The Wild, Worrisome, Weird, and Sometimes Wonderful World of Webcam Women

What do office assistants, telemarketers, waitresses, and store clerks do when shops and businesses shutdown and they find themselves suddenly out of work?

They go online to look for work, of course. The bills are piling up fast. The rent is due. There’s not enough food in the refrigerator to last the week.

Where to find a stay-at-home job quickly in the middle of an exploding global pandemic? What sort of work would pay enough to cover fast-rising costs of living?

Way back when…

When the internet first exploded into the public sphere, one media entrepreneur described it as a “sit up” rather than a “lean back” medium.

What she meant was that this new technology was unlike anything the entertainment industry of the 1990s had ever seen.

While TV, movies, and radio encouraged passive consumption by an otherwise subdued audience, the internet, she imagined, would be different.

In fact, it was like nothing else in the history of entertainment.

The Worldwide Web would enable the audience to “sit up” and become creative generators of their own content.

Now, a quarter century later and in the midst of a pandemic, millions of the world’s unemployed – forced to get creative overnight – are doing just that.

But many may be doing it in a way we hadn’t dreamed in the early 90s.

In the midst of a pandemic, millions of the world’s unemployed - forced to get creative overnight - are looking for jobs online.
In the midst of a pandemic, millions of the world’s unemployed – forced to get creative overnight – are looking for jobs online.

Loosening Pants and Purse Strings

Millions of men, women, and members of the LBGTQ community have explored cam modeling during the lockdown.

Before the pandemic, some models also participated in other forms of sex work, like stripping, pornography, and escort services. Some held office jobs. Others worked in bars in the evening and cammed when they had the time.

Now, as full-time webcam models, no one has to drive to an office or a bar. No one needs to worry about social distancing in public. No one needs an impressive resume.

All you need is a room, some sexy lingerie, a webcam – and the confidence to be naughty with customers online.

After all, nothing sells like sex. Or that’s the theory, at least.

That’s probably why more people are presenting sexual performances online now.

There are untold legions of self-professed, locked down “perverts” out there with a surfeit of time, loosening their pants and their purse strings.

For the online sex industry as a whole, current income estimates for the US range from $9 billion to $97 billion a year!

The conservative estimate is $15 billion.

The latter estimate alone makes online sex bigger than not only Netflix ($11.7 billion), but also Hollywood as a whole ($11.1 billion).

In short, there is money to be made here – but who is making the money and can it all be as easy as it sounds?

No one has to drive to an office or a bar. No one needs an impressive resume.
No one has to drive to an office or a bar. No one needs an impressive resume.
(Photo: Sandra Latina/Wikimedia Commons)

Not Always Lucrative

In the midst of the pandemic, several media reports indicate an apparent boom in the webcam sex industry. Webcam studios and streaming sites are capitalizing on the trend.

OnlyFans reported a 75 percent increase in overall new sign-ups. That’s 3.7 million new sign-ups in April alone, says the New York Times. Some 60,000 of them were new creators.

Generally called “cam models,” these creators – mostly women – might strip, dance, or perform sexually explicit acts on camera while viewers message them. They work for tips to accommodate laws that regulate sex work.

Exactly how much money they make on average is unclear. There are no real industry standards. Major credit card companies don’t process payments from adult entertainment sites.

Because of this, cam sites rely on third-party platforms that often charge 5 to 10 percent of the model’s revenue. Then there are also cam sites that require a 65 to 75 percent cut of the model’s earnings.

“Most months I make anywhere from $1,500-$2,000 from camming,” cam model and women’s rights activist Cecilia Renee Morrell told Vice last year.

“I feel like it is important to mention that your income bracket can be very fluid.”

Several media reports indicate an apparent boom in the webcam sex industry.
Several media reports indicate an apparent boom in the webcam sex industry.
(Photo: Manko/Wikimedia Commons)

Not as Easy as You Might Think

The kind of money Morrell makes might right now sound tempting to untold number of jobless women out there. But those thinking about jumping into the business full-time should expect privacy breaches and potentially dangerous interactions with clients.

