Long gone are the days of going to your local sex store and picking out your next porno VHS or explicit nudie mag. The internet has revolutionized consumers’ relationship with porn, with a quick google search showing thousands of readily available videos and photos with a variety of compromising positions. However access to porn is not the only thing that has changed.
The creation of porn is now vastly different. Amature porn is now easier than ever to create and distribute with iphones, webcams and dedicated websites. Many have turned to creating their own pornography as a source of income. I interviewed three students that have sold their own sexual content.
Sasha* has been a Sugar Baby for about a year, with the idea starting as a conversation between friends. Sasha decided to check out it out for herself using infamous website Seeking Arrangement to connect her with clients. “Normally I only message or text Sugar Daddies and send them nudes of myself in exchange for money,” she says, “It really is emotional labour that’s the main part of this”. Sasha stresses that although there is a sexual component, it goes beyond that for her clients “I talk with Sugar Daddies – ask them about their lives, how they’re days are going. They basically are looking for companionship.”
Kitty* has been involved in cyber sex for 4 years. When I ask what she sells, she tells me “a bit of everything”. Inspired by a documentary about women selling their underwear online, she thought it would be easy money to begin with, but found that wasn’t quite the case, “The traffic to the site was slow and customers weren’t always reliable. Luckily, I discovered another website with more members actively looking for a variety of services.” Kitty doesn’t disclose which platforms she uses, but does mention that she talks with her clients about what they are looking for so she can provide personalized content to their tastes.
KingOfDisaster* was a webcam performer on the platform Chaturbate for two months. He was looking for a little adventure when he began university: “I was in a residential hall so had that naughty college kid vibe going,” so decided to try webcamming. Like Kitty, he thought it would be easy money but soon realised the pay was less than he expected: “after calculating I was making around $50 an hour but not worth the insecurity it put me through.”
Each student had a different method of receiving their payments. Sasha uses direct debit or paypal in her transactions, because of how quickly she receives her payments. Kitty warns against using paypal as it gives your name and address when a client sends money, which is a danger when trying to work anonymously. She recommends Circle if it is available in the clients country, as it is quick and doesn’t give out details. KingOfDisaster set up a bank account through a proxy, which would then be used to transfer money to his New Zealand bank account.
None of the students have sexual contact with their clients, although have met some in person. Sasha has met a few sugar daddies in person but only platonically, to continue the personal connection. She does mention that she had to cut off one after they began asking for sex: “I’m not interested in having sex for money.” KingOfDisaster almost met one in person, but it involved being flown out to New York City, and decided against it at the last minute. Kitty however, is decidedly not interested in meeting any of her clients “Don’t get me wrong, I have made some friends since working in the cyber sex world but I wouldn’t like to mix my online life with my offline life”.
In putting themselves out there on the internet, I wonder if privacy is issue for the students.
Privacy is huge concern for KingOfDisaster “I am extremely worried about privacy. The degree I’m in would mean instant blackballing. I knew people could screenrecord and upload to other sites. Sometimes I would have upwards of 2k people viewing me so it’s probably on a porn site somewhere unfortunately. Maybe not”.
Kitty is also concerned but slightly more resigned, “There’s always a chance that a buyer might decide to share one of my images or videos with someone else or upload it to a website.I try to do as much as I can regarding privacy but, unfortunately, I don’t think achieving 100% privacy online is possible”.
Sasha on the other hand, doesn’t share the same concerns. “Normally the photos I send have my face covered by my phone, I just try to make it about the body and the right angle and lighting”. But when it comes to the internet it is also important to distinguish between privacy and safety. While the internet may give a feel of anonymity, it does not mean it is always safe. Kitty says that she doesn’t really feel safe but accepts that it is part of the industry that she works in. Sasha is more on the fence. Although she finds her work empowering, she doesn’t like to think too much about the aspect of selling her body. KingOfDisaster makes note of the objectifying nature of selling cyber sex “you’re treated as a commodity by customers and the company” meaning you and you images can be traded like one.
Being treated as a commodity has long been an issue in traditional porn. It has long been critiqued that it is dehumanizing and degrading to performers. But our performers dictate their own content on their own terms, so do those critiques really apply to the new generation of user generated porn? Sasha tells me, “selling sex can also be extremely degrading. You just have to know your own morals, how you feel about certain things.” Kitty has her own view, encouraged by the control that she has over the autonomy of her body and income. “I’m participating in pornography because I want to. It was my choice to enter this world and I’ve never felt degraded once. Cyber sex has empowered me and allowed me to have my own business where I set the rules.”
But selling cyber sex is not perfect. When asking about negative experiences I get a bit of a range. For Sasha a negative experience is when clients start asking for sex, which is disrespecting the boundaries she has put on place. KingOfDisaster has had threats of exposing him to his family, with his IP address used as hard to dispute evidence. But the most worrying one was mentioned by Kitty, “a major negative experience would be the time when a customer flew to New Zealand and practically stalked me!”
The stigma in selling cyber sex is still as present as being involved in traditional porn. The students told a few people in their lives but largely it was very personal to them. Kitty mentions that “only my partner knows. Not everyone is understanding about this type of work and even if people say they are, I still think there’s a lot of deep-seated stigma present.” Sasha admits that she actually told her mum about it, which honestly surprised me. “She thought it was insanity (laughs), it’s like a different world for them.” She also mentions that she doesn’t talk about it a lot. Sasha, like Kitty, found some people were less approving than others. “I think it’s because some people don’t understand it.” And I think she is right. Both Sasha and Kitty find using their sexuality to make money empowering; essentially taking back control over the male gaze and monetizing it. But the risk of image sharing in the digital age is a limiting factor for many.
Ultimately I wonder if those who are have experience in cyber sex would recommend it. From KingOfDisasters it is a flat out no: the unforeseeable risks do not make it worth it to him. Kitty says yes, but also points out that it can have consequences: “Yes, cyber sex has its benefits in terms of flexibility and working from home. However, you are always putting your privacy and safety at risk and I don’t think it’s worth it if you’re only doing it just to make ‘easy’ money”. But the most interesting response came from Sasha: “I think it really depends on who you are as a person and how well you are able to handle things. I think you do need a lot of emotional intelligence and stability.”
Emotional stability isn’t synonymous with pornography, but makes sense considering the vulnerability that is involved with selling sexual images of yourself. From what I can gather, the comfort with selling cyber sex has a lot to do with client base. Like any business it relies on the mutual trust of business and client. For the women that spoke to me, they rely on the relationships that they create with their clients to not release their material. I suppose that part of the service is getting porn bespoke to you, so perhaps there would be less satisfaction in having to share it with others, losing the connection to it. For the man that spoke to me, the depersonalized nature seemed to give him a more negative experience comparatively. At the end of the day whether you agree with their choices or not, there are still people on the other end of the lens that deserve respect. Chances are you have watched someone just like them, who are just trying to make a little money on the side.
*names changed to protect privacy
** Pseudonym chosen by interviewee