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How to Explore Gender and Sexual Characteristics in Second Life’s Virtual World: Getting Started

Published March 26th, 2013

Second Life is an engrossing 3D world accessible online. Second Life is free to join and when you do, you can select from humans, vampires, animals, robots, or vehicles to represent your avatar. There are also items for sale on Second Life Marketplace and in stores in-world (some are free, most cost Linden Dollars which can be obtained by purchasing them with real-world cash or earning them in other ways within Second Life).

Even though the character that you sign up with may be referred to as having a male or female body, their initial body characteristics need not limit you – in fact, kinds of body parts, attachments, clothing, and so on that you can use with your avatar are as infinite as the ever-growing array of products in the marketplace is.

Virtual worlds offer an exciting opportunity to explore presentation and body types, both those possible and as yet impossible in the real world. An avatar could function as a canvas to work out your ideal self – or maybe just a persona you’d like to slip into once and awhile. In this post, I will detail the ways in which you can use Second Life as a tool for these purposes.

Here, I primarily focus on how to get started in Second Life with a few notes about presentation and sexual characteristics. I may be more specific about gender, sex, and sexuality and places to explore in another feature later on.

1. Getting Started

If you want to skip reading through this step, Second Life Quickstart may be for you!

In order to become a Second Life resident, you’ll not only need to become a member (don’t worry about the character you choose to start if there’s not a default one that you’re happy with you’re happy with – you will be able to customize yourself quite highly before too long) but also download the Second Life Viewer. If you’re on wireless, see the Third Party Viewer Directory instead. I personally recommend Firestorm Viewer.

I won’t go into how to control your character here and other basics, but you can check outGetting Started with Second Life and the Second Life Knowledge Base for some help on this front. Let me just say that: saving Outfits of what you’re wearing (including body and skin) and remembering to create Landmarks of places you want to remember to come back to are two of the most time-saving, useful features I’ve encountered.

Once you familiarize yourself with the controls and your viewer of choice, you may want to take some time to explore using the Destination Guide.

I also won’t be going into items that do not have to do with character appearances here – if you want to find out about having a house and buying land, check the Knowledge Base. Note that Second Life Premium is a paid membership with additional perks, but a Premium upgrade is not at all required to have a good time in Second Life. In fact, I still am not a Premium member myself!

2. Free Stuff in the Marketplace!

Once you’ve worked out the controls and done some exploring, you’ll want to get clothing, body types, skin, and accessories that are better suited to you than the default character you came into SL with. The good news is that you can have a great time in SL with customizing your character without spending any real-life money if you don’t want to or can’t afford to – there are loads of items available for free! I will describe how to ‘unpack’ items you get in the Marketplace in step #3 and the actual process of customizing your character within Second Life in Part 2.

In the Second Life Marketplace, select a category from the sidebar (and then a sub-category, if desired) or enter a keyword in the search box. The areas we’ll be dealing with in this guide will be Apparel, Avatar Accessories, and Avatar Appearance. Then, set the price range from L$0 to L$0 and hit enter. This will cause all of the free items to appear.

Beware: “demo” items, while free, are for the purpose of trying out (often watermarked in some way, so not attractive). Other than the frustration of the few demo items that will turn up in a L$0 search, everything else is up for grabs with no strings attached. Other useful keywords Marketplace searching are “gift” and “freebie.” If you did purchase or otherwise obtain Linden Dollars to use in SL, “dollarbie” is another good keyword (for items that cost only L$1).

Once you’re browsing as described above, you can start searching for the items to customize your avatar with. Don’t feel tied down to a particular “image” for your character or feel the need to make separate accounts – you can always save different skin, body, and clothing combinations as Outfits, then switch between the Outfits however often you wish. Separate accounts are not at all necessary to switch between different identities.

Some areas to begin with might include basic elements like hair (which includes a section for unisex hairstyles!), complete avatar sets (includes both skin and body, may come with outfit), and avatar components (skin, shape, eyes, tattoos). Still, don’t feel limited by what you see – any skin can be combined with any other body shape; you don’t have to pair the skin and body that came together in a set with one another at all! Mixing and matching different looks – as often as you want – can be great fun and get you closer to how you want your avatar to look.

Checking out Apparel and Accessories should come next. The body of your character, unlike many other virtual world settings, does not determine what kind of clothes you can wear (although some clothes may fit certain body types better, depending on how the creator of the item made them; I’ve overall noticed that most items are rather flexible). You may also want to look into Animations to provide your character with more realistic (or unrealistic!) gestures.

In order to search for genitalia for your avatar, BDSM and Gorean items, and related Marketplace areas, you will need to be 18+ and set your viewer to access content categorized as Adult on SL. See Age-restricted content for more on this. The sexual parts for characters that cost less L$ look less realistic than those that cost more L$, but still – there are some free options available.

Swapping out clothing, bodies, skins, and sexual characteristics for new and entirely different options at will, all within the same avatar, is one of the biggest reasons why I view SL as such a great platform for exploring gender presentation and sexual characteristics in a virtual world. You’re not limited by the human either – science fiction, fantasy, animal, and other types of characteristics abound!

Note that you can also explore shopping within the Second Life viewer itself via the fashion destination guide, but don’t expect to find a lot of freebies.

3. Free Items within SL! + Unpacking Your Items

The Marketplace is not the only place to find Second Life goods for free and to purchase – you can also find them in-world, although the process is less streamlined and can require some hunting around. A couple of places to check out are Freebie Galaxy and Freebies Sunland. See also SL Index’s list of places to get free stuff and the Second Life Freebies website.

To unpack any items you get in-world or on the Marketplace, you’ll need to do it at a sandbox. See Opening boxes for more information.

4. Get Dressed!

To put on an item, you can simply drag and drop it onto your avatar from your inventory. See this video tutorial with accompanying text if you need help: Putting on Clothing. To save a selection of equipped items as a cohesive outfit that you can put back on later, refer to the Working with outfits section of the Second Life Wiki. Please note that you may want to visit an uninhabited region to get changed privately as dressing rooms are not very secure, or a mature-rating sandbox to get changed publicly if you are not bothered by others being able to view your avatar while being changed. If you have put-together Outfits, you can just drop these folders onto your character wherever you are and you’ll be fully dressed!

5. Putting It All Together

For now, you have much to work with in terms of customizing your appearance and plenty of new places to explore. In a future piece, I will focus more specifically on how Second Life can be a powerful tool for identity expression and connecting with others in the realms of gender, sex, and sexuality.