Product review: Sex Beds – Introduction

The quality of your Second Life sexual experience depends a lot on the quality of your sex bed, the place where most of the action is going to take place. There are a lot of different sex beds available in SL, but aside from what information you can pick up on Xstreet and by word-of-mouth, there’s not a lot of consumer information out there.

In this on-going article, we’ll review different sex beds and related furnishings both from major manufacturers as well as harder-to-find but worthwhile smaller makers, and give you our opinion of what they’re like and how well they work. This review doesn’t pretend to be complete, and the beds we cover here comprise a rather random but representational sample of what’s available. But with your help, we hope to expand this list in the weeks to come and ultimately make it exhaustive and definitive, THE consumer’s guide to Second Life sex furniture.

This post will take a quick overview of sex beds in general, and we’ll talk about what we look for and how we critique them. Individual beds with be evaluated in separate posts.

We should note too– There’s a lot of furniture out there that functions much as a sex bed does but isn’t strictly a bed: rugs, sofas, picnic blankets–even furnitureless products like the TenderLove system and the Sex Wallet. We’ll include those here where relevant. There are also tons of other, less expensive animation platforms, like chairs, crates, BDSM equipment, even kitchen sinks. We’ll review these in another series of articles, and here confine ourselves to items that qualify as a primary animation source.

Sex Beds 101

The Furniture and Engine

There are generally three parts to a sex bed. There’s the bed itself, the actual unscripted piece of furniture. Then there are the animations the bed contains.  And finally there’s the sex engine, the application that organizes the animations and supplies the HUD or user interface and means to play them. The engine is also the overall controller for the bed,  provides the means for adjusting positions (very important), and might have other functions too, like rezzing sex toys or playing sounds or creating romantic environmental effects.

We’re not really concerned much with the furniture aspects of the bed in this review. We’re not an interior design blog, and to us, style is less important than function. Most bed manufacturers supply a fairly wide choice of bed styles and colors, and more and more of them are selling the engine plus animations as a stand-alone piece that can be easily dropped into any existing modifiable bed, or any other piece of furniture for that matter. We’ll only mention the bed as furniture in cases where it’s in some way exceptional, either good or bad.

Similarly, we don’t find the engines to be that much of an issue. There are only a few engines in common use in SL (devpose, Xcite, Xpose, and MLVP being the biggies, though Akaesha’s IDX system deserves mention too) and most manufacturers use one of these in their beds.  Our main concerns regarding engines is that they be stable and robust (not prone to failure) and easy to use (allow for easy and quick animation switching and avatar adjustment), and most of the engines we’ve encountered fulfill these requirements.

It’s nice to have a lot of capabilities, like the ability to add sound or facial expressions, play extended animations, or rez toys and create environmental effects, but in our view all those take a back seat to a bed’s ease-of-use and robustness.

Some people find the grace and smoothness of transitions between animations to be an important or even critical issue, and we admit it can be disconcerting having your avatars jump from bed to floor to wall when you change animations. But achieving seamless transitions usually takes a lot of added animation work, work done at the expense of the number and range of animations, and that’s a trade-off we’re not sure is worth it. We’ll mention transition smoothness when it’s exceptional in a bed, either way.

Animations

The animations are the heart of the sex bed, and we put prime importance in their (a) quality, (b) emotional range, (c) variety, (d) quantity, and (e) originality. Because they’re so important, we’ll take a moment to discuss each of these issues, in reverse order.

Originality: Most bed manufacturers lease or buy some or all of their animations from other bed-makers or independent animators. This means that a lot of the beds offered by different manufacturers might have the same animations, or animations drawn from the same general pool . The names that appear in the menus might be different, and one manufacturer’s “Hard and Deep” might be another’s, “His Pleasure” might be another’s, “Doing it”, but they’re pretty much the same stock animations, maybe with some modifications. Same wine, different labels.  It’s not common to find a bed with original or proprietary animations, and when we do, we appreciate it. These beds are worth noting.

Quantity: In our opinion, the number of animations you get is not actually as important as the quality and variety. In fact, the promise of a huge number of animations is often a danger signal that what you’ll be getting is mostly obsolete or inferior animations. Animations are expensive, and the better they are, of course the more they cost. A bed with 36 quality animations is usually a better deal than a bed that offers 600.

Bed makers count their animations in rather tricky ways too, in order to inflate the count and make you think you’re getting more than you are. For example, because most sex engines have a SWAP button that lets male and female avatars exchange positions, every animation is automatically counted as two.  It doesn’t matter that the sight of a man with his legs spread around a woman or a woman trying to perform cunnilingus on a man makes no erotic sense, they’re still counted as two animations each.

Beware of the tendency of some high-quantity beds to use static or minimally animated poses instead of real animations, too. Two people locked in a static embrace where the only motion is the twitching of the woman’s foot is not what we consider an animation, though it’s counted as one (or two really.)

Variety: To our minds, unless you’re looking for a specialty sex bed that focuses on one aspect like cuddling or gay or BDSM, etc., a good sex bed should provide animations that allow you to create a full love-making experience, from initial embrace through foreplay and intercourse, to the cuddling and after-care that follows. Along the way it’s nice to have some options and variety–oral, manual, maybe some anal or other kinkiness– and to have some capacity for special activities like  gay or group sex or BDSM.

