BDSM in Second Life

Before I move on, I think I should say a few words about the phenomenon of BDSM in Second Life, for the sake of readers who are not already residents.

In fact, I will start at the very beginning. “BDSM” stands for “bondage, domination, sadism, masochism.” The acronym is shorthand for consensual erotic practices in which one partner controls the other for their mutual enjoyment. The power exchange of domination, in which a Dominant (Master or Mistress) controls a submissive partner, and bondage, in which the submissive is restrained by use of straps, ropes, cuffs, confinement or other means, are typical practices. S&M, a practice involving extreme sensory intensity, is included in the acronym, but is less common. Domination, the “D” portion of BDSM, is sometimes referred to separately with the expression “D/s” which stands for the pairing of domination and submission.

In real life, the practice of BDSM tends to be hidden, protected in secretive societies, whispered about in private. But in Second Life, BDSM is a wildly popular mainstream activity. I suspect that nearly everyone who has sex in SL has at least tried bondage. Bondage items are plentiful and easy to obtain. BDSM animations are included in many of the most popular sexual items.

One apparent reason for this phenomenon is the fact that virtual BDSM presents few of the risks that one might face in corresponding real life situations. Emotions can run high, of course, but as long as it all stays online, there is no possibility of physical harm… even from the most intense bondage scenarios. One can be cuffed, chained, tied in extreme positions, whipped, erotically choked, suspended, or locked away in a cage, all without danger. If it makes you uncomfortable, just log off, or turn off your computer.

Apparently a lot of people don’t find it uncomfortable–just the opposite. Without the risk of danger, one’s imagination free to engage the wildest sexual fantasies, a surprising number of people indulge in BDSM. The popularity of BDSM on SL is clear from the high traffic statistics at locations that provide opportunities to engage in it.

For most people who try it, RL and SL, bondage and D/s are simply occasional selections on an otherwise vanilla menu of sexual activities. Some, however, embrace BDSM and D/s relationships as an identity, a fulltime lifestyle choice. This choice can take a wide variety of forms. A Dominant may form a household with one or more submissives. Some may not establish formal relationships, but may engage in BDSM sessions or scenes. Some like to be restrained, but are not necessarily submissive; some get a thrill from dominating or submitting, and may not engage in bondage or even sex. Some enjoy the most extreme and restrictive forms of bondage, possession or even torture, while others have strict limits and will only go just so far and for just so long.

With such diversity, it is not easy to paint a picture of BDSM in Second Life. The only threads that tie all these practices together are the enjoyment of power exchange for mutual pleasure; and the freedom to indulge that fantasy without fear of physical harm.

My story is one of those threads. It’s a long and wandering thread, because it took a long time to find what I was looking for.

Next: On the edge of tomorrow »

Into darkness

But I’m getting a little ahead of the story.

Those were dismal days, after Jonah was gone. I seemed to plunge into a darkness that muted my heart, my thoughts, my desire, my outlook. It was not a darkness of anger or anguish. It was nothing so dramatic. No, I didn’t feel pain, or rage, or resentment. I didn’t feel anything at all.

My relationship with Jonah had been a dizzying series of highs and lows. In the words of the poem: when it was good, it was very, very good; when it was bad, it was horrid. At any given moment, I would be soaring the heights of bliss, or else my heart was ripped open. There was never anything in between. My friends were perplexed when I would sob, heartbroken, after the latest fight, or worry during one of his unexplained absences. Loyal to me as they were, their concern was reasonable. Why on earth do you stay with him? they would ask. Look what he does to you. Granted, the bad times were extraordinarily painful. But what can I say? I was in love with him, and that kind of love transcends the immediacy of highs and lows. For me, the good times were so good, that it was totally worth hanging in there through the bad times. I knew those bad times would happen. But I also knew that they would end. No matter how horrible the fight was, I knew he would be back, and that if I could let go of the hurt and anger, and allow myself to embrace the pleasure, the bliss might be even more exquisite than anything I had yet experienced. Hanging on was worth it, because the lows were predictable, while the highs kept on getting higher.

Until the day when they stopped, for good.

