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Affair with an avatar: Silly game or real cheat?

Image: Avatars in Second Life
In cyberspace, you can be hot and confident and do things you may never do in real
/ Source: contributor

Does virtual world sex count as adultery? Can condoms cut off circulation? And how does a woman know she's climaxed? Sexploration answers your most intimate queries. Got a question? .

Q: I am curious what you think about Web sites such as Second Life, where people log in to have “in world” sex. Do you think that the anonymity of the computer has had an effect on our sexuality as a nation? Has it propagated a culture of adultery and ecstasy?

A: Adultery and ecstasy? Are the two synonymous? Geez, don’t let that get around. 

Virtual online worlds have not propagated a culture of adultery. That’s been around for several thousand years. And not everybody logs in to have sex. Far from it.

Still, virtual worlds have enabled people to explore in new ways. In an online virtual world, we can be whoever and whatever we want to be. We can try on personas. The demure woman you often see shopping for lentils in real life could become a slutty barfly. Or a man. Or a man-wolf. 

Research done at Stanford University by Jeremy Bailenson and Nicholas Yee for a 2007 report on “The Proteus Effect” (Proteus being a mutable shape-shifter among the ancient Greek gods) showed that “across different behavioral measures and different representational manipulations, we observed the effect of an altered self-representation on behavior. Participants who had more attractive avatars exhibited increased self-disclosure and were more willing to approach opposite-gendered strangers after less than one minute of exposure to their altered avatar. In other words, the attractiveness of their avatars impacted how intimate participants were willing to be with a stranger.”

In cyberspace, you can be hot and confident and do things you may never do in real life. How you use that sizzle can be good or bad. If you use it to establish intimacies, to give up your anonymity and share secrets about your real life that you would never tell your spouse, that could be as much, if not more so, of a betrayal than putting your avatar in some goofy sexual situation.

Whether a virtual affair really is cheating is more up to the rules you have established with your partner, it seems to me. In last year's Lust, Love & Loyalty survey, two-thirds of respondents said they consider engaging in online sex talk or sexual Webcamming to be cheating. Not everyone agrees, so if your partner thinks virtual world sex is cheating, then it is. If he or she believes visiting, say, the LoveChess site so you can look at avatar sex from other sites or play chess as a naked, horny ancient Egyptian (giving new meaning to the phrase "thinks five moves ahead"), is copasetic, then have at it.

Which means you ought to talk about virtual worlds like Second Life, There, Entropia or role-playing games like World of Warcraft (not all of which permit sex). While there is a lot of sex in some virtual worlds, it's not always of the illicit variety. In another study, Yee — who was not necessarily studying sex, but virtual-gaming realms — found that nearly 60 percent of 311 women surveyed entered the virtual world with their real-life romantic partner. “Open-ended responses from these users indicate that their online relationships shape, influence and allow them to explore their material world relationships,” he wrote.

In other words, though the potential downsides are obvious — online affairs turning into real-life ones, cheating with avatars and ignoring your spouse — and well-publicized, we might also use such virtual worlds to gain insight into our significant others. Wouldn’t it be interesting to walk into a virtual sex shop or meet a virtual sexy stranger with your husband or wife and find out in a safe and anonymous way what he or she finds exciting, or to turn your partner into the opposite sex and see how he or she would behave?

Q: I have been seeing a man for awhile now. Sex was unbelievable at first but now condoms seem to cut off circulation to his penis, causing him to have to stop midway through. He uses magnums. What can I do to help?

A: Most likely, says Richard Crosby, chair of the department of health behavior at the University of Kentucky’s School of Public Health, the condom is not “cutting off circulation.” It’s just uncomfortable.

“She is expressing a very common concern among men, which is that condoms fit too tightly,” says Crosby, who has studied the ways men use condoms and reasons for condom failure. “It’s not the brand. It is size. Lots of people do not understand that condoms, like shoes, come in lots of different sizes, and these sizes are actually a critical part of finding a comfortable fit. Clearly in this case, the guy is wearing a condom that’s too small.”

So you get to be the woman that tells her man, “Baby, you are just too big! Do they come in ‘mortadella?’” Pity the woman who has to suggest the gherkin. 

Condoms confuse us, and it’s our fault, not the condoms. When they fail it is usually because of “user error,” Crosby says. Just think of the sharp objects in and around your bed — jewelry, braces, fingernails, that jabby end of a down feather. It’s a condom minefield. 

And using a condom is more complex than we often think. “At least six steps have to be learned," says Crosby, "but we are notorious for neglecting that in our education programs ... We are doing people a disfavor by not openly teaching the steps required to make condoms fit and feel good and to make them work efficiently.”

If you are using condoms only as a contraceptive, and not to prevent a sexually transmitted disease, you might suggest he switch to natural lambskin condoms, which do a good job of preventing pregnancy (but not STDs) and may feel better when they’re on.

Q: What does the G stand for in "G-spot" and is the body shaking out of control while your clitoris is being played with having an orgasm?

A: Yep. That pretty much describes it. If all that shaking is followed by heavy sighs and thoughts of kittens mewling, you had it.

Oh, and the “G” stands for Ernst Grafenberg, a doctor who, among other things, is credited with introducing the first IUD in 1928.

Brian Alexander is the author of the new book