Illustration: Kim Cowie

The Anonymous Lives of Phone Sex Operators

Talking intimacy, secrecy and the tricks of the trade with the women whose voices have soundtracked thousands of orgasms.

by Annie Lord; illustrated by Kim Cowie
|
25 March 2019, 10:07am

Illustration: Kim Cowie

"Greetings, pet," says a voice down the phone.

"Hello, Goddess," a man replies, his tone slightly shaky.

"Yes, pet. I went for a long walk today. You should clean my dirty, sweaty foot with your tongue."

"Oh, Goddess, are you sure?"

"Get on the floor. It's where you belong."

For up to £2.99 a minute, you can have a conversation like this with Goddess Amberly. Men ring her to talk about anything from what they ate for lunch to cuckolding, financial domination, foot fetishes and erotic hypnosis. It's basically ASMR that you can wank to, and – together with regular phone sex work – earns her £90,000 a year. It's enough to make you rethink your law conversion course.

In the wider context of the porn industry, the continued success of phone sex is confusing. What power does a voice have when virtual reality allows us to experience porn in 3D, fans can win competitions to have sex with their favourite porn stars and we can watch cam girls biting their lips as it happens in real time. While most phone sex operators are anonymous, porn stars are increasingly public facing, with thousands of social media followers and personal subscription services on OnlyFans and JustForFans. To find out what's so alluring about a voice, and why men choose to ring up a girl in California rather than streaming "BBW Gets Big Cock", I spoke to some phone sex operators about their work.

Amberly started working in phone sex after seeing an ad in the back pages of the local paper. She couldn't drive and, living in the suburbs of San Antonio, Texas, needed something she could do from home. Originally she thought the job involved recording funny voices – Daffy Duck or drunken Scottish man – but at the interview was given all the details. Soon enough, she was earning $15 (£11.40) an hour to talk dirty. Amberly started off taking calls wearing fluffy bustiers, surrounded by lube and big pink dildos, her hand locking up after masturbating for hours on end, but soon found herself screaming yes yes yes while loading the dishwasher.

Amberly's husband was in the military at the time, so she kept her identity hidden, using images of a model online. The woman she chose was a "6ft blonde, white, British chick", while Amberly describes herself as "black, short and fat – portly, if you will – with kinky hair. My friend Shayna said I have a baby face; it looks the same as it did in middle school." With the new face came a new personality: "She was this bratty, stuck up Valley girl who sounded like she was on The Hills and had parents who would top up her credit card." Alongside maintaining the image of army wife, face-swapping was about self-preservation for Amberly: "I wanted to make the character so far away from myself that if someone said something nasty, it didn't feel like a personal attack."

When her husband left the military, Amberly began using images of herself, and was pleased to find that guys loved that someone so cute looking could be so nasty. But to this day she still employs different personalities, from horny college students – or what she calls "lick me, fuck me, suck me" girls – to strict femdoms who want you to shut up and behave; a necessity, in order to satisfy the range of fantasies on the other end of the line.

Amberly's use of a model is not unusual; it's common practice in an industry swathed in secrecy. Phone sex workers often have other jobs – as lawyers, nurses, admin workers – and do the work to bolster their income while also providing an outlet for desires that would otherwise remain neglected.

Sammy, a 28-year-old Liverpudlian, appears on Niteflirt as a brunette with a cute nose and freckles answering a big red telephone. She has one of those laughs that makes you want to work hard to hear it again – cackling and dark like a bad influence – and uses a model for her online profile because she doesn't want to deal with friends asking boring questions like: "What if someone recognises your voice in Sainsburys?"

For 36-year-old Megan – who appears on Adultwork with copper hair and snowy white skin – as a teaching assistant in Buckinghamshire, her alter-ego is a necessity. While it’s annoying to have to lie (she often tells boyfriends' parents she works "customer service", which is technically true) Megan enjoys the freedom anonymity brings. "This person has no bearing on your normal life, there are no judgments, they can’t gossip about you. I talk about sexual preferences that I would never speak to close friends about," she explains.

Most callers know the photos aren't real – the models often have the over-plucked brows and streaky yellow highlights of years past – but are happy to suspend disbelief when they hear the operators' smooth voices.

