Abigail Fenton 2nd May 2018
Sex work is more mainstream than ever before, despite constant societal bickering about the effects of the industry on the people who participate in it.
You might have a friend who put herself through university by stripping, or a cousin who was an escort for a little while. Or your only experience with the sex industry could be watching porn in the comfort and security of your home or driving past the red light district and seeing women shivering in short skirts. For some, it’s slavery, a trap or a necessity — for others, a career choice and even fun.
The thing that’s making a flash in the sex industry at the moment? Camming. One-woman sex shows broadcasted online for millions of strangers via a tiny webcam. Interactive webcamming is the fastest-growing sector of the global porn biz. The largest camming site in the world has more than 100,000 models and one million members, and the annual income of the webcam sector is roughly $1bn.
For those who want a little bit more than your run-of-the-mill homemade sex tape on your run-of-the-mill porn site, camgirls offer a uniquely personable experience. You can talk to them. You can get to know them. Should you so desire, you can become a repeat customer and be pals for years to come.
Cam sites provide what Pornhub and RedTube can’t: real human connection. It’s live, collaborative and often relationship-based. This kind of emotional investment is where the appeal of the webcam lies. Apparently, some people get off on being able to chat to the person who’s showing them their boobs. Who’d have thought?
Hanna Secret, 22, and Arya LaRoca, 23, are two women who work for MyDirtyHobby, also known as Europe’s biggest amateur sex company. Or, a camming website.
Customers use camgirls to ease their loneliness
A nurse and a student, respectively, camming helps the women get by. Generally speaking, they get paid to roleplay, dirty talk and take their clothes off for the camera. However, a lot of the time, their clients are looking for completely non-sexual encounters.
“One of the biggest myths is that only perverts use camgirls and that we don’t do anything but strip naked for the camera,” says Secret, who is based in Germany.
“A lot of the time, customers are looking for an internet friendship and use camgirls to ease their loneliness. Some people are interested in the person behind the nickname.”
She does, however, admit that she’s had a few odd requests.
“The weirdest thing that someone has asked me to do was to degrade them by making them act like a dog and eat dog food. It was very strange but also very funny! Another strange request was when one user wanted me to put on my leather bike combi and grease it for an hour in order to take care of it. He had a leather fetish.”
It’s important to note that Secret and LaRoca have the support of a legitimate website that provides them with a safe environment as well as networking opportunities. Secret acknowledges that this is not the reality of all camgirls, and that there will always be those who exploit and violate women, which she succinctly says is “just not okay”.
However, she rejects the idea that that the industry is inherently awful, emphasising that she and all the girls work strictly on their own terms.
“I work independently, without a male partner,” she explains. “I don’t let anyone talk me into anything. I am in control. Nothing bad has happened to me while I’ve been a camgirl because MyDirtyHobby allows me to do only what I am comfortable with. I like showing myself naked. I don’t see it as some form of humiliation.”
LaRoca adds that she believes society has a problem with women who own their sexualities. She criticises, in particular, claims of anti-feminism, as well as attitudes towards women who participate in sex work voluntarily versus those who have no say in the matter, and how it often seems like people would actually prefer the latter. What does it say about society, she wonders, that people would rather a woman be violated than express agency and have bodily autonomy?
If a woman does camming for fun, people point the finger
“When I first started camming, I told people that I was doing it for fun,” she says. “They usually reacted negatively, so I started saying that I needed the money. That’s when they started to accept and understand it.
“I find it strange that people find it easier to accept sex work if a woman is doing it out of an emergency. If a woman does sex work to survive, people either [justifiably, she later adds] understand her or pity her. If she does it for fun, they point the finger. Maybe it’s sexist.
“I’ve never seen [camming] as anti-feminist. I think that if a woman feels good about it and she has a choice in it, then it can’t be anti-feminist. For me, it’s empowering because I really enjoy it and I earn enough money to support myself.”
Furthermore, the pair question, why should it have to be empowering? A job is a job. Cleaning toilets is a job, waiting tables is a job, collecting rubbish is a job. Why should something have to be empowering for it to be considered a valid way to earn money? On a purely pragmatic level, there can be many benefits to camming.
“I’m a nurse but I work by the hour,” says Secret. “My camgirl work takes up more time and is far more lucrative so I spend more time on camera than I do nursing. Its flexible working hours so I have the freedom to plan my day as I want. We all do what we do for one reason or another but that reason shouldn’t matter to other people.”
“I love the flexibility of my work,” adds LaRoca. “I’m able to work from home, which I really enjoy.”
That aside, it’d be a bare-faced lie to say that practicality is the only reason the pair love their dirty hobby. They enthusiastically profess that there are serious personal benefits to being a webcam star, and not just the gifts — which include sex toys, lingerie, bags, watches, phones, shoes, clothes and, inexplicably, (or not, if you’re that guy) dog toys. No, these material goods are just the cherry on top of the sundae. The best advantage is the newly invigorated sex life.
Men and women in the sex industry are not bad people
“There’s been no boredom in the bedroom since I became a camgirl,” says LaRoca. “Being in this industry teaches you that there’s nothing to be embarrassed or shy about. Once I got talking to all kinds of people and I became friends with the other girls, I felt more open to experimenting. You learn that there isn’t just one way to express sexuality. It’s made me much more open and I’ve been able to find what I like.
“I understand how many people find what I do reprehensible. I tend to be judged as a person very quickly based on my career choice, but I don’t do anything that people don’t already do at home. The only difference is that I show it publicly. Men and women in the sex industry are not bad people. They’re people with a passion.”
Secret and LaRoca are nothing if not passionate, and with good reason. Camming isn’t going to be for everybody. For some, it’s glamourless, degrading and emotionally draining. Incomes vary and some people never quite get off the ground. On top of this, judgement, criticism and harassment are usually part of the package deal.
You do need thick skin to deal with the negative comments
“My people-skills have gotten sharper because I’ve learnt some people don’t want to do you good,” explains Secret. “There are many nice people in the business, but you do need thick skin to deal with the negative comments and critics.”
Still, for those who are eager and willing, it can be a dream job.
Perhaps it even has the potential to humanise sex workers. In the world of online chat rooms, consumers are forced to engage with real people with real lives and personalities. Instead of, y’know, nameless approximations of women cursed to relive the same seven minutes of misogynistic degradation and abuse over and over on a video called something like “Nasty Teen Slut Gets Wrecked”.
If you want to see a super hot babe oil up a bike chain, you at least have to talk to her first. If she doesn’t like what you have to say, it’s a lot easier and safer to close her laptop than it is, for example, to walk away from a guy in a strip club.
There’s a solid argument to be made for how camming allows “girls next door” like Secret and LaRoca to make a buck by having fun fulfilling sexual desires (their own and other people’s) without having to risk public exposure or subject themselves to an otherwise male-dominated industry. All they need is a decent webcam and high-speed WiFi.
Abigail Fenton 2nd May 2018