Getting Naked in the Virtual World - More Women Than Men Show Flesh

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The virtual world is not where women choose to dress to the nines.

Women who inhabit Second Life, an online simulated world developed by Linden Labs in 2003, are often scantily clad and love to show their skin, according to a new Canadian study.

Of the more than 400 virtual people the researchers stalked through the online game for several weeks to observe their behavior, 71 percent of male avatars kept between 75 to 100 percent of their bodies covered, while 5 percent of females did. In contrast, nearly half of virtual females revealed 25 to 49 percent of their flesh, compared with 9 percent of males.

This was true not only for avatars proportioned like Barbie and Jessica Rabbit but for female avatars of all shapes and sizes. It was even true of the female forms used by 25-year-old men living in their parents' basements - about a quarter of the female avatars are owned by males, the researchers found.

"Any female avatar could display more naked skin, regardless of the avatar's body proportions," said Matthieu Guitton, an associate professor at Laval University in Quebec and an author of the study.

Most Second Life clothing is designed by users and offered to other users at no charge. If you really wanted to spend some cash (real, not virtual by the way) you could always pop into one of the virtual malls and purchase an outfit from say, the cyber facsimile of an American Apparel or Adidas store. But even then, the most outrageously expensive ensemble would set you back no more than a buck.

With all those cheap rags for the asking, it seems counterintuitive that the majority of women spontaneously bare more than their virtual souls. The researchers found this puzzling too. Guitton said he could only guess at the reasons but believes they may have something to do with the female need for "tactile interaction."

"In the virtual world, women may be more prone to reveal skin to "collect information" via skin contact, or any related kind of nonverbal communication," he said.

He also suspects that perhaps they do it because there are no consequences for ripping their clothes off in a place that isn't real and where no one knows your true identify.

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But, he added, that doesn't help explain why men keep their clothes on.

This may have something to do with the fact that all newbie's enter their Second Life sans genitalia. Women have no need for sexual organs because they can clearly advertise their sex through body shape and curvature. Men who want their manliness on full display must either purchase a penis or find a way to get one for free.

Granted, a decent penis only costs about 4 cents. But still, it seems like a lot of extra effort. It might just be easier to just keep your pants on.