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Replies to my recent post about Virtual Illegalities, and reading this very entertaining item (“Vaginas with teeth and other sexual myths“), got me thinking about what we can learn from Second Life about sexual “perversions” and “deviance”. This post brings together a lot of thoughts I’ve expressed over previous blog entries, specifically as they relate to sexualities and adult freedoms in a virtual world. I find the more you write and get feedback on such topics, the more it helps you understand both the reality, and your own view of that reality, so as usual I’d love to get your feedback on what follows.

In Second Life adults find a safe outlet for experimenting with sexual acts and preferences they may have never followed through with in real life. In turn, it also provides a way to live out sexual preferences that you may have always had in real life but not been able to take part in due to your own or others fears and prejudices. Those may include acts which are still deemed illegal or immoral in the real world – the extremes being bestiality, paedophilia, and rape. What makes those the taboo extremes is the lack of meaningful consent by all parties involved. And that seems like a very reasonable and logical line to draw.

A world like Second Life though provides a way to overcome that moral and legal restriction, because the consent of the other party is either irrelevant (because it isn’t a sentient being playing the role of the dog etc), or because it is a consenting adult after-all who is going along with the act (the rape, for example).

The consideration that always feeds into this debate is whether allowing such things either encourages it in the real world, or stops the act being followed through in the real world. Beyond those interesting questions though, you have to be ready to ask if the answers even matters, since the virtual act itself is just that: virtual. And between consenting adults.

There are plenty of other sexual “perversions” though that people find sick and disturbing for reasons apart from missing consent – usually because they deem the act as degrading or mentally harmful. For example, the sub and dom culture that thrives in Second Life, is seen by many as a distasteful and disturbing pass-time that reveals either cruelty or deficient weakness in the participants. It is not surprising that those sexual cultures defend their activities, but at the end of the day it’s nothing to do with everyone else anyway since they are, after-all, consenting adults.

Another piece of the puzzle when trying to work out how we feel about and respond to such “deviances” is whether the people involved “chose” the preference. For example, the fact that many homosexuals didn’t choose to be attracted to their own sex, is seen by some as the “redeeming” feature that means we must learn to accept it. However this strikes me as completely the wrong focus. I have discussed in a previous post that whether you choose your sexuality is irrelevant – as long as the act is between consenting adults, everything else is people getting their sticky-beaks where they don’t belong. It is not up to us to criminalise or condemn people for doing what they want with their own bodies.

Which brings us to the question of harm. Most liberals ascribe to a theory of paternalism – trying to protect people from themselves. They either claim to know what is best for you and therefore deny you the right to choose it yourself (and that hardly requires me to point out how flawed it is, I hope!). Or they claim that the very fact you choose to do an act with is harmful (physically or mentally) means your consent is vitiated and deemed flawed in some essential way; that you have thereby already provided proof that you are not mentally sound or competent to make such decisions for yourself.

The beauty of Second Life is it degrades at least some of these paternalistic complaints – particularly in regards to physically hurting yourself (say through bondage). People will still try to tell you you are mentally damaging yourself but at least in-world  they can not stop you by physical force or by threatening your real world reputation. Second Life provides a haven from the do-goody paternalism which deems free consenting acts between adults as morally repugnant, which forces people in the real-world to live in denial and have unfulfilled sex-lives.

My hope is that through Second Life we can come to accept the huge variety of sexual acts and preferences, and realise that what matters is the consent between adults. That we can reflect on the really very large numbers of people who do what we have labeled perverse or deviant in the past (be it masturbation, sub-dom, scat-love, etc), and start to realise that it is too wide-spread to be given such labels, that in fact it is just part of our repertoire of sexual experiences that help us explore and enjoy our own and others bodies.

We’ve come a long way from seeing sex as something dirty, and masturbation as something that will make your palms hairy and make you go blind. The anonymity from our real world selves that we find in virtual worlds, helps us explore and discover not just our true selves, but others too. We don’t have to personally like and partake in the huge varieties of sexual acts out there – allowing such acts doesn’t mean anyone’s going to force you or your child to become or do something they don’t want to. Taking part in what we currently may still view and label as deviant acts, doesn’t make you different or evil or stupid, and as we interact and talk openly with such people who have different tastes than us, in the international adult universe of Second Life, that becomes clearer. One hopes.

