The Disintegrated Erotics of Second Life

By David Harris Smith and Deborah Fels.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

While there is a substantial body of research literature on cybersex, there have been few studies of avatar sex participants in virtual social worlds. The extant studies suggest that anonymity, physical disembodiment, and user-content creation contribute to the creative, diverse, and sometimes-deviant quality of avatar sexualities, allowing participants to realize sexual identities and practices otherwise constrained offline. Given the plasticity and diversity of avatar sex noted in previous studies, this research seeks to understand the core concern of avatar sex participants and to theorize processes of variation in avatar sexualities. A grounded theory methodology was used to structure and theorize data gathered in Second Life through interviews and fieldwork. The findings of this study showed that avatar intimates designed sexual agency in response to the disintegrative conditions of immersive technological mediation. The design of avatar sexualities enrolls participants in an ecological model of agency that exhibits an interdependence of avatar multimedia technologies, conceptual schema, performances, and desire. The following paper develops the implications of this ecological model from the perspective of the disintegrative conditions of avatar sex.

Keywords: Avatar, Sex, Intimacy, Second Life, Design, Agency, Disintegration, Grounded Theory, Virtual World, Multimedia

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.125-138. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 877.500KB).

Dr. David Harris Smith

Lecturer, Communication Studies & Multimedia, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

David Harris Smith, PhD is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies & Multimedia at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He is an artist and researcher in media and culture, specializing in interaction design for immersive communication environments.

Deborah Fels

Ryerson University, Ontario, Canada

Deborah Fels, PhD is Associate Professor at Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management and Director of the Centre for Learning Technologies at Ryerson University. Her research expertise is human factors, user interface design and the use of multi-media interfaces as applied in the rehabilitation field with an emphasis on access to computers for people with disabilities.