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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
'I sold myself on eBay'
by Hannah Bayman
BBC News Online, Southampton

What price the perfect woman? On eBay, the online auction site, she will probably set you back about £30 - about the same as a designer handbag or a year's supply of McDonalds Happy Meal toys.

EBay ended my auction early, although many others stayed up

Or so I discovered when I auctioned myself as a virtual girlfriend.

A cash-strapped student in the US was the first to come up with the idea and the phenomenon quickly spread to eBay.co.uk.

Aimed at men too busy, lazy or shy to pull in person, virtual girlfriends offer the fun of a relationship without the hassle.

Texts, emails, online chats and digital photos take the place of dates and other messy face-to-face bits.

And the point? In the words of one virtual girlfriend, Kelly, 22, (sold for £25, five bids): "Use me to get that someone jealous or someone off your back or simply a month of virtual flirting for your own amusement."

Starting the bidding on me at 99p, I upload one of my more glamorous photos and type in my item title: **Looking 4 love? I'll be yr e-girlfriend**.

In my description I explain that my two-week "relationship" with the highest bidder will consist of a text message a day, an email every other day, one handwritten letter and some digital photos.

I will†aim to please, making me your perfect girlfriend
Julia, Worcester

But I have competition - a dozen other girls are already up for sale as human lots.

Most are offering something far racier than me, many promising to pose naked or semi-nude and some even offering to send "lucky" winners a piece of their underwear.

Stella, an 18-year-old from Essex (£47, 16 bids), writes: "I could be the virtual girlfriend of your dreams. You can choose what you want in the picture. I can be wearing or not wearing whatever you want me to and be doing whatever you want me to (within reason)."

Julia, (£7, three bids and counting) a student from Worcester, says: "I will†aim to please, making me your perfect girlfriend. I'm patient and understanding I can listen to your problems.

I will be requiring explicit photographs, are you ok with this?
Potential bidder

"You can choose how clean or saucy the emails are, they can be as tame or as racy as you please. I will be whatever you want me to be!"

But my comparatively straight-laced listing does not seem to put off the cyber-suitors.

Within 24 hours I have more than 10 bids and an inbox of fascinating emails.

One man asks me if I would like to go into partnership with him to set up an adult website: "I must tell you I will be requiring explicit photographs, are you ok with this?"

Another, John, writes: "Hello. Would you be interested in coming to an arrangement with me, where I pay you each month? No strings attached."

A third: "If u wanna come to my party babe - set ur price and wot you are prepared to give - hope you're broadminded."

Listings offering services relating to personal relationships are not allowed
eBay administration

By the fifth day of my seven-day auction, more than 2,000 people have viewed the page and 20 bidders have raised my price to £50.

I have also been invited to be a founding virtual girlfriend on www.v-girlfriend.com.uk, Britain's first site dedicated to the craze, set up by a 24-year-old entrepreneur from Kent and his (actual) girlfriend.

But my virtual courting is brought to an abrupt halt by the powers that eBay.

An email informs me my auction has been closed early as "listings offering services relating to personal relationships (real or virtual) are not allowed".

But the ruling does not seem to have deterred many other virtual girlfriends or their bidders, with pages of auctions still going strong.

On a site that is the online equivalent of a thousand car boot sales rolled into one, it is impossible for administrators to monitor every auction.

Desperate search

I'm secretly relieved my attempt at online loving has been deleted.

But for lots of the other girls - most of whom are students - there is a much more desperate side to the search.

Courtenay, 18, from Newcastle (99p, no bids yet) illustrates her listing with a picture of herself pulling down her top. She writes: "Uni's proving to be really expensive, what with tuition fees, books, living costs, etc. so I'm lookin to make some extra money."

Samantha, 21, from Cardiff (£9.99, Buy It Now price £100, no bids yet) echoes this: "I am training to become a nursery school teacher. At the moment I have no money at all so I am trying anything possible to help pay my fees etc."

With the cost of a woman's love falling this low, how far will the bidding go?

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