Issues such as how we feel about Linden Labs cleaning up the adult world in Second Life – sanitising it to accord more with our dominant real world morals and laws – forces us to think about where we stand on these issues. So what about you, where do you stand on such issues, and how has Second Life changed your attitudes towards sexual perversions and deviances..? Has it perhaps cemented your hatred and intolerance of such deviance and perversion? And either way, why has that change in attitude happened..?

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It’s a common saying: If you want to stay on good terms with someone, don’t talk about politics, sex or religion. I can handle the sex topic – throw at me whatever you got, I can keep up and maybe even out-scare you. I can handle religion cause I was bought up smothered in it and I find arguing with people who believe in it rather ridiculous most of time; we all know their arguments and the replies to them can be trotted out without too much hassle. But politics? Touch politics with me to any real depth and I will not be merciful, because without politics, the horrors of various religions, prejudices, hatreds, ignorances, all have little in the way of teeth. But you give those things the force of law, you put them in politicians’ minds and let them vote or order them into wars, and you make it my problem. You ruin my world, you endanger my son’s life. And this powerful thing – this “politics” – is by far the least understood of the three topics.

If you ask someone what their politics are and they answer “left-wing” or “right-wing” straight away you know you have so much ground work to do that you best give up unless you have a few hours to spare or a lot of long-term patience. The left-wing / right-wing divide and terminology is one of the most unhelpful and mis-used ones I know of. The worst part of it is the huge number of people who think that if they hate what the “other side” believes then the furtherest they can get away from it the more correct and moral they are; I need to explain this because it’s an important point: Just because you hate right-wing politics, doesn’t mean the most extreme left you can go makes you a good person. That sort of reasoning is based on a false dichotomy that leads to huge and far reaching errors.

Second overlooked point of huge significance here: Your politics reflects your understanding of metaphysics, epistemology, logic and ethics. The politics we have are based on beliefs in these other areas. If you are not aware of the corollaries of your beliefs – of what they imply about your existence, your ability to know, your reasoning and your morality, then it might be time to do a bit of self-education and figure it out. This is serious stuff, this is not the playground: You shouldn’t have the right to vote away my fundamental rights but because of democracies that exist without constitutions, or because of constitutions that are ignored or purposefully perverted, you have that “right”. So you better start thinking about what you’re voting for and what it’s doing to other people’s lives. You should want to understand the consequences of your political beliefs – don’t blindly follow the pack. And don’t blindly rebel against the pack either. Think. Reason. Study. Understand. If you cannot clearly explain your own point of view, then why do you hold it? Question yourself until you find the answers. Best place to start that process in my experience, is this simple ten question quiz; please do it, it’s worth the brief minute or two of your life to find these things out.

You might not be able to deal with epistemology and other fancy terms, OK, I’m not an expert in everything either so let’s make it simpler. Do you at the very least understand economic theory? Because politics and economics are very closely intertwined. Do you realise that the economy is not a fixed pie where just because someone else gets more another person gets less, or do you say empty phrases like “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer” whilst never having looked at true graphical representations of what happens under, lets say communism versus capitalism?

Let’s say you don’t have a grasp of that either, alright, let’s take it down one more notch. Are you aware of the realities of various political theories, of what it is like to actually live under the regime you want so badly to see in power? Do you dismiss (as so many people do), a political regime as evil because you haven’t separated the question of economic versus personal freedom at play in country you have in mind? Are you using the correct terminology when you claim that one country is “capitalist” let’s say, when really it is a mixed economy that any pure capitalist would call evil?

*sighs*

So you want to set me on fire, you want to risk ruining my opinion of you because I end up thinking you’re evil, ignorant, or both, then get me talking about politics and let’s see where it takes us. Who knows, maybe I’ll instead end up thinking you’re incredibly intelligent, well-informed, or at least willing to learn. If I care about retaining your friendship chances are I will ever so delicately steer the topic in another direction though, because to me this is make-or-break stuff. If I very deeply care about you and think you have potential, chances are I will encourage you to question your views and get into proper thoughtful conversations with me about it, because I want to see you live a better happier life, and knowledge and understanding gives us that potential. It’s a risky business deciding which approach to take with people sometimes: Avoid, confront or converse. Most of the time, at least in Second Life where I just want to relax and try to forget about the real world for a little while, I’ll just stick to the safe topics; sex and religion.

