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EN [USA] Peeking Up the Skirt of Online Sex Work

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  • Meryl Sizemore
    Village Voice - New York, NY, USA [Entertainment] Click Me Peeking Up the Skirt of Online Sex Work Topless and proud, Second Life escorts sidestep gender
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2007
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      Village Voice - New York, NY, USA


      Click Me

      Peeking Up the Skirt of Online Sex Work

      Topless and proud, Second Life escorts sidestep gender discrimination

      by Bonnie Ruberg

      August 31st, 2007 3:40 PM

      Tonight at Dream Girls the theme is "Best in White." Five beautiful
      women in flowing, white dresses dance around me. Since there are no
      men in this club, they laugh together, planning their outfits for
      tomorrow's theme: "Best Topless." Aside from the labels floating above
      their heads ("Escort") or the details of their conversation ("Which
      skirt would you look better with my nipples?"), it's impossible to
      tell that this is a group of online prostitutes. Or that they might
      not be women.

      Second Life is, among other things, a world of sex. It's also a world
      with its own free market economy. Put those two things together, and
      you get a thriving industry of sex work. One of the biggest markets in
      Second Life is the market for adult services. For the right number
      Lindens—the game's local currency—players can choose from literally
      thousands of online escorts: other users who specialize in text
      cybersex, sexy voice chat, or even video cybering.

      Some Second Life sex workers brave it on their own as "freelancers."
      However, most work for specific escort clubs, like Dream Girls—which
      dot the already "mature" virtual landscape (think naked avatars going
      at it on the lawns and public wall hangings of women in lingerie
      labeled "modern art"). These clubs—big buildings with plenty of poles
      for sultry dances—give customers a place to check out their options,
      and escorts a place to show off their stuff. In exchange, clubs
      usually take a cut of an escort's earnings and her tips.

      For many, escorting is quite literally a second job. Working men and
      women by day (it's also very common to hear of stay-at-home,
      Midwestern moms who turn virtual tricks in their spare time), these
      players have joined the industry for the thrills, for the extra cash,
      or both. For a night of teasing, undressing, and making the most of
      their clickable parts, the pay can range anywhere from 400 to 25,000
      Lindens ($1.60 to $100): hardly a fortune, but not too bad when you
      remember that Second Life sex workers never have to leave the comfort
      of their living rooms.

      The money is a perk, says Werner Balczo (his in-world name), an exotic
      dancer at club Luna, but mostly he's in it for the fun. "Life is good
      here," he explains. "There are so many women around!" In real life,
      Werner is a thirty-two-year-old classical singer from Germany, not a
      tan, beefy stripper who likes to gyrate shirtless on the dance floor.
      In Second Life, he's part of a severe minority: male sex workers.

      Maybe it's obvious that the majority of Second Life escorts and
      dancers would be women. What's not so obvious is their real-life
      gender—or what to do about it. Last week we talked about how,
      statistically, half the female avatars in a world like Second Life are
      actually played by men. Usually, a hefty dose of gender-bending is
      expected (and accepted) in online communities. But when male players
      try to get jobs as female escorts, things can get sticky.

      Afraid to anger their paying customers, who might feel deceived if
      they learn the girl they've just spent the night with was really a
      boy, some clubs screen out these "transgender"—or "poser"—players
      during the hiring process. "Are you male or female?" reads one
      application from a club that is "only looking for female escorts." "No
      transgender, please," reads another. "It is not fair to customers if
      one day you are a woman and the next a male." More stringent club
      owners require that applicants undergo a phone interview so they can't
      fudge their gender. But even the owners who take applicants at their
      words are willing to take drastic measures. If a female escort lets
      slip some detail from her real life that reveals she's actually a man,
      says one such trusting club owner, she's fired immediately. No
      questions asked.

      Dream Girls owner Lotta Cochrane—herself an ex-Second Life escort and
      exotic dancer—takes a different approach to the gender of her workers.
      Instead of discriminating against them, she provides them with a
      non-judgmental environment where they can concentrate on their trade.
      The club got started, Lotta says, back when her and her partner were
      "working at a few different places, getting treated badly most of the
      time," so they decided "to start a place run by girls for the girls,"
      i.e. the escorts—whatever their real-life gender.Not only does that
      mean Dream Girls doesn't take a cut of their escorts' earnings, it
      also means that they don't do gender verification. "One of my only
      rules," says Lotta (also her SL name), "is that Second Life is Second
      Life, not real life." You can be who you want; as long as you're a
      happy, productive worker, it doesn't matter to Lotta whether there's a
      man or a woman behind your screen.

      So far the acceptance approach seems to be working well for Dream
      Girls. With 98 escorts and 192 VIP guests, four locations, and three
      theme nights a week, business is booming. "We even had a bachelorette
      party for a lesbian couple last week," Lotta says proudly. Now that
      gender worries are out of the way, everyone's just having a good time.

      Last week: OMG, That Woman I Had Cybersex With Is Really a Man!

      Click Me runs weekly. Contact cybersex columnist Bonnie Ruberg at

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