Life and Love

Sex and relationships: Is webcam sex the future of porn?

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Riccardo Tinelli Image by: Riccardo Tinelli Author: Elle Canada

Life and Love

Sex and relationships: Is webcam sex the future of porn?

By:
Wearing nothing but a purple pigtail wig and knee-high socks, o0pepper0o is typing away. Her bare breasts bounce with each infectious giggle. Over 700 people around the world are watching the Canadian pixie, and the cash is pouring in. In the first act of this live webcam broadcast, she’ll cover her breasts in whipped cream and lick it off. The foreplay will cost viewers 250 tokens—the equivalent of $25. It is noon on a Wednesday.

“Pepper” looks like an anime character, a Sailor Scout. She has a large tattoo of a crab on her left hip. (She’s getting an identical tattoo on the opposite hip so she can joke that she has crabs.) When her tip meter reaches 500 tokens, she whips out a vibrator and uses it on herself with the innocence of a first-timer. Her fans are drinking it in and spilling comments across her chat room, like “wow very hot,” “mmmmm” and “damn, Pepper, looking good.”

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Pepper, 25, has been a full-time webcam model for two years, earning roughly $800 a month performing for “probies” (a strangely jailhouse-like term for webcam viewers) on live-sex sites like Cam4 and Chaturbate. Her boyfriend, Rino, supports her career and even joins in for an occasional performance. Pepper was hesitant to speak with me for this story. Before we moved past pleasantries in her chat room, she asked me to follow her on Twitter so she could confirm my profession (and that I was indeed Bobby Box—admittedly a suspicious name).

Most webcam models keep their business very private, afraid of being recognized or, worse, stalked. Pepper, though tentative, was one of the few women who agreed to talk to me. (Even then she fibbed about where she lives, telling me she’s from Narnada, a fictional Canadian habitat surrounded by ice and polar bears.) Some performers dismissed me as a pervert who’d disguised himself as a journalist to try to connect with them outside the confines of the site. Others mocked me, insisting I focus my professional efforts on bringing light to worthier causes, like Syria. Half the models banned me from their chat rooms permanently.

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Sex-Cam-02.jpgI first learned of Cam4 when a co-worker gave it a resounding review. That same evening, I signed up and watched a collection of performers for longer than I’d like to admit. I had never seen anything like it. The site was an online red-light district where one click opened a performer’s window and gave you licence to request your fantasies for a fee. (Most common? “Let’s see,” says Pepper. “Show tits, show ass... One guy asked me if I had any drugs I could put in my no-no places so he could pretend to be a border patrol.”) The site felt like a porn revolution—or revelation.

In fact, it seems that many erotica viewers have moved beyond the superficiality of archetypal stars, like Jenna Jameson. We’ve set our sights on unscripted reality and live custom performances—without plastic or peroxide. We’d rather watch someone we might run into at the grocery store than an “actress” whose orgasms sound as if she’s being gutted by a scythe.

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Porn superstar James Deen has also noticed that viewers are hungry for more personal pornography. “The Internet has definitely created more of a connection between the audience and the artist,” he recently told Bullett. “I think that social media and things like crowd funding have allowed the audience to really participate in the creative process.” Pepper agrees with those sentiments, adding that part of the appeal of sexcams is that it’s perceived as “personal.” “I get that it can be viewed as amateur porn,” she explains, “but there’s a whole other side. I feel people tip me for my time and conversation more than they do for the porno.”

As the largest free sexcam site (users can sign up and view performers for free but must pay to make a request), Cam4 is the most heavily searched website in its category. Just seven years ago the site’s annual traffic was a lukewarm 22.5 million, but this past year traffic spiked to two billion. Viewers pay performers with tokens, each one representing 10 cents, and Cam4 pays them roughly 60 percent of the cash they generate. In fact, 18,000 models in 55 countries have set up chat rooms. In part, probably, because it’s simple—amateurs only have to submit two pieces of ID to confirm their age before being able to perform live. Most have never performed on sexcams before.

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Sex-Cam-02.jpgBut why are we watching? Ian is a 48-year-old gay service and hospitality employee who often settles into the porn vortex of sexcams after a hectic day. He and the site’s other regular viewers chat with one another as the model performs. (Viewers can themselves be seen if they choose to broadcast, but the majority of them hide behind unrealistic photographs of men with the physique of an Expendables’ cast member.) “We share our everyday life stories and experiences with one another,” he tells me. It struck me as odd. What happened to catching up over coffee? Does an online stripper helicoptering his penis incite conversation?