The soaring and plunging between highs and lows with Jonah had been exhausting. But even the anguish of the lowest low was not nearly as bad as the deadness that had taken over me now. I felt no relief. I felt no pleasure. I felt no longing. I felt no pain. I felt nothing. I continued to move through life, putting one foot in front of the other, but it was like eating food without being able to taste it. The world had no color. I could not take pleasure in anything. It was the worst.

I remembered that there had been a time before Jonah, a time when Second Life was shiny and new and interesting. Hoping that I could get interested in something, anything, I explored SL, wandering, searching. I shopped, but without enthusiasm. I went sailing, but it was boring alone. I tried to build, but with no one to build for, every prim just reminded me of my loss. I even made a half hearted attempt to date a little, but compared to Jonah, every man I met was a disappointment.

It was unbearable. I became desperate to break free of the deadness, the ennui. I just wanted to feel something. To feel some evidence that I was still alive.

My mind wandered back over my two and a half years in Second Life, trying to remember whether I’d ever done anything else that could potentially shake me out of this state… anything intense enough… even a little risky. I started wandering in the back alleys, the red light districts, the post-apocalyptic ruins, the darkest corners of SL. I threw caution aside and sought out sexual encounters that were anonymous, primal, a little dangerous. The danger caused something to stir inside. I went after it with a hunger for more.

As I searched for experiences intense enough to rouse me from my ennui, I recalled a moment from my distant past, before I met Jonah. In the first flush of realizing that in SL, as long as I stayed anonymous, I could try anything without threat of physical harm, I’d visited a seedy meeting place and challenged myself to flirt with the most dangerous looking man I could find. He was pretty scary, too; he was tall and powerfully built, with an air of dark power around him, dressed in black leather with metal trim. I may have been brazen, but I was still naive; he told me he was a Master, and I responded, a Master of what? He laughed. At that time, I honestly knew almost nothing about BDSM, and certainly nothing about D/s, dominance and submission.

He corrected that quickly. Here, put this on, he said, handing me a collar. I hesitated, a thousand questions spinning in my head. Should I do it? What am I getting into? My heart was racing. The fear of the unknown. The thrill of danger. I took a deep breath. What’s the worst that could happen? I thought to myself. In a rush of boldness, I complied, and put on the collar.

I waited nervously as he typed some information and adjusted the collar. Suddenly, I was kneeling. I struggled in confusion. Why was I kneeling? I didn’t recall wanting to kneel, or touching my keyboard in any way. But there I was, on my knees, hands behind my back. I looked up at the Master. His dark eyes were fastened on me with an intensity that made me shiver. From now on, he said, you will greet me this way.

Then I heard a snap, and the chink of metal; I saw that a chain had been attached to the collar. He held the other end. Come, he said, and turned and walked away, obviously expecting me to follow.

Um, I don’t think so, I thought to myself. I don’t know where this is going, and it sounds like a good time to stop. But to my shock, I could not stop. I seemed not to be in control of my movements. Not of my own volition, I followed, jerking along at the end of the leash. It wasn’t up to me. Every nerve was firing as I grasped that by putting on that collar, I had given control of myself to someone else.

Now, two and a half years later, my memory of the intensity of that brief encounter created a spark of interest in my otherwise dead heart. Those few days I spent with that Master had opened a new world to me. I only had a glimpse of it at the time, but something about it resonated very deeply. I know that the prospect of not being in control scares some people half to death. Others place great value on their freedom and independence and are not interested in losing it. Until I met that Master, I thought I was one of those people. After all, in RL, I am usually the one in charge; the manager, the leader, the chairperson. But not because I want to be. I do it because it is expected. Being in control energizes some people. Not me; being in control depletes me.

Gradually, subtly, that Master taught me to see something in myself, something that goes against the grain of popular culture. That first experience was a surprise; he took control without asking. If he had not, I would never have understood. Once I tasted it, though, I wanted more. I gave up control to him willingly. Each time I did, I had no idea what would come of it. But the excitement was intoxicating.

I came to realize that I feel this thrill because I am, by nature, submissive. It wasn’t a choice. It’s just a part of my personality that I was born with. I had managed to ignore it for my entire life, to that point, believing myself to be a natural leader.