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BedI found a very interesting blog today about sexuality, by the author Jena Pincott. I liked it so much I read every entry. In my reading I found a few aspects that I thought shed some light on women and sex in Second Life that I’ve decided to share. I should warn you, some of what follows may be a bit explicit for some people but I’ve avoided being too graphic where possible so you should be OK. And some of it is tongue-in-cheek… some of it isn’t :p

The first is related to a personal observation that women in Second Life tend to quickly tire of their sexual companions and are somewhat likely to cheat on them. These two things appear to happen faster and more frequently than they do for women in real life. Now it seems to me that one of (if not the main) reason for this is that it’s very hard to form a strong bond with someone you can’t touch – with someone who you can get out of your life as easy as an on / off switch. But reading this blog post gave me another unexpected perspective – it’s the semen! Or lack there of anyway. Semen arguably makes women happier and more faithful! o.O

Now the second application is the idea that masturbation for women has been linked to depression! Of course straight away we have a chicken-egg issue: Are they masturbating because they’re sad (and isn’t that an odd idea) or are they sad because they’re masturbating? Either way it doesn’t look particularly good for Second Life sexual relationships which – let’s face it – come down to some self-loving. Another slightly bent nail in the coffin for Second Life sexual relationships for women.

And finally we need to note the difference between the effects of the hormone prolactin which makes someone feel sated after an orgasm, and the hormone oxytocin which – though also released from orgasm – is associated with physical touch, kissing etc. The latter is the one that makes you feel more attached to and trusting of someone. We’ve already established above that masturbation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, add that to not being able to touch and kiss your Second Life partner and you have another piece of the puzzle for why Second Life sex just isn’t going to cut it in the attachment and faithfulness departments.

Now I know some of that is going to (excuse the phrase) “rub you the wrong way”, and feel free to say so. But do me a favour, if you take nothing else away from this post, just take the time to at least discover Jena Pincott’s writing and blog. It was fun and entertaining to read, and well written too (always a bonus). And it sure gets you thinking… and some of those thoughts are mighty odd! I doubt this will be the last post I do drawing on her work ^^

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A few days back a Second Life friend asked me a question about his real life: Should he risk turning a friendship into a love affair? It’s a question I’ve been asked by a lot of both Second Life and real life friends. The risks involved are many – maybe the person doesn’t feel the same way and you loose their friendship, maybe the love affair turns sour and you loose their friendship – but it comes down to the same thing: Is the chance of love and realised lust worth losing someone who may otherwise be a life-long friend?

Of course, some risks are worth taking, and love is always a risky and amazing thing. It takes a lot of bravery and confidence to tell someone you love them, and many people go through their lives never saying the words to the people who mean the most to them.

One of the problems with trying to advise someone on whether they should risk an incredible and potentially life-long friendship with someone, “just” to turn it into love and a romp in the sack, is that you don’t know if you will still be friends in a few months time regardless – friendships evolve and change, because people’s lives and people themselves evolve and change.

With so many unknowns the first step to take is to try to eliminate some of them. First off, trying to figure out if the feelings are reciprocated in the way the love-struck person hopes. If they are not and the love-struck friend still wants advice on whether to push the matter, then the answer becomes easy: No. Unrequited love is immensely painful, but adding to that hurt the complete loss of a friend because of the pressure and awkwardness placed upon them by trying to “make them love you”, is ill-advised. I can see a good argument for trying to get the loved-person out of their life altogether if their attraction to them is too strong and the person in love is pained by seeing their friend be with other lovers, but you are best doing this on your own terms, and not because the friend had to push you away themself.

Another unknown you can try to eliminate is whether the friend is going to be around much anyway – are they planning to leave the country forever perhaps whereby what the hell I’d put my foot in that fire and see what happens. Yes it might be hard to let them go if everything goes really well, but you would have had a damn good time in the meantime and can be all philosophical saying stuff like “guess it was never meant to be”. There’s also a stronger possibility they’ll come back for you or take you with them if there’s mutual love involved, compared to friendships which rarely survive long-distance separations as the two lives head off in different directions in more ways than one.

