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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Sensuous Extimacy: Sexuation and Virtual Reality. Taking on a Gender Identity in Second Life


When people meet they apologize for their bodies: their bodies are never perfect, never adequate, and never quite behave exactly how people want them to. Today it seems that the virtual reality of cyberspace offers itself as an effective medium that can transport its users into a different universe, freed from the burden of the body and from the necessity of any such apology. The quickly growing number of the networking users demonstrates the rising demand for a new kind of symbolic realm, whether it be in the form of the user-friendly layout of a website or the appealing architecture of a simulated space, where one can easily inscribe oneself by obtaining a two-dimensional profile or a threedimensional digital body.

This paper addresses one of today’s myths about cyberspace that pictures it as a realm where users can discover their “true selves” or acquire new identities (and especially sexual identities), and by performing them, users may eventually become what they have created on-line. Today we inquire about the role of digital media in shaping and channeling sexual desires, dynamics and identifications attached to encounters with and through media technologies. I use Jacques Lacan’s theory of a subject and his theory of the three orders of the imaginary, symbolic and real to interpret the logic of sexuation (or taking on a gender identity regardless of biological sex) in virtual reality. Drawing on Lacan’s concept of “extimacy” that helps to escape a bipartition between interior and exterior, my paper focuses on a series of displacements occurring in and through cyberspace, exploring the dynamics of sexuation as it occurs in the 3D world of Second Life (

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