If the performer Ian is watching ignores the fans who are typing away in the chat room, he, and most of the audience, will grow bored, give the performer a bad rating and leave. In that sense, the sites operate like a strip club: The stripper doesn’t get paid unless they put on a good show, and a good show won’t happen unless the stripper gets paid. “You have a selection of performers to choose from that fit one’s desires and fantasies in a non-threatening way,” says Ian. “You can either stay or move on to the next.” Except Ian never moves on when a model who calls himself firefightnick is online— even for the length of a two- or three-hour broadcast.

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Nicholas (not his real name) is muscular and has a spray of tattoos that look like they cost him a fortune and elfin features hardened by a shadow of stubble. He’s handsome enough to be arrogant but seems friendly, greeting each newcomer to his room and flashing a grin—making him, consistently, one of the top Canadian earners on Cam4.

Nicholas is also a full-time firefighter. At 25, he averages $3,000 to $4,000 a month performing five shows (which range from 30 minutes to two hours) a week on the site. He compares his part-time gig to that of a work-at-home stripper. Amiable and articulate, Nicholas tells me he began performing on the site to pay off school debts. After only seven months broadcasting, he’d built personal relationships with his viewers and word spread like an STI (bad joke) about his friendly attitude, good looks and commitment to fulfilling fantasies. (He was once paid to douse himself with two “ice-cold beers” while nude.)

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Sex-Cam-02.jpgVogue columnist and sex blogger Karley Sciortino, who also works as a dominatrix and occasionally does sessions over a webcam, isn’t surprised that webcams have become popular. “They are more personal, and the entertainment can be catered to your desires,” she explains. “We are a generation who grew up communicating online, and therefore we feel very comfortable in that environment.

It makes sense that we would want to make sexual connections with people through the Internet.” But, to state the obvious, cam sex is not sex. “You lose a lot of the erotic and physical tension that exists when two people are together in the same room,” says Sciortino. “You’re more likely to ‘lose yourself’ in an intense sexual moment when you don’t have the option of escape simply by closing a tab on your browser.”

There could be another downside to cam sex, though. A new syndrome dubbed SADD, or sexual attention deficit disorder, stems from the over-consumption of porn on the Internet. In the grips of this intimate ADD, those afflicted can no longer focus on real sex with another person. They have trouble maintaining an erection or can only climax with manual or oral encouragement. While this condition isn’t strictly caused by live-sex websites, the platform does cultivate an infatuation with what’s out of reach.

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We weren’t far into our conversation before Nicholas confessed to failing a recent vision test in his annual firefighter’s medical exam. He has since been on medical leave with partial pay until he can get laser eye surgery. As he’ll have to pay out of pocket, Nicholas turned to Cam4 where his fans are “beyond generous.” One particularly fond member shelled out $3,000 in a matter of weeks.

Nicholas is well aware that his pornographic side venture may violate his professional code of ethics. “I’ve made it a point to keep these two worlds very separate from each other,” he says. “No one at the station knows about this.” He’s only told a handful of close friends, and his family has no idea.

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Sex-Cam-02.jpgBoth Nicholas and Pepper appreciate the discretion camming provides when compared to alternatives like mainstream porn, stripping and—although much more extreme— prostitution. Detective Constable Lisa Belanger of Toronto Police’s Sex Crimes Unit agrees that performing via webcam is much safer than those alternatives because it “provides the opportunity to be more anonymous” since performers and viewers can hide their faces if they want to.

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Live-sex websites lead us yet another step away from physical intimacy. But one could also argue that porn is being given an innovative and much-needed personal touch. Either way, like texting effectively replaced the casual phone call and emails replaced letters, the seemingly endless innovations of Internet porn are giving people more reasons to skip out on the complications of dating and the anxieties of sex. They just log in, chat discreetly with others and climax on their own terms. For a price, of course. Perhaps most of all, it’s the biggest of all millennial buzzwords: convenient.

Masturbating to an onscreen performer is not sex, but the result is the same if one is simply looking to orgasm. It’s an unromantic and terrifying trend where intimacy is concerned, but is it preferred to a real, live partner? For a growing number of probies (the socially awkward, the bored, the overworked) and the performers who make careers for themselves by, among other things, baking gluten-free bread while topless (this happened), the answer is yes.

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While I haven’t necessarily developed any affection toward the models, I can admit that I’ve grown fond of watching a few. I have a tendency to click on performers who seamlessly marry communication and striptease in a way that feels authentic—as if they aren’t only doing it for the money. It’s like reality TV in a way: You know they are making money, but it feels real, and that’s enough for me.

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Life and Love

Sex and relationships: Is webcam sex the future of porn?