My first encounter with D/s lasted only a few days. I met Jonah not long after. Was his naturally dominant personality part of his allure? He did not practice BDSM in any formal way, but because he was dominant by nature, and I was submissive by nature, our relationship had that dynamic. I ceded control to him in everything. He made all the choices, deciding what we would do and when. He always operated the menus, selected and placed the pose balls; he even designed my avatar, choosing my clothes, skin, shape and hair. Being in control of me was deeply satisfying for him. For him to be in control was deeply satisfying for me. 

Now, in my dismal numbness, I remembered those butterflies in my stomach, the sensation of simply letting go, letting someone else be in charge of me, accepting the danger. Would BDSM provide the intensity I needed? I decided to find out. When I felt the thrill in the pit of my stomach as I faced the unknown, I began to suspect I was on the right track.

Next: BDSM in Second Life »

Revealing my secret

I am a very private person. I am also quiet. I listen a lot more than I talk, and rarely talk about myself. So those around me don’t know much about me. I know they are curious. They sense that my eventful past holds secrets… and my present does as well. Usually I like to keep it that way. But sometimes, there is a good reason for revealing secrets.

I have said that a relationship is a space between two people. That space could consist of a few wispy strands of fluff, or glow hot with passion, or run deep and strong like a river. Relationships are diverse in character. This blog allows me to create new relationships; as I reveal my secrets to readers like you, the space between us comes alive.

In my opening posts I told the story of my first SL relationship. Now I will begin to tell another story, of a time when I was lost, and searching. If you are lost too, you might resonate with that. There is another love story waiting at the end of that journey, and I will tell that secret too.

I hope you will join me for the journey.

Camryn Darkstone

Wake Up!

What are you longing for? Where do you long to be? 

I went to see Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings, the epic opera electronica by noted composer Eric Whitacre. This amazing piece of musical theater weaves together techno music, anime, manga, martial arts and Asian drumming with awesomely beautiful music. As a purely sensory experience, it soars. And for the past two days, I found that the memorable music stayed with me, haunting me, nagging me to remember the story it told.

In the story, lost angels are trying to get back to Paradise. They have been marooned for 17 years, since they were children. Two friends, a young man and woman, sing, 

“All they ever think about
is being any other place than this…
They remember being home,
but they’ve forgotten what it’s like
to feel a paradise of bliss.”

In the end, they don’t make it. But just on the verge of death, they suddenly see what has been right in front of them all along. Realizing their love for each other, they finally embrace and sing,

“If there be a paradise of bliss,
it is this… it is this.”

This could have been my story. I am going through some difficult things in my RL right now. No paradise of bliss, to be sure. There are times when I can’t even remember what it was like not to be weighted down with stress, worry and pain. I find myself wishing, longing for peace. Someday, I think to myself. Someday I will find that happiness I yearn for. It seems so elusive. It is out there somewhere. Like the lost angels in the story, I can’t seem to find my way home.

The song. The song was just so beautiful. It kept spinning in my head. Trying to get my attention.

It was some time this morning when I finally woke up to the message of the song. In the cool of the early morning, the sun streamed through the trees, creating a golden glow in the humid air. Everything around me was green, and so beautiful, bathed in golden light. As I thought of how much I have to be grateful for, even in the midst of trouble, and of the One who loves me, I realized that the bliss I long for is not “out there” somewhere. It is here. Now. Right in front of me. I don’t have to go searching. I just have to open my eyes.

If there be a paradise of bliss… it is this.

Don’t cry

With Jonah gone, the color seemed to drain out of the world. Without him, I had trouble finding pleasure in anything. Through force of habit, I continued to log on to Second Life, but shopping, building, meeting people and exploring just seemed less interesting. I moped for days without relief, until one day, I happened across words by, of all people, Dr. Seuss:

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

It might sound harsh to say this, but uninterrupted bliss is simply not the way of human existence. Normal lives are a continuum of routine, boredom, stress and frayed relationships, punctuated by injury and illness, failure and disappointment. That is just how things are. What makes it bearable? When the tedium is suddenly interrupted by brilliant flashes of joy. Stolen moments of happiness. The first flush of love. Surprising beauty. A realization of contentment.

