The Courtship Hypothesis and Second Life: Explaining Sexual Behaviour in a Virtual World

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The Courtship Hypothesis is a means of explaining sexual deviation (specifically paraphilias) in human males. Working from the position that there is a speciestypical courtship process, social interaction with the intent of sexual contact follows an observable and predictable pattern. Paraphilias can be mapped to deviations from, and distortions or fixations on, specific stages of the courtship process. Evidence for the Courtship Hypothesis is found in studies of male sexual deviation where the so-called ‘courtship disorders’ tend to co-occur more frequently than other paraphillias. Second Life is a virtual world where individuals navigate a virtual reality using an avatar. It is a robust 3-D environment where residents are free to build, create, interact and live. There are few restrictions placed on everyday behaviour by the owner, Linden Labs. A portion of Second Life is devoted to adult virtual sexual activity and some residents of Second Life join with the intent of engaging in this activity. Other users (perhaps the majority, based on Adult-rated land allocation) enter Second Life for other purposes including but not limited to education, business, creativity (art, music), and entertainment. ‘Nonsexual’ users of Second Life sometimes report difficulties with ‘sexual’ users who appear to ignore Real Life norms around appropriate communication and interaction. Courtship theory is proposed as part of an explanatory model for, and a way of defining ‘inappropriate’ sexualisation of virtual interaction. There is a dissociative effect of both being and not being a person when using an avatar. This psychological distance, combined with the potential anonymity of the networked environment, and shifting social norms, may open the door to inappropriate sexualisation. Implications for non-sexual users of Second Life such as educators are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExperiential Learning in Virtual Worlds
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9789004372153
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan. 2019


  • Second Life
  • avatar
  • courtship
  • education
  • identity
  • paraphilia
  • sex


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