Internet moves away from porn – or does it?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that the internet is at least 99% pornography. Except, maybe not.

According to figures in The Economist, social networking and chat sites have now overtaken porn in terms of internet popularity in the US.

And, in the UK, people have been spending more time on search engines than porn since October.

However, this picture may not be as simple as it sounds: the story suggests that activity is just shifting from people visiting porno sites, to downloading raunchy videos via peer-to-peer networks, and using social networking and community sites for sex – and not just for hooking up, but for selling “sex”.

Or consider Second Life, the booming virtual world. It is regularly feted as a flourishing platform for virtual commerce, yet a large portion of its economic activity relates to sex. Exactly how much is unknown, but an employee of Linden Labs, the company behind Second Life, once ventured that 30% of transactions related to sex or gambling. Edward Castronova of Indiana University estimates that sex is “a substantial portion, perhaps even the majority” of economic transactions in Second Life. (Users must first buy genitalia for their avatars, who otherwise resemble Barbie and Ken dolls when unclothed.)

Admittedly, it’s not very useful to collate stats for gambling and sex, but it’s interesting, isn’t it, how the lines are being blurred. Selling “sex” on second life is a funny one – it would be a stretch to call it prostitution, seeing as it involves avatars not real people. What is it, then? User generated porn? And why does it happen? And what should feminists think about it? Answers on a postcard (or, realistically, in the comment box) please.

Second Life ‘photo’ by Paz Lorenz, shared under a Creative Commons license