ways, Second Life can be a form of sexual self-help.
Are you more sexually liberated in Second Life than you are in RL?
Question 8 in the survey was: When it comes to practising sex in Second Life, in which life are you more liberal when it comes to
- sexual preference
- quality of partner
- quantity of partner
Across the board, and in every representative subset, respondents said they are considerably more liberal when it comes to having sex in Second Life than in real life, and in every respect.
We’re more bisexual. 82% of respondents said they are more liberal when it comes to sexual preference in Second Life
We’re sexually kinkier. 83% of respondents said they are more liberal when it comes to kinks in Second Life
We’re have lower standards. 64% of respondents said they are more liberal when it comes to quality of partners in Second Life
We’re more sexually promiscuous. 88% of respondents said they are more liberal when it comes to quantity of partners in Second Life
We’re more sexually polygamous. 76% of respondents said they are more liberal when it comes to fidelity in Second Life.
We’re more sexually public. 73% of respondents said they are more liberal when it comes to privacy in Second Life.
Personal views and interpretations
With statistics like these, I suggest that our ability to be more sexually liberated about sex in Second Life is one of its killer apps. Second Life is a place where one can live a life with different edges, and sexual experience in Second Life is a manifestation of that fact.
There are many, many reasons people might cite for not being more liberally minded in RL, including risks to reputation, unwanted pregnancy, sexual health, and even violence. It only makes sense residents explore this aspect of their lives in Second Life, and that it is a healthy expression of sexual behaviour in general.
Much has been made about how Second Life’s association with sex in the media is a negative thing. Even this week, there was a mini-furore over an article posted by Wagner Au on New World Notes when he stated that “Second Life is a dying world” citing that one of the reasons is because “over half of the most popular locations in Second Life are pornographic.”
Many stood up to defend Second Life, which is really something pretty great to see – and I’d say makes a change from the usual negativity resident bloggers tend to spread about the platform so many of us love. My problem with many of the comments, however, was how they related to Second Life’s association with sex.
I’m not the first to point out that Au used the “Adult” region rating synonymously with “extreme sexual & violent content”. The two are not one and the same, as is crystal clear when visiting many adult regions in Second Life, including my own (Basilique).
‘Adult’ can mean ‘extreme sexual & violent content’, but it doesn’t have to. What it really means, is that sex is one of the activities that can be engaged in, and that it might not be behind closed doors.
I don’t make reference to Au’s article to further the axe-grinding (I’m much too late to the party on that account – and besides, I think the commentary and ad hominem attacks in both the comments to his post and in other blogs were somewhat of an overreaction and not a little bit of piling on).
What surprises me, however, is how many Second Life residents consider the association of sex with Second Life as either a bad thing:
“SL is sadly and overwhelmingly only known for its potential for virtual sexual experimentation and gratification”
or attempt to dissociate sex and Second Life by pointing out all the other non-sexual aspects:
“There are a lot of people continuing to create vibrant content in Second Life that does not involve sex. Music, 2d art, 3d art, dance, gorgeous sims”
or further attempt to minimise the relative importance of sex in Second Life to bolster its credibility:
“A hell of a lot of people use SL in wildly divergent ways, many may use it for sex but that is often a tiny part of the game or role play they are engaged in.”
“Sex is alive and well on Second Life, but it is by no means the sum of it.”
Some, unfortunately, go as far as denigrating those who have sex in Second Life by broadly painting them as obsessed:
“i am an adult, i enjoy sex, however i get my sex in the real world, so for me sl is not about sex. i would love for more people who, like me, do not spend all day shagging on sex sims, to find sl.”
I can appreciate that an argument could be made asserting that it’s not Second Life’s association with sex that we’re upset about, but rather that it is the media’s preoccupation with that link that gets our goat. There’s more to it than that, we say. And we’re right. Still, when it comes to sex in Second Life, we do ourselves no service by pretending it isn’t important, or even beneficial, and dare I say it: kind of awesome – just look at all the good it does!
We seem to have a tricky relationship with sex in Second Life. In some cases, we giggle at the weirdness of it, only to follow that by indulging in it with abandon. In other cases, we grudgingly acknowledge its existence, while sidestepping the issue, like we might avoid a homeless person we walk around on the pavement. In other cases still, we stick up our noses saying that’s ‘what other – less cultured – people do’ because they are either deficient, deprived, or depraved. These same people, I’m afraid, are also typically insulted when others ask them why they engage in Second Life – isn’t their first life good enough?
When are we going to grow up and accept the fact that sex is a healthy part of an adult’s life? When are we going to stop judging where and how we have sex, and start trying to understand why so many people enjoy it? When are we going to stop throwing stones in glass houses as we ridicule others of whom’s lives we know nothing about? When are we going to stop denying our basic human needs and desires, associating sex – virtual or otherwise – with deviance and perversion, or pretending as if sex is something other people do?
Second Life is great in part because it allows for the opportunity for sexual freedom, expression and enjoyment. Perhaps instead of denying that fact, we should consider not only living with it, studying it, and even embracing it.
A few limitations with my survey
A few people told me they would have chosen “the same” for last question (about literalness of attitudes), or said they didn’t understand the question. Given that it was only 4 respondents, with most people making a choice, I’m going to count that as an anomaly. With that said, I will include a ‘same’ option in future surveys.
A few people also mentioned that I should also include the answers of those who are not sexually active in SL. With this I agree, and I will include their responses in future surveys of this nature, which I can easily segment and compare.
A few significant oversights on my part is that I didn’t ask about real-life age, sexual orientation or gender (and for that matter, Second Life gender). I’m always trying to make my quizzes and surveys as short as possible, to increase the likelihood of completion. However, these characteristics would be data pivots that might show great insight, which is an area that I’d love to further explore.
I’ve now closed the survey. I hope to improve it and release it across a larger audience in the future – at which time I hope you will again take part. Thank you for participating in this one.