Any of us are really, really lucky to experience any of these things, even for a moment. The secret of survival is to be on the lookout for them, and when they do happen, allow yourself to be in that moment, fully appreciating and enjoying it. Really taste the chocolate. Smile when your cat purrs in your lap. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Notice your lover’s tenderness. Delight in his little quirks. Be fascinated by the creativity of an artist. Be grateful for laughter. Let yourself be in awe of beauty, when you find it.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a platitude, because the truth is that living into these fleeting moments of grace has a transformative power. Practice it, and one day in the midst of heartbreak you will be able to notice healing, and be grateful for it, which will, in turn, heal you further.

When Jonah was gone, I cried for days. At first, I could not bear to think of any of the things I loved about him… his tenderness, his creativity, his passion, his quirky wit, his handsome charm… without being grief-stricken by their loss. But slowly, I began to understand that I grieved so much because I loved so much. The depth of my grief honored the depth of my love. I allowed myself to honor that love, and feel the enormity of its loss… but also to feel deeply grateful that I had been lucky enough to experience it. If I had not been so lucky to love and be loved by someone like Jonah, I would have no reason to grieve. And I would be so much poorer for it. How incredibly fortunate I was to have known this man! In the continuum of routine that is life, how extraordinary it was that we shared two and a half years together! And to think that he loved me… that I was able to experience such a remarkable love. Not everyone gets to have that… but I did. How lucky is that?

Little by little, I began to smile because it happened.

Next: Into darkness »

Why I became a blogger

I write so that I can explain myself.

There’s no explanation for you, says a voice inside my head. Indeed, that may be true. The world definitely needs some help understanding me. Few people bother to try. I am a very quiet person, solitary by nature. It’s not easy to know what’s going on in my head.

This is complicated by the fact that I tend to see things from unusual perspectives, turning ideas inside out. I’ve always been a little odd; my life experience has been anything but typical, and my view of the world was shaped by my experience. So when I do relate my thoughts, people are sometimes startled by them. But other times, they are intrigued. Occasionally even grateful. So I keep explaining.

Although I talk very little, writing has always come easily to me. I started writing online back in the 1980s. Missives on message boards gave way to emails and articles on web pages. I started my first blog in 2004 on Live Journal. A second one followed in 2007. Blogging, or journaling, comes naturally. I love writing my off-beat thoughts, and people seem to appreciate reading them.

Two months ago, I found myself contemplating my three-plus years in Second Life. A lot has happened to me; some of it very typical, some of it rather extraordinary.  I find that I need to try to understand what I’ve been through… to see if I can figure out who I’ve become, now. It’s a little confusing. I need to sort it all out. So I decided to write about it. There are one or two people who are interested in what I have to say about it all, but primarily I am writing for my own satisfaction.

Once again, I am compelled to try to explain myself.

Too Real

Those who have not experienced life in a virtual world might suppose that it is just a game, a make-believe world that is all sunshine and happiness. If you can make the world to be anything you want, why not make it unreal? Why not simply leave out anything that is unpleasant? The perfect day I described in my last post was a beautiful, romantic, fantasy day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life was an unending succession of one such day after another–nothing but relaxing on the beach, shopping, dancing, making love?

I suppose that one could approximate such perennial bliss by simply ignoring the reality of one another’s lives. But that was not the choice that Jonah and I made. We related to one another as real people in a fantasy world. The visual setting might have been imaginary, but I never thought of Jonah as anything other than the real, flesh and blood man behind the avatar.

Although we did not meet in RL, Jonah and I shared much of our lives with each other. I knew what he did for a living, more or less where he lived, what his home was like, his dog’s name and breed, the make and model of his car and computer, what he did with his days, his childhood dreams, his career aspirations, his birthday. In turn, he knew similar things about me. We spoke on the phone, and chatted about everything, SL and RL.

A few months into our relationship, reality intruded with a rude slap. Uncharacteristically, Jonah was offline for several days, with no word. When he reappeared finally, a shaken Jonah told me that he’d had a medical issue, and surgery was scheduled. I learned then that Jonah’s style was to withdraw when he was worried about something. I let him have his space, and waited and worried alone. I sent him daily messages of support and reassurance. He came through the surgery successfully, and after a period of recovery, things between us slowly got back to normal. But this frightening dose of reality colored our world. Not in a bad way. It made it deeper, less perfect perhaps, but more authentic.