Taken as a whole, we refer to this spectrum of activities as a bed’s variety or range, and it’s kind of surprising how few beds succeed in achieving a good, balanced variety.  A bed might be overloaded in pure sex, say, and weak in foreplay animations, or provide plenty of romance and cuddling animations, but be thin regarding hard-core sex. It’s something we watch out for.

Emotional Range: This wasn’t even a factor when we first started evaluating beds, but we soon identified this as an issue even for some top-of-the-line manufacturers. Emotional range refers to the spectrum of feelings you can express with a given set of animations, from the tenderness of a first kiss, to the violent passion of full-throttle fucking. For us, sexual emotions run the gamut, and yet not many beds allow this range of emotions to be expressed with the animations they provide. Instead, all the animations within a group will express about the same level and type of emotion, with the result that the animations actually constrain the feelings and impose a kind of frustrating monotony on the sexual experience.

In our experience, sex involves an acceleration of emotion and excitement, from the sweetness of the first kiss up through the intensity of orgasm. A bed’s animations should allow you to express and experience all of these feelings, though not many do. Ideally, a bed would allow you to control the speed or rhythm of each animation, but very few do. (There are some, and there are some non-bed platforms that do this quite nicely. We’ll cover them in a separate review.)

Personally, we tend to come down on the violently passionate side, and we’re always looking for beds that allow us to express this kind of Dionysian excitement. Maybe that’s because so many beds seem to favor the sweet and tender. But when we make love, we rarely hear our partners urging us to go “Slower! Softer! Sweeter!”

Quality: This is a topic on which an entire article could (and probably should) be written. Animation quality varies from the static foot-twitch type described above, to intense and realistic motion-capture loops filled with subtlety and emotion. At their worst, bad animations reduce the act of love to a crude and laughable parody. At their best, good animations are true art, beautiful to watch, erotic, and a powerful way for people to express their feelings for one other.

Anyone who’s danced in Second Life knows how good good animations can be. It’s a shame such care hasn’t been applied to sexual animations, though some manufacturers are trying. At the same time, it’s worth noting that the most realistic animations are not always the most erotic, not by a long shot. As is true in Second Life in general, the best animations seem to be a mixture of the real and the fantastic.

What we look for most in these animations is eroticism, and that’s a hard concept to define in a way that suits all people.  Still, though, to our minds, eroticism is the reason we bother with sex beds, and eroticism is the emotion we want to experience when we use them. In our opinion, an erotic animation is one that makes the avatars’ emotions apparent, either through body movement or facial expression or rhythm or gesture or something. An erotic animation is more than just two avatars pumping body parts together.

Those are what we look for in a bed’s animations. The other important quality we want in a bed is:

Ease of Use

The biggest ease of use factors to our minds are (1) Menu Organization–the way the animations are organized and named in the menus, which determines how intuitive and easy they are to find when you’re looking for them, and (2) Ease of Adjustment–how easy  it is to adjust the animations and how stable those adjustments are. Because they will need adjusting.

Menu Organization


Most beds are not that easy to use. Manufacturers seem to give the animations ambiguous and non-descriptive titles, and then organize them in strange and haphazard ways.  In a bed that has four intercourse buttons marked, “Sex 1” through “Sex 4”, for example, you might find the more introductory acts under the higher number, or you may find no particular order at all. In a bed with several “Doggie” animations, what does this “Behind” button do? Anal? Standing? In a bed that has six cuddle menus, how do you find one where you’re lying down and kissing in tender after-care mode when the animations have names like “Tonight,” “Our Passion,” “Pleasure,” and “Close to you”?

Of course, learning what the names mean and where to find the animations will get easier with practice, and all sex beds take practice, but that doesn’t excuse the manufacturer from taking some pains to make things clearer and simpler. Things could be better.

Adjustments


All beds are going to require some fine-tuning to bring the avatars’ salient parts into position — it’s just the nature of Second Life — and these adjustments should be easy, intuitive, and fast. Furthermore, the changes should be stable. If you SAVE a position adjustment, it should stay SAVED. We’ve seen too many beds where the positions drift , sometimes alarmingly so, so that at the height of love-making, a switch to a new animation results in one of the avatars sinking into the mattress or hovering above it: instant turn-off.

It’s charming too to see how bed manufacturers seem to think we’re all monogamous and will have only one partner. Not many beds allow you to save multiple position adjustments, and when they do, the procedure can seem like more trouble than it’s worth.

Methodology

Any bed you buy should be tried out in the showroom first, of course, and that’s pretty much the methodology we used in our evaluations. We went to the different showrooms, and tried out the beds. Some we purchased and used ourselves.

There’s one drawback to test-driving a bed in the showroom, though, and that’s that the Options Menu is not available, and so adjustment issues can’t be tested. But since engines from the same manufacturer use the same adjustment techniques, these could be evealuated on other beds.

No doubt people will disagree with our opinions or have opinions of their own. That’s fine. Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions, and hopefully these can be incorporated into an information and opnion database on how to get the most enjoyment out of the Second Life Sexual Experience.

–Aiden Swain

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About Aiden Swain

Editor/Publisher, Humm Magazine: Journal of Cybersexuality

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