Of course, a key consideration is the person themself. If the love-object is a good hearted kind soul who wouldn’t push someone away out of the awkwardness of declared love, the sort of person who understands that a very large number of close friendships do actually have a sort of attraction at their basis and beginning, then there can be the constant fun flirting underneath it all which can give you a sort of mix of both worlds. Definitely not the “best” of both worlds, but a close second-best. These sorts of people are perfect for trying the love thing out in substance too, because chances are you’ll retain a friendship with them after the love affair ends as well. Unfortunately these sorts of people are all too rare and I wouldn’t count on the person being one of them.

I think within that last paragraph is the key to the matter – remembering that very often friendships do have that underlying attraction at first (and perhaps through-out as well), and to realise that every time you feel that way doesn’t mean it’s a great lover you’ve found, but rather just a sign that it’s someone much like yourself that you want to be around, and just enjoy that for what it is.

Just to confuse matters further, my last major point is that some of my best relationships, no, all of my best relationships, were with people who started off as friends. For all the great loves of my life I had to wrestle with this question: What do I do, risk the friendship for the love affair..? I’d love to end it there and say that every time I tried to turn a friendship into love that it worked out right, but I had to learn the harsh lessons along the way that these situations can also lead to great hurt and damage to a friendship, even killing it. One of the reasons for this all-too-frequent outcome is that men have trouble saying no when sex is involved. Not all men, true, but a rather significant majority seem to suffer from the temporary insanity of giving in when offered sex, even by a friend. And as awesome as sex is, it also typically complicates things as hormones kick ideas like jealousy, uncertainty, self-doubt, wilful blindness, into overdrive, and if you’re not both really into the potential love-gig, someone’s very likely to get rather badly hurt pretty quickly.

So where does that leave the friends who ask my advice? Probably as confused as they started out (aren’t I helpful). At the end of the day it comes down to two key considerations: The actual natures of the people involved, and the understanding that love always involves risk of some sort. Sometimes, you just gotta jump into the abyss. And to my friends who have asked me this question and are now reading this, please know as well that I am one friend who will be there for you to hug you and be all philosophical with you if it doesn’t quite turn out the way you’d hoped ❤

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BondA recent post by Raul Crimson http://raulcrimson.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/gayety/ , and in particular some of the comments on it, left me with more to say than a comment space rightly allows. So I had to come here to blog the length of what I want to say.

The post was about a shot of him and Prad naked together, and he was writing on the fact that some of the comments to the picture on Prad’s Flickr were supposedly anti-gay. Have a look at the picture and comments for yourself http://www.flickr.com/photos/pradprathivi/3085998926/ . I’ve had a re-read through every single comment, and not one struck me as anti-gay. Now I understand Raul’s point more generally, but I don’t think that picture or those comments fed into his concern, so I’m going to state it a bit clearer: “When people tease guys about being gay, they are assuming being gay is a bad thing.” That’s the crux of the claim. I disagree, and I have to explain why, don’t I.

I like to tease Prad about being gay, because I know he’s not. I also like to tease some SL women about being men, because I know they’re not. I do a lot of harmless teasing, and it is not necessarily because I think the thing I’m teasing them about is a “bad thing” – I just know it’s not who they are so I’m having a go. Now not everyone sees it the way I do – there are many people who tease Prad (or whoever) about being gay because they actually do think it would be bad. These people tend to do different styles of teasing though – they’re the same people who attack something by saying “it’s gay”, or use phrases like “what are ya, a poofter..?”.

Now that we’ve clarified that somewhat, I need to go a bit further. One of the replies to Raul’s post implied that homosexuality is acceptable because it isn’t a chosen behaviour. I hate that line of reasoning. I don’t care if it is chosen or not, I don’t care if you were born that way or chose it after months of careful pro-con analysis. Either way, it’s not a question of morality: It is about your private consensual sexual activities, it’s not a matter for society to rule on as “bad” or “good”, to “allow” or “eradicate”. And going along the line of reasoning “oh hey, we have to love them, because no matter how distasteful and ‘wrong’ it is, they didn’t choose it so can’t be held cupable” completely misses the point. You don’t get to walk into people’s bedrooms and tell them to stop having sex, even if they choose to do dirty things you don’t like.

