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"You can touch and jiggle about a bit and you can emote and gesture in a way the other person would see.
And you can have intercourse." Users can make their avatars sit, lie or stand for sex, says Kieron Gillen of gamerzines.com, but the intercourse is usually an animated sequence triggered by a click of the mouse on an interactive "node", although it depends how they are programmed.
What you see on the screen is what you get and the best you can hope for is a bit of sexual humour, although some people do have intense relationships.
He visited virtual sex shops and sex clubs where he saw people having sex in a number of different ways. Sex has become a big thing [in Second Life] but I suspect it's full of teenagers, so that's no shock." Some Second Lifers have been known to misbehave - a US journalist was attacked by flying penises when conducting an interview in his virtual office.
Allowing separated couples to stay in touch, almost literally, is only one of the many positive aspects that virtual-sex advocates see in the refinement of - and increasingly widespread access to - cyber-sex technologies.
"One of the huge benefits is safety," says Brenda Brathwaite, a veteran video game developer (whose credits include Playboy: The Mansion) and author of Sex in Video Games.
It is only to be expected in a world where players pick every detail of how their avatars will look, says Mr Mars. And infidelity is not the only thorny ethical issue thrown up by virtual sexuality - some players have had sex with animals.
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