Copywrite "Infobahn Magazine: The Magazine of Internet Culture," June 1995

Tinysex is Safe Sex

Copywrite Infobahn Magazine 1995

Logging in from home grants me privacy. As I type my login name and password and watch the message-of-the-day text with its mundane system updates scroll across my screen, I slip away from the apartment around me in a way I wouldn't allow when I use the system at work or at school. My digitized body, curled and pale as my fingers fly across the keyboard to connect to FurryMUCK, stretches and glows as the last letter of the password is entered. Oh, but what mood am I in? The list of my characters beside me includes personalities that in many cases in no way resemble my own. There's "Aileen," a sharp-tongued, stand-offish young woman with a powerful ego and a denial of her own sexuality. There's "Tacey," a forever-sixteen sexpot, blonde and perky, filled with giggles and high school philosophy. There's "Tate," a slender young gay man with soft eyes and a Queen's snappish, flirty disposition. There's "Kari," a young woman discovering her submissive side, nude, and wearing wrist cuffs that advertise her exploration.

In cyberspace, I can become any one of these personas at the tap of a key, like a perfect masquerade. FurryMUCK, with its careful regulation to maintain a PG level in public areas for its younger population, can be for the adults an oasis for sexual exploration. FurryMUCK, a socially based real-time roleplaying system, is a TinyMUD, or text-based virtual reality. MUD stands for 'Multi-User Dimension,' and these virtual systems -- a hundred or more TinyMUDs net wide --provide central gathering points for sometimes over hundreds of users internationally, all connecting simultaneously in a real-time environment. (You may have heard of LambdaMOO, a TinyMUD that has recently received much of the media's attention.) On a TinyMUD, people meet and make friends, create social circles, build virtual landscapes, and explore a world in which their biology is completely malleable. On a TinyMUD, what you "see" you read. What you "do" you write. The architecture and the objects around you are represented by paragraphs of description authored by the users themselves. Text scrolls by reading much like a novel in which you are participating as a main character. The other characters are the people in the area with you, also contributing to the flow of the story or experience with their own textually described actions and dialogue. The result is a real-feeling virtual experience; a simulation of reality, but magicked and surreal, and under the joint control of the users.

Within this cyberspace, men and women can in theory take a part of their sexuality and emphasize it without fear of consequences. There is no HIV on FurryMUCK, no herpes, no unwanted pregnancies. The physical side of sex is under your control. And this opens doors. I can become this girl Kari, who is slender and young, with golden skin and a winning smile, who wears no clothes, and who sleeps with the stranger who meets her eyes and gruffly orders her to follow him. This drama would never happen in my real life, but in this fiction-world of words I can let my head do it, even my heart, and there's an off-switch by my hand the whole time.

The sex on TinyMUDs is called TinySex. In other virtual circles, terms like "netsex" and "cybersex" describe the same thing. The characters involved meet, and an exchange takes place -- sometimes romantically, sometimes intensely and without thought. Then, perhaps, they make their way to a more private virtual location. In Truth or Dare games on FurryMUCK, one of the favorite questions is to ask which cranny of the virtual landscape is best for "TS." Answers have ranged from "in the middle of a field of wildflowers," to "flying over the ocean on the back of a dragon." The players behind the characters author erotica describing their feelings. They compose paragraphs describing the touches they offer, the kisses, the sounds and smells. They write, read, and respond: sometimes one then the other, sometimes at the same time, text scrolling up the screen filled with emotion and action. With the right mindset, with focus, the TinySex can be hot, fast, heavy, and deceitfully real.

How real does this exchange become to the people involved? Sometimes TinySex can become TinyLove, and then TinyMarriage. But even in this ethereal region for sexual exploration, where I have described a haven from many of the problems "real" sex introduces, there are those that claim TinyRape; illustrating specifically how "real feeling" this virtual reality can become. Because what does it mean to have such a concept exist when no actual, real-world violation can take place? When a man in Minnesota types "tears your skirt and grabs at your breast," what type of 'violation,' if any, has actually occured? There are those that believe that despite the advantages of physical distance from a potential molester, actual emotions will always be invested in the life of your character or virtual self, and that a certain type of vulnerability, then, can never be negated. There can be no perfect escape into cyberspace. There are those on FurryMUCK, for example, who do not like to be touched. According to them, they are not roleplaying or pretending this dislike. They, themselves, the person typing, would become offended were I to type a sentence describing my hand resting against their cheek. However, I haven't actually touched them. I'm here in my apartment, they are there in the computer lab. The sensation of my virtual hand, however metaphorical, has crossed the boundry between the merely described, and the actually real.

Disbelievers might argue that people this involved are just taking it all too seriously. But even for those people who are only marginally involved in their virtual existence, it is possible that someone typing "slaps your face" can produce a wincing emotional pain, and that insults can hurt because a flipped up middle finger means the same thing in words as it does in pictures. But what about those who claim TinyRape? Rape is first and foremost an issue of violated consent. When a man in Minnesota types "tears your skirt" or some other intense or graphic obscenity, you can only reasonably feel disgust or offense. Because TinyMUDs are only as real as you want them to be. At any moment you can stop believing in what's happening around you, and it loses its reality. Action on a TinyMUD has to be mutually consented to in order for it to occur. If I type "throws a brick at you!" and you just ignore it, what influence has my brick had on the agreed upon reality? None. If I type "throws a brick at you!" and you type "catches the brick!" you have consented to the existence of the brick, and taken your own action in cooperation with the suggested reality. It is the same with TinySex. If I type "tears off your shirt" and you ignore me, or type "snaps her fingers and the shirt reappears," you have denied the reality I've tried to impose on you.

So there can be no rape on a TinyMUD. If someone types "pushes you against the wall" I can respond with "and she transforms into a butterfly and flits away" or I can log out. While the haven produced by cyberspace can't protect you from being emotionally effected by this person, at least it grants you an escape from him -- a choice to ignore him, not acknowledge him; an off switch, a quit command; the ability to transform into a butterfly and fly away.

While FurryMUCK is an oasis, and unique, it is not a paradise. It is important to remember that sexual harassment can still occur online. While people might decide to merely roleplay unwanted pregnancy, STDs, or rape, as part of their character's lives, there are actual RL (real life) threats to be aware of. These range from harrassers claiming to know where you live in real life, to people who might bombard you every time you log in with curses or lewd suggestions, their "spam" making it impossible to read anything else as they force your screen to scroll. For these problems the "wizards," or authority figures, can take strong measures. FurryMUCK is a place in which you can be any Body, with any kink or lack thereof, and feel only freedom to explore. Although the majority of TinyMUDs are not sexual, specific ones have been developed by BDSM organizations, by Gay and Lesbian groups, and by others, to create healthy, supportive virtual environments for discovery and exploration of sexuality, always emphasizing safety and creativity.

Reach out and make love -- without ever leaving your seat.

Last updated: September 13th, 1996