My own view on sexuality goes in this order: (1) Do whatever you like with whoever you like, as long as it’s consensual it should never be a question for law or the rest of society, (2) human sexuality is on a continuum – from homo to bi to hetero: Some people are born with both genitalia and “assigned” at birth, some keep both genitalia, some are born with the “wrong” genitalia, and some are born with the right one but they wanna share it with others who have the same gadgets. The point is you can’t simplify it and pretend we’re all heterosexual and that there are some “minor correctable deviations”. Because it is a false simplification. (3) Yes it is possible to choose to feel differently about your own sexuality, it is possible to experiment and become used to another type of sexual attraction (just watch a  prison movie, or talk to a female University Arts student, for examples). (4) Yes heterosexuality is functional, but it sure as hell is not god-like or make you a better person – I have met a lot of people who really shouldn’t have bred, and we all know the news stories about couples beating their own kids to death. Let’s not pretend homosexuals are worse than those people are, merely because of who they go to bed with.

This brings me to a  related gripe: I hate it when people get self-righteous about this crap, and get all PC about the jokes you may and may not make. If you make a dumb joke that makes you look like a bigotted moron, then at least we all know that’s who you are – I’d rather know it up front thank you very much. And then, just maybe, it might lead to a slightly more intelligent conversation about sexual orientation as an after-effect. Most people who are anti-homosexuality haven’t thought about it much, don’t know the facts, or are coming from an excessively religious back-ground. You can reason with the first two, good luck to you with the third!

One last quick point: The subject of what is and what is not “normal” also arose in the post and comments. Leading to a few replies along the lines of “there is no normal”, “it’s all relative”. Well, actually, there are psychological and societal guidelines and statistical measures for what is “normal” for any given situation. The “normal range” of intelligence, the “normal” blood sugar levels, the “normal” behaviour of abused children… The idea of what is “normal” and what is not is a useful and functional tool for diagnosis of problems and issues. The real question is what you do about the abnormal, if anything: Just because something is outside the normal range of behaviour and experience doesn’t mean it’s bad, but ya know what, it is a noteworthy and important fact nonetheless – it challenges us to try to understand and make sense of it. Pretending nothing is “abnormal” is ignoring the truth and not answering any of the important questions about humanity and the way we function together in society.

OK. There. Out of my system. See why I couldn’t just put all that in a reply box :p

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If you’ve seen someone try to do sex pictures from Second Life, chances are what you’ve viewed is utter crap. Second Life is not well made for such pictures – body parts end up in the wrong place; when women’s legs are spread they get an odd dark long shadow along the inner thigh that makes them look like they’re about to split; overly long female thighs dominate the picture; skinny-as arses look ridiculous; pose balls get out of sync etc etc.  The list of problems is long. None of these things can’t be fixed in a combination of careful in-world set-up plus lengthy post-processing. However this brings us to the sorts of people who usually do these pictures: Men. Men who are often so clearly enamoured with the picture they are making that the genitals or breasts sit smack in the centre of the shot, and their excitement has got the better of them to the point that they couldn’t pause long-enough to smooth out the shadows and put bits in the right places. They gotta share it man, they gotta share it now!

I have some bloke on my Flickr contacts list who was doing shots like this over and over – almost every (and there were very many a day) picture he did was BREAST or VAJAYJAY smack there, with a tokenistic bit of (rather bad) post-processing for each one. He was passing himself off as an “SL Photographer”, little studio named at the corner of the shot, clearly charging people for these pictures. Each to their own, fine, whatever, but it was very clear that he wasn’t in Second Life for the charming banter and the international flare, he was there to get female avies to strip for him.

This theory of mine was proven when one-day most of his pictures stopped being Second Life and started being from Thrixxx.com. Previous to this I hadn’t heard of Thrixxx. Putting it simply, it’s sorta like Second Life in some ways, but made expressly for sexual imagery, and is often linked to paying sites. The women’s bodies in it are much better rendered, so pictures taken need less post-processing and have more realistic detail. So suddenly this guy’s shots improved, through not any improved skills of his own – which remains clear each time he lowers himself to take pictures of Second Life again.

