What is the body in cyberspace?

If cyberspace is ‘a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation,’ (Gibson, W. 1995) then cybersex is a collective, presumably consensual hallucination experienced by an indeterminate number of operators in every nation that has adequate internet infrastructure, dependent heavily on the minds of those involved.

The blurred line between real and virtual creates questions around how sex and actions in the online environment are perceived to affect ‘real’ or physical people and bodies.  For example, in simulation games like Second Life or text-based virtual realms e.g. MOOS/MUDS fertile ground is laid for understanding how humans respond to virtual, technologically mediated sexual interactions. How do we define a body in an online context as the boundaries between mind and body are eroded (Gorry 2009)?

It seems as if, increasingly, these two separately identified entities are becoming one and the same. In the case of virtual character exu in Dibbell’s A Rape in Cyberspace (1995)while it is not the woman playing the character whose body was violated, it is the mind and thus the emotional self of the woman that is struck by the blow of exu’s violation. As Dibbell suggests, ‘…what happens inside a MUD-made world is neither exactly real nor exactly make-believe, but nonetheless profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally true.’ In the documentary Virtual Adultery And Cyberspace Love, a woman questions the true root of her sexual and emotional responses towards her ‘boyfriend’ in Second Life. ‘You start to question: is it the real person I’m attracted to, or is it the character? Or is it the combination of both?’

It seems as if understanding what determines ‘real’ sexual interaction in our lives now that we are experiencing so many aspects of sex and sexuality online e.g. via apps, virtual simulation etc, is all about emotional responses, and maybe it always was. As Dibbell suggests, the realness of a sexual experience is already heavily dependent on the minds of those involved, ‘…and that whether we present that body to another as a meat puppet or a word puppet is not nearly as significant a distinction as one might have thought.’

External References

Gibson, W. 1995, Neuromancer (Sprawl #1), HarperCollins, London, p. 67

Image: ‘Second Life’ by Gran Karu. Some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


6 thoughts on “What is the body in cyberspace?

  1. veryisabel says:

    I haven’t read or learnt much about cybersex and its related topics, So I found reading this enlightening. I’ve never experienced or delved into the cyberspace in that aspect, but it has me remembering Presence Bleed from DIGC202 last year. It builds on that notion of the separation of body and mind….what I like about your writing is it will be exploring the space in between the two and does it really matter anymore? Our mind are what establish meaning for everything, so why can’t we make this definition of ‘real’ more flexible. The impact of cyber-rape is real, its trauma and fallout as real as if it happened in real life. I just remembered that scene from Inception, where the character Mal spent so much time in that ‘dreamworld’ she couldn’t distinguish which was the real world and which wasn’t anymore. The dreams in Inception I guess were another version of the cyberworld. The other-wordly plane where we would much rather be than reality (relatable).
    Also..what exactly are MOOS and MUDS?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JayRated says:

    Interesting topic Gemma! I can’t say I would be even the least bit surprised to see sex or at the very least intimacy will suffer in the years and decades to come. Such was the way with communication and the significance of someone trying to meet up with someone in person instead of just communicating online, so to I can imagine sex and relationships being affected in much the same way. An example I love to bring up in our seminar is the movie ‘Her’ where an advanced form of AI falls in love with it’s owner/operator, but then is revealed to be talking to millions of people at once, and experiencing feelings of ‘love’ for tens of thousands of them.

    Obviously this is dealing with an AI subject, but given the potential VR allows in terms of multitasking, and the occupation of a digital space(/spaces) I can’t help but think this concept will trickle down into human form. Would simultaneous sex with 2 separate people in VR be considered a threesome? #DeepThoughts

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Angus Baillie says:

    A very interesting read here about the strange limbo that exists when talking about the relationship between online acts and our physical selves. As someone approaching their 30s, some of my earliest sexual experiences took place in online chatrooms. People existed only as unique usernames in these spaces, and at the time much was made in news programs and shows like X-Files that not knowing who you were bonding with online was seen as a huge danger. If you can get your hand on a copy of Leigh Alexander’s book “Breathing Machine” there are sizable accounts in there of her experiences in these spaces. It’s short and you can also get it quite cheaply as an audiobook as well. Another interesting account is Gita Jackson’s piece about getting a Sex Education through her early experiences with Eroge games http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2015/05/true-romance-sex-ed-through-games.html

    Another interesting text you may want to look at is the game Cibelle by Nina Freedman, which is a semi-autobiographical vignette game about forming romantic relationships online and trying to make them work in person http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/4/9668806/cibele-nina-freeman-game-review

    Your blog allso reminded me of this humorous review of the dating app Tinder, which was written as a traditional game review to make a joke about the way we present ourselves as sexual and romantic beings online http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/4/9668806/cibele-nina-freeman-game-review

    I think the interesting thing about this is how much it challenges the idea of gender binaries and essentialist views of sexuality and sex. Avatars and online personas don’t represent us in the traditional sense, and can’t perform actions that are considered real in the traditional sense. But they are products of ourselves and the things we make will always reflect aspects of ourselves in some way – just as performing and enacting in virtual or online spaces will always be affective on some way or another because we are always involved on some level. Maybe by placing the body at the core of all sexual encounters we are misunderstanding and limiting our sexual experiences?

    Liked by 2 people

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