Even though she's in her thirties, Megan sounds like she’s studying at university. "Men tell me I have a sexy voice," she says. "Personally, I think I sound like I have a speech impediment. Some phone sex operators put on girlish, high-pitched voices, but it’s clear they’re in their sixties, the worst is when someone's like—" Megan puts on the tobacco-rasped voice of Patty and Selma from The Simpsons: "Hello, honey, how are you?" Rather than actually touching herself, Megan uses aural tricks to simulate masturbation. "For pussy noises I put my fingers in the mouth or dip them into a pot of moisturiser. For blow jobs, I used to get a dildo, but now I just make sloppy gagging noises. As long as it signals that they have a massive cock that your mouth can't contain, it will do."

As well as feigning pleasure while guys describe inserting drills up their urethra, given that they're paid by the minute, another essential skill of phone sex work is keeping callers on the line. "Some people say it’s manipulative – and, in a way, it kind of is – but it also makes for a much better orgasm for my customers," explains Amberly. "I can tell by how you're breathing how close you are to cumming. A lot of the time, if a guy isn't talking, he’s getting close, so I’ll ask a question which is not yes or no, but something he has to describe in three or more words so he has to stop and think. I also encourage guys to do edge play, taking them close to cumming and then pulling them back, so that when they finally do orgasm it’s explosive. In those cases, rather than hang up, often they will take a moment to thank you, and I’ll giggle and say, 'I know you have a lot to clean up there, tiger.'"

Sammy provides more of a girlfriend experience than anything kinky. As well as cultivating a more intimate relationship, this also means better presents. "I've had everything from a £3,000 Macbook, a £2,000 Levian ring, down to a £5 lipgloss. I have a 55=inch TV that was bought for me, the TV stand it is sitting on, all kinds of bedding, a juicer, my Echo Dot, everything," she says. But nothing is completely free: the presents require lots of emotional labour. "Most guys just bitch about their wives," says Sammy. "They’re in sexless marriages, they’re tired of masturbating alone and they need to feel wanted again." I tell her that the job almost sounds like that of a Samaritan – a disembodied human listening to trauma without fear that they could report you or provide unwanted advice – and she agrees. "Guys tell me that the simple fact that I will listen and not nag, not blame them, or not blame their wife, makes them feel like, 'At least I’m getting heard.'"

The simple act of bearing witness, often crucial in these phone calls, encourages operators to form close relationships with regular callers. One guy calls Amberly every night to watch Matlock DVDs because that’s what him and his wife used to do before she passed away. Amberly’s soothing tone brings back memories of macaroni cheese TV dinners and the warmth of her fingertips on his leg. For years, a friend of hers – also working in phone sex – spoke to a trucker who never had time for love because he was always on the road. Even though they never met, before he died he instructed his family to give his ashes to her, referring to her as his girlfriend. "Their relationship was strictly professional, but she went along with it because she was like, 'I don’t want his family to know.'"

Sammy became so close to one client that she actually describes him as "the one that got away" due to how he broke her heart. "For two years we spoke on the phone at least once a week. He dumped me under the premise that he wanted to put energy back into his marriage," she says, adding that just couldn’t give him the physical relationship he craved, and ultimately, even though she was enjoying the money, she just wanted him to be happy. But things got weird when they turned up at the same Liverpool FC game. "His seat was literally 13 feet in front of mine. He was with his brother, and I messaged him saying, 'I thought you were coming with your son?' He kept craning around to try and find me, but he didn’t know my real face. I’ve never felt that in my life. My heart sank; it was like seeing an ex that I’d really fallen for. It ruined the game for me. I don’t remember who won. I could have reached out and touched him. This must sound dramatic for an incentivised phone sex relationship, but it really does get that serious."

While this relationship almost graduated from aural to physical, if there's one thing you realise speaking to these women, it's that some people don’t need the warmth of a thigh or the strawberry smell of wet shampooed hair to feel close to a woman. All they need is her lulling tone, and together they can do anything: slurp carbonara in Venice, win blackjack in Vegas, drink mojitos in Ibiza. She can empty out their bank accounts, rest a stiletto on their back flab as they oink like a pig, or watch her toes curl around the cold steel of a bath tap. Sometimes she doesn’t even have to talk at all: the rasp of her breath coming out of their iPhone is all the attention they need to feel wanted again.

@annielord8

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