Since the dawn of streaming, the porn industry has been suffering financially. As people have started watching and uploading porn on tube sites for free, the days of big-budget porn and making a lot of money as a porn star are fading away. At the same time, though, streaming has also spawned a supplement to the porn industry that can’t be replicated: camming.
For the unfamiliar, camming is where clients pay to either watch a livestream of or have an individual video chat with a sex worker. It can’t be pirated and watched for free because the whole point of it is that it’s intimate and personal—you’re actually interacting with the person behind the screen.
Camming has become a huge part of the sex industry over the past decade, and it’s continuing to grow. There’s a lot of cam girls who now monetize and advertise through social media, so they're kind of the new "it girls" in a way—they’re rock stars, they’re influencers. Some of them have millions of followers on Instagram.
But I have all these questions about camming. Why is camming so popular? Is camming the future of porn? Do people prefer it mostly because it’s so much more personal?
To investigate, I visited the biggest camming studio in the US, Studio 20 in Hollywood. A lot of times, when you sign onto a popular cam site, or when you’re on a porn site and a camming ad pops up, it looks like the girls are camming from their bedrooms. Actually, though, a lot of the time, they’re camming from studios like Studio 20 that are basically these buildings filled with rooms decorated like bedrooms.
Inside, Studio 20 feels like the Paramount Pictures of camming. You walk in and there’s hallways and hallways of rooms. One of them is decorated for a surfer girl, one of them is a girly teen-looking bedroom, one has teddy bears, one has a stripper pool, one is a fake bathroom with a tub. And they’re all just these fake sets where one side is a bedroom and the other side has a huge monitor, camera, computer, and professional lighting.
The whole thing is an amazing facade. You think these girls are camming from their rooms when they have free time, but no; they come to the studio at 8 AM and sit there until 6 PM. They work 40 hour weeks and often pay the studio 50 percent of their income. In exchange, the studio provides them with a built-in audience, a technical infrastructure, a hair and makeup person, a wardrobe—they even have people that train them on what clients tend to like and how to keep people in a quiet room with you.
While I was there, I went through one of the trainings they offer—a cam girl boot camp, so to speak. To be a cam girl, I learned, you have to be able to field sexual requests and be an expert on all kinds of fetishes so that you always know what clients are talking about. On top of that, you also have to be a pseudo therapist. The coach trained me on how to respond to different fetish requests, what to wear, how to do my makeup, how to pose, how to use the equipment, and just how to interact with clients in general. It turns out that, according to my coach, what people like is generally not the super over-the-top sexy woman. They want someone who looks hot but is pretty normal and chill, who they can just talk to.
But what about cam girls that don’t use studios? I decided to interview a cam girl name Ona Artist who is essentially a camming celebrity—she has 1.3 million followers on Instagram—to find out what that life is like. Turns out, it’s even more work.
You’d think that all an Insta celeb has to do is look hot, but it’s actually a full time job. Ona Artist posts new photos every day and does a week of photoshoots every month. She manages all her social media and built her own website. The way her business model works is that she advertises on Instagram and from there, people can go to her private site and cam with her naked. On Instagram, because of censorship restrictions, you can’t see her nude. So, the more you want from her, the more you pay, and the more explicit it gets. It's just like any other online business, really.
I had the opportunity to watch her cam, and I realized that she has a persona when she’s camming—in the same way that a lot of media people do. It’s not like she’s drastically different, but there’s a version of herself that she shares with people while shes at work in the same way that an actress would go on a talk show and be the sweeter, funnier, more engaged version of herself. She puts on a show, and gives her best, sexiest performance, reading what the client wants, asking questions, and taking directions. All the while, she’s sort of straddling the line between sexual partner, therapist, and moral supporter. It’s a ton of emotional labor—like any type of sex work. I think we often forget that being a sex worker is essentially working in the service industry.
Even so, it’s clear that Ona Artist really likes her job. People get into sex work for various reasons, but I think that what’s left out of the conversation around sex work a lot of the time is that some girls get into sex work autonomously because they want to, because they enjoy it, and because the money is good. Ona Artist got into camming because a photo of her butt went viral and she realized she could capitalize off of it.
Being a cam girl, specifically, can be a great option for sex workers because it’s a lot safer than when you are with a client in person. Cam girls still have to protect themselves, of course; making sure people can’t find out their addresses or real names. Those are things that workers in all facets of the sex industry have to worry about, whether you’re a stripper or an escort. But cam girls have the privilege of working from their homes or a studio, where they don't have that threat of violence or diseases. Or they just don’t have to deal with a client having bad breath.
In the media, sex workers are always portrayed as tragic victims of drug addiction or sex trafficking. But that’s not always the case. So many cammers—and sex workers in general—defy that stereotype, and their lives are often totally different than what we assume. My exploration into camming definitely confirmed that.