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After rape in the metaverse, people are debating if online teabagging is sexual assault

In December 2021, a female researcher claimed that she was “gang raped” in Facebook’s metaverse. “Within 60 seconds of joining—I was verbally and sexually harassed—3-4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos—as I tried to get away they yelled—‘don’t pretend you didn’t love it’ and ‘go rub yourself off to the photo’,” she wrote in a Medium post. Five months later, another female researcher witnessed her virtual avatar raped within just an hour of donning her Oculus virtual reality (VR) headset.

Now, as the VR industry is finally having a reckoning over toxic cultures of sexual harassment, a decade-old in-game display of dominance is making a comeback among the discourse it has gathered online. Yes, we’re talking about teabagging, briefly known as “corpse humping,” and the sexually-suggestive history of gamer taunts.

For the uninitiated, ‘teabagging’ refers to “the act of a man inserting his scrotum in another person’s mouth, in a similar motion as when a tea bag is juiced into a mug.” Brazenly-put, it is the hallmark practice of crouching over a fallen opponent and “rubbing your cyber-balls across his digitised forehead.” If you still haven’t perfected the mental image, here are some live visuals:

Although it’s impossible to trace teabagging to a specific player or group of players, it is assumed that the practice began somewhere around the era of Quake or Counter-Strike back in 1999. That being said, however, teabagging truly gripped the gaming community only after the release of Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001.

Nearly 21 years after it gathered traction as a universal gamer taunt, netizens across the world are once again debating whether the practice “counts as sexual assault” or not. The discourse was revived after screenshots of a Discord conversation went viral on Twitter.

“Yep and then we get into games where people think it’s okay to tbag and that it’s funny, when really it’s sexual assault. Ugh we live in a gross world, I just want to beautify it,” the first message reads. Another user is seen replying and stating, “If tbagging is sexual assault then I’m a repeated sex offender.” An average Discord conversation, if you ask me.

Meanwhile, another reply read, “I mean it is sexual assault. If I do not consent and someone rubs their genitals in my face that’s sexual assault. I wouldn’t be proud of being a repeat offender. You may think it’s just a video game. Well, I grew up with a large crowd of boys who did that for fun, all the time to other people irl. It’s not funny. It’s disgusting.”

The concerns were also echoed on Reddit as a user shared screenshots of a Tweet that read, “Imagine saying that because you won a round, it is okay to teabag someone’s corpse in-game. It’s not. Unless there’s express consent from everyone, including those who would have to watch it. It’s sexual harrasment and it has to end.” A quick scroll through the comment section under the post essentially features the same argument: if teabagging is sexual assault then killing another character in a game is murder.

Meanwhile, other users highlighted how likening the practice to sexual harassment is actually “an insult to actual victims.” “As someone who was a victim of r-word, teabagging in a video game is not sexual assault. Please do not speak from our behalf if you did not go through the same stuff,” a Twitter user wrote in this regard.

Now, it’s worth noting that teabagging was once even banned from a Killer Instinct tournament back in 2017. The female equivalent of the controversial act is also known as “clam clamming.” While teabagging is immature and signifies poor taste, I’d like to highlight how context matters for such practice in gamer culture.

For example, if your opponent has hacked or cheated their way to victory, perhaps a fleeting moment of teabagging is acceptable. But when three or four players gang up and track an opponent down specifically to teabag their digital avatar, that’s toxic. This doesn’t honour the team’s skill. Rather, it’s a display of hostility above all else.

Though rooted in controversy, teabagging has become an integral part of gamer culture and is ultimately here to stay. But not all hope is lost for those who believe the practice needs to be eradicated altogether. In Destiny 2, players once requested its developers to create a teabag emote. Now, the emote in question wasn’t of someone actually teabagging another player but users suggested that it should show one dunking a tea packet into a cup of hot water—a metaphor of sorts.

While the developers never did give players such a spot-on visual, they did offer the ‘Cup of Tea’ emote, which shows a player preparing a cup of tea and drinking it. It was a lighthearted way to convey the meaning of the teabagging—minus all the borderline-traumatic visuals.