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 »