“Love in 2D” explores the notion of anime love and sex

love in 2D sex with animeEvery so often I stumble upon an article that leaves me thinking about it even in the midst of my regular day of working, gardening, walking – even in the shower when I have a moment to breathe and to ponder some more. “Love in 2D”, an article written by Lisa Katayama and published in this past weekend’s New York Times magazine, is the latest one to throw me for a curious loop.

With compassion, humor and, at times, an inquisitive and cautionary tone, Ms. Katayama invites us into a world populated by “2D lovers” –  individuals who are in love with and/or have sex with two-dimensional figures (e.g., cartoons or anime). Sort of. [Though the profiled individuals are men in Japan, she notes on boingboing that these experiences are certainly not limited to gender or nation, but that for space reasons the article had to have a focus.]

Speaking of space limitations, I certainly don’t have enough space here to detail all of my thoughts on the matter, but I’d like to throw out a few thoughts to get you thinking and to perhaps make some peace in my own mind. As a sex researcher, this is what I found particularly interesting about this article (which I highly recommend that you read):

- An ongoing discussion of people who experience romantic love and sexual attraction/experiences with “characters” (see Lars and the Real Doll or Giz’s interview with a “technosexual” man in love with a robot) challenges many people’s ideas of what it means to be in a relationship or even to love. Just as falling in love with someone you’ve met online does, as well.

- The fact that the characters who are the object of these men’s sexual and romantic focus are often very young (as in prepubertal or in their early to mid teens) raises the question of to what extent the men who are sexually attracted to these 2-D characters, or who have sex with the pillows or other products that resemble their 2-D characters, are attracted to human children/young teens (Ms. Katayama raises this issue in the article and adds that one of the men she interviewed insisted that was not the case for him).

- The extent to which being a 2D- lover can get wrapped up into identity politics is interesting, too, as when one of the subculture’s heroes got booed after admitting that he watched human (3D) porn. This reminds me of a woman acquaintance who, after many years of being a very vocal lesbian, and active in her local lesbian community, found herself having a passionate romantic/sexual relationship with a man, but was terrified to tell her friends for fear of their reaction.

- Someone interviewed for the piece (Takuro Morinaga) alluded to a spectrum of 2D/3D attraction. This struck me given its similarities to how researchers describe the spectrum of sexual orientation (see The Kinsey Institute’s page about the Kinsey Scale for more info about classification systems for people on a 0 to 6 scale of heterosexual to homosexual). The idea of extending the concept of sexual orientation to not just the gender of who one is attracted to, but to an object one is attracted to, is not new but is still developing even in the field of sex research

What some may view as odd or weird about these individuals, I find fascinating. The ways in which people fall in love or develop sexual attraction lend clues for researchers to follow when trying to figure out the human condition – what makes each of us fall in love, whether with a human or a 2-D character on a pillow case? What is it that sustains that love, what inspires hope in our hearts that the relationship will ever begin or continue, and what is it that provokes utter despair or sadness when it ends? And how – compared to human love in which one’s partner has free will to leave at any given time (oh, the magic of staying) – do 2D relationships end?

These are not questions that have easy answers, which is why perhaps we all keep following the path of love, heartbreak, loss, and more love again and again, even when we’ve been what we might consider unlucky in love in the past. If love weren’t such a compelling force, I doubt any of us would jump into it repeatedly, whether with a human or a 2D character. What some might perceive as odd, then, is to me a reflection of this intense drive to love and to be loved in return, that we attempt over and over again in spite of how much it may have hurt in the past. That desire and optimism are something to celebrate, I think, not scorn – but they’re also experiences that we have barely begun to scratch the surface of understanding.

If you’ve had, or have, a 2D love, and you’d like to email me to tell me about it, I would be honored to hear from you.

Related MSP articles:
- Falling in love online
- Stumbling upon love
- Sex, love and stalking on Facebook and Twitter

[Love in 2D, NYT]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.