Now I only did what little research I could into Thrixxx from a “clean” distance – I do not go to Second Life for that sort of thing, so I’m not going to click through any further than I have to or join anything connected to something like Thrixxx. But you know what occurred to me? I really wish more men who came to Second Life just and purely for the sexual animation, would bugger off to places like Thrixxx instead: Second Life is not well suited to that in my opinion and these people give it a bad name, and often ruin the experience for a large number of other people who take it for the richer experience it actually can so easily be.

Before I finish this post I’m going to have to protect myself from the angry beavers: I am not saying every picture I’ve ever seen of Second Life sex is crap, just the vast majority of them. Maybe this is your area of specialty and you want to defend it, but don’t try to tell me you don’t have to do some serious re-jigging and post-processing just to make the people involved look like people. Secondly, if you think the artist I’m attacking is you, it probably isn’t, stop being so paranoid. I have no doubt there is more than one guy who fits this description, and the example is illustrative, it’s not meant to be a personal attack per se. I haven’t included anything that should point too solidly to the individual, if you think it’s you and it is too obvious I’ll remove this blog post for ya. Though I stand by everything I’ve said all the same:

Second Life is not ideal for sexual imagery, and I really wish that people who went there only for that purpose would go somewhere else – especially since it’s clear that other places do exist solely for such things, and apparently do it so much better.

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My Gallery of Light entry from a few weeks back

My Gallery of Light entry from a few weeks back

Do you place limits of what your art conveys – is there a subject matter you would never (or very reluctantly) present? I recently stumbled across the work of a fellow SL Flickr artist, whose work was full of gore, violence, genitals and even urination. I was both repulsed and deeply fascinated by her work, and through all the gore and horror I saw her immense talent, vision, and eye for detail. At the same time though it strengthened for me the boundaries I maintain for what subject matter I’m willing to deal with in my art. There are two core categories here for me; violence and genitals.

Violence is something I see and hear enough about in the world, I don’t feel a strong desire to bring it into my art too. I have definitely dabbled in the subject matter, for example my Water’s Edge picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/landsendkorobase/2859228438/ . But if you read the description I added back then you’ll clearly see my reluctance and apologetic approach to it. And it isn’t even that graphic! Bit of bruising, bit of blood, and I hid most of the body under leaves! I like fluid brushes – you’ll notice I frequently use water in my art but you probably don’t notice the brushes I use on top of it. I have a set of blood brushes that I can use (and have used a few times) but I usually turn even those into a blue variation and use them as water instead. When I do add blood I always feel somewhat uncomfortable and nervous about it. Is this anti-violence attitude for my own art, an un-necessary barrier to my work that I need to “get over”..? Maybe. Which brings me to my next subject matter.

Genitals. It took a long while before I first used breasts in my pictures. In fact I was so nervous about it that I hid them in a wet t-shirt! (I know, prude much). Here it is – you won’t be able to see it unless you have a Flickr account because I tagged it as restricted! I mean come on, how high can one girl’s prude points go! http://www.flickr.com/photos/landsendkorobase/2602981982/in/set-72157603836916877/ I love the curve of the female figure though so it was inevitable that I’d push my envelope and let breasts whole-heartedly into my work. Skin has always been a subject I’m passionate about working with so I’m glad I got over that hurdle. But genitals..? I used to think I’d get “past” that too but I just do not feel comfortable with SL genitalia in my pictures. Sometimes it’s because I think it just looks too damn silly, but even now when I have the skills to smooth things out and add a touch of realism that I didn’t used to be able to, I still feel that strong reluctance to cross that line. If I do decide to put it into my pictures, I will be blogging about why.

Oddly enough I’m OK with sex in my SL pictures – intimate action shots or poses that capture explicitly close moments. You will not however find any of these particularly sexual shots on my photostream. The reason for this is not a hang-up, but because of difficulty finding the right people to pose. I’ve considered posing myself in it but there’s heavy reluctance because I don’t want to un-necessarily cause my husband upset by putting something like that out in the public interwebby. I could take these shots of other people but I’m yet to have someone say “you know what, I’d really love you to capture me doing my Mrs”, and I’m not going to start asking random couples if they’d like to have SL sex for me. Cause… yeah.

So what about your art limitation; is there something you’d never put in your art? Are my limits just hang-ups you think I need to grow out of, or are they reflections of my personal RL limits that I shouldn’t try to surpass..? It’s an interesting topic that I will inevitably return to, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the issue.

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