There is also the bitter social stigma attached to the profession, as well as labor laws that are not designed to protect webcam sex workers.

One more downside to raking in all that sweet cash is that you sometimes have to deal with some of the worst trolls online.

Lane Moore, a sex and relationship editor over at Cosmopolitan, says many male customers can be mean to models for the sake of being mean. A cam girl she interviewed says many of her customers don’t tip, either.

“Granted, that happens in minimum-wage jobs too,” says Moore, “but I’m guessing what guys say to her is probably way worse than what people say to fast-food employees.”

Those thinking about jumping into the business full-time should expect privacy breaches and potentially dangerous interactions with clients
Those thinking about jumping into the business full-time should expect privacy breaches and potentially dangerous interactions with clients.

Difficult Work, Grueling Hours

Meanwhile, the work itself can be difficult, and the hours, grueling.

Even on the best days, online sex work requires the same commitment and work ethic you would need to maintain and develop a reputation in any industry.

In short, it’s just like any other job – only you can’t expect to do it until retirement age.

Mileena Kane, 24, a popular cam model, says people think she’s making easy money with all the lockdowns going on. They are wrong. Her schedule can be physically exhausting. She cams for 12 hours a day, almost every day of the year, she says. She only took two days off last year.

“That’s just something that comes with being an entrepreneur,” she told the New York Times recently. “I’m trying to work as hard as I can while I’m young so I don’t have to later.”

Of course, the influx of newcomers and an uncertain economy have only served to increase competition in an already saturated market. While many popular cam models have noticed new viewers, they claim their earnings have remained static. The new viewers aren’t tipping as much and studios are increasingly calling the shots.  

“There is not a superior form of sex work, and I feel like that’s important to note,” model Katlyn Carter tells The Guardian. “But for me, the best option is the one without corporations telling me what I can and cannot do.”

Even on the best days, online sex work requires the same commitment and work ethic you would need to maintain and develop a reputation in any industry.
Even on the best days, online sex work requires the same commitment and work ethic you would need to maintain and develop a reputation in any industry.

“Providing Human Connections”

As more and more women take the plunge to become cam models, models like Eva Oh hope the attention will encourage a more sophisticated understanding of the work. The job does offer a few women more money than others, after all.

Oh, formerly a real-world dominatrix, has a loyal online fanbase and runs a website to train aspiring cam girls and dominatrix mistresses.

She claims she’s been able to charge $1,000 for 30 to 60 minutes providing the same “dominating” services over webcam.

“What Tinder did for dating, the popularization of camming in this time could do for human connection,” Oh tells In Style. “Perhaps an acceleration of our culture into the borderless virtual realm is around the corner.”

The job does offer a few women more money than others.
The job does offer a few women more money than others.

Freedom, Consent, and Pleasure

Just how profoundly this connection has affected cam models on a personal level varies as widely as the diverse, global pool of cam models working today.

“It becomes kind of this communal thing where you’re just very regularly involved in someone’s life, and they’re really regularly involved in yours,” says cam model Isa Mazzei.

“Often I would work the whole night, so that’s like five, six days a week that I’m spending with a lot of the same people.”

Quite a few webcam models have candidly admitted to sexual awakenings that might make the cynical scowl in disbelief.

Moore says one woman she interviewed described how working as a cam model allowed her the freedom and sense of empowerment to actually feel sexual pleasure for the first time.  

Quite a few webcam models have candidly admitted to sexual awakenings that might make the cynical scowl in disbelief.
Quite a few webcam models have candidly admitted to sexual awakenings that might make the cynical scowl in disbelief.

The writer Macaela Mackenzie, who was a cam girl for two years, says her own experience helped her heal wounds left behind by crippling sexual trauma.

For years after the traumatic experience, she’d suffered under the notion that she was never safe and that her body had no value.

“Camming was a way for me to reverse that conditioning,” says Mackenzie. “It created a safe space for me to recognize my trauma – and it gave me agency over my own pleasure.”

What’s your story? Have you been on either end of the camera? We’d love to hear from you.


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