Our fantasy was sometimes interrupted in other ways. Jonah’s job sometimes became very demanding. I missed him terribly when we couldn’t be together. I would log on and wait, just in case. If he did find a moment to log on, I didn’t want to miss that chance to see him. And of course, as with any couple, there were arguments, jealousies, and unintended hurts; these we typically faced, talked through, and made up from, each one painting our relationship with more of the colors of reality.

Other separations were more difficult. I never doubted that Jonah loved me, but he had a serious case of wanderlust. There were times when he would get restless and visit the red light districts of Second Life. When I found out about it, I was shocked, and it took a while for my self-confidence to recover. As time went on, and I began to understand that such behavior was routine, and did not really affect his feelings for me, I accepted it grudgingly–but the happy fantasy world in which I’d been living lost just a bit of its magical shine.

One day, Jonah came to me, agitated, with the news that due to a situation in his first life, he would have to leave Second Life for a period of time, and would in fact be incommunicado. He promised he would return, and pleaded with me to wait for him. After a tearful goodbye, I stood, alone, feeling as if a piece of my heart had been ripped out. But fidelity is one thing I do very, very well. I would wait for this man for as long as it took. I knew that although he would not be able to communicate with me, or to log into SL, he might be able to see a web page that would show him my current location in SL. Knowing that he might be watching me, I determined to reassure him that all was well. So, I began a life of solitude and seclusion. I logged in to SL at regular times, and almost never left our land, to which only he and I had access. That way, if he did look in, he would see that I was not keeping company with anyone else. Even though I knew there could be no response, I sent encouraging emails reassuring him that I was waiting, faithful, still his.

The days stretched into weeks. And still I waited. My friends were puzzled, wondering why I would restrict myself from enjoying all the delights of Second Life. For heaven’s sake, they said, go out–enjoy yourself. He’s not here, so why not? But that is not the person I wanted to be. I choose to be a faithful person, a trustworthy person. I honored my love. Because I wouldn’t go anywhere, what friends I’d had gradually drifted away. I waited steadfastly, hoping for word from Jonah. Nothing came. Still I waited. Long days of solitude, no conversation, no connection, except to my memories of Jonah, and the wonderful life we shared. It meant that much to me. I was willing to wait.

It was nine weeks before I finally heard from him. It was probably the most difficult nine weeks of my life. Not difficult because I was tempted to stray; I was never tempted, not for a moment. And not difficult because I was alone; knowing that my seclusion was a gift to Jonah, the thing he would need from me, made it easy for me to bear. No, the difficulty was fighting the loss of hope. After so long, I began to fear that he would never return. That my faithfulness was in vain. That perhaps his feelings for me had been just a fantasy all along.

Bliss was mine again when Jonah returned after his long absence; we embraced our old life of fun, creativity, romance and sex. But that nine weeks had changed me. I found myself less relaxed about our relationship, and more clingy. Now I was the one who needed reassurance. He’d been gone so long, I needed to hold on tight to make sure he was really there. In retrospect, I know that was a mistake; but I really couldn’t help it.

A few weeks after his return, I became aware that even though things between us seemed fantastic, Jonah was visiting the red light districts again. He would log on late at night, when he knew I would not be online, for quick encounters with strangers. I knew about it, but I never said anything. We fought about whether I wanted too much from him. A few weeks later, I became aware that he was seeing someone, and concealing it from me; not the anonymous encounters of the red light district, but something that seemed more like a relationship. He had various excuses for the time he spent with this other woman: she was a friend, she was troubled and he was comforting her, or he was helping her with some technical problem. I didn’t press him on it. Even though he could not be faithful, I could; I continued to strive to be the person I wanted to be, embracing my promise of fidelity.

After a time, things between him and the other woman ended, and we enjoyed several weeks of happiness together. But as time went along, there were more absences from SL; and when he was in SL, more clandestine affairs. I always waited them out, true to my promises. And he always came home eventually. When he did, there were still fun days; romantic, moonlit nights; steamy sex; and the ease of a comfortable space between two people who know one another very, very well.

Our relationship lasted two and a half years. In Second Life time, that equated to decades. I remained true to him that entire time. But finally, a day came when the demands of his work and personal life were such that he had to say farewell to Second Life forever. And I closed the book on one of the most remarkable chapters of my life.

Only to open the next one.

Next: Don’t cry »