Identity

When Your Mom Works a Phone Sex Chat Line

Older women are dominating the phone sex industry. I spoke to my mother and a few other successful ladies to find out why.

by Abby Moss
Aug 24 2015, 3:00pm

Image by Kat Aileen

My mom got her job answering calls on a phone sex line after years of failed attempts to get what might be called a "normal" job. She tried for bar jobs, retail jobs, waitressing jobs (all industries she has years of experience in) and the interviews seemed to go well. A few days later, she'd find the job had been given to someone much younger. It happened over and over. Meanwhile, her bills were piling up.

One day she called me sounding far chirpier than usual, and announced she'd got a job. Even better, she'd be working from home and would pick her own hours. "I'm a phone sex operator!" she announced. After her first pay came in, she could afford to visit me in London for the first time in ages.

Over a few glasses of wine, Mom told me about all the sound effects she'd worked out to make the whole thing more realistic for her callers. Silly putty is good for general squelching, and wet flannels dropped into the toilet apparently sound exactly like massive shits. You can blow a raspberry at guys who are big into farting, but you have to be careful not to laugh. It seemed like she was really getting into the swing of her new job.

My mother isn't the only older woman going into phone sex work. Sexyjobs.com, an advertising platform for jobs in the adult entertainment industry, currently has 7,695 phone sex applicants aged over 40. The company Mom worked for, xxxpanded.com, has a short application process that involves writing a dirty story and sending it to them by email.

This is generally the case at most sex lines, which use a cursory application process in writing or on the phone that doesn't go much further than checking the operators speak good English. The most important thing is proof of age. All sex phone operators are required to send copies of their birth certificate and photo ID.

I was confused about how phone sex lines still get business. Sex lines are expensive; lots and lots of porn is available for free. It turns out that making sure the experience is realistic is key: If you can make it feel real, really real, suddenly you're offering something PornHub can't.

Older women are much better at phone sex. I had a woman who was 42 and a grandmother. Man, they liked her.

"I think because you're older, somehow you're more believable," my mom explained. Before she started, she didn't really get it either. "I had regular callers; sometimes I wondered how much they were spending each month calling me up. I guess I must have been doing something right!"

I spoke to three more sex phone operators to ask why older women are enjoying such success in this industry, and what it's actually like doing this for a living. Tonya Jone Miller has 12 years' experience working on phone sex lines. The 40-year-old started in 2003 and was making $100,000 a year, but got sick of being constantly on the phone and feeling like she couldn't leave the house in case she missed a call. She now runs workshops in talking dirty and is touring a one-woman show featuring characters based on her sex phone clientele. She still takes calls for phone sex, but by appointment only.

Miller told me that not everyone who calls phone sex lines wants to hear a woman farting or pretending to take a shit. "The first thing anyone wants to know is 'What's the weirdest thing anyone's said to you?'" she said, sipping her coffee. "And I tell them some. But then you also get people who just want me to tell them I love them, you know, 'I love you, sweetheart.'

I see it as a sort of social service. What's weird or crazy is a matter of opinion.

"So for me, I'm thinking, 'You want to know the weird stuff?' You want to know about the shit eaters and the dog fuckers, but how fucked up is it for those other people to call? How fucked up is it that in our society, love is becoming as taboo as some of those extreme fetishes?"

I'd heard this before. My mom coincided her phone sex work with her studies towards becoming a therapist and says the two lines of work were more symbiotic than you'd expect. "I see it as a sort of social service," Miller says. "What's weird or crazy is a matter of opinion. At the bottom of it all, it's just about human connection. About someone seeing you at your most vulnerable and still accepting you."

All the older phone sex operators I spoke with agreed that women their age are less shockable, more open-minded, and (vitally) more accepting. "I've heard it all, Abby!" my mom told me. "Nothing shocks me anymore, honestly. When you've been around a few extra years like I have, you just think, 'Okay... not my cup of tea, but it takes all sorts!'" I'd assumed the demand for older women boiled down to nothing deeper than garden variety MILF fantasies, but why would so many guys be paying through the nose for it otherwise?

Phone sex is massive business, estimated to be worth $4.5bn worldwide. But for most women, it's a second job and not a full income. Mistress Susan, a 46-year-old phone sex operator and "non-nudity camgirl" told me that the way to make big bucks is to go it alone. She'd start her own business in a flash if she thought she'd get the custom.

"It's difficult," she said. "The main thing is how to find clients. Out of a million phone sex operators, how could a man pick you? And that's the difficult part. If I had clients, I would do it!"

Working for a big company does have some upsides. Besides being an easy point of destination for callers, all calls are monitored from central offices across the UK and US. If a guy really freaks you out, the moderator will terminate the call. Operators buy a landline phone and supply the company with the number. When they want to work, operators log into their profile on the company website to show they're available and wait for calls. Callers dial a central premium line number, followed by an extension for the woman they want (found on the company's website) and the switchboard then redirects the call to the operator's landline without the caller ever being able to access their real number.

Companies are independently run and vary across the board, ranging from the straightforward adultphonechat.co.uk to the slightly more niche phonesexgranny.co.uk, but they all work in essentially the same way. Some also offer sex cam shows, but adding this optional service is up to the individual. Work is on a completely self-employed basis, and you are free to quit at any time, no questions asked.

The rule of thumb in the adult industry is that if you aren't making at least $100,000 in a year then you're wasting your time.

In exchange for this safety and relative freedom, a big financial cut is taken out of your profits. Most lines charge between £1 and £1.50 a minute from a landline. Of that, the line operator can expect to see an average of 18 pence a minute. But you only earn that while you're actually on a call-a lot of time is spent logged on and waiting. If you're really good, you can bring in around £10 an hour. Better than stacking shelves or pulling pints, but not porn star money.

Cheryl runs her own sex line company, Hushes. She asked me not to use her last name, but said that she started the business after over a decade of phone sex experience and now employs a team of other women. And she's not doing it for pocket change, either.

"The rule of thumb in the adult industry is that if you aren't making at least $100,000 in a year then you're wasting your time," she told me. She pays her employees around 60 percent of the per minute call charge-more than double what they'd expect to earn working for a big company.

According to her, older ladies make the best phone sex operators. "Older women are much better at phone sex," she said. "I had a woman who was 42 and a grandmother. Man, they liked her. She wanted to buy a house; she made the money inside of two years and paid for the house in full!"

Miller, on the other hand, doesn't seemed worried about sacrificing the protection that comes with working for a big company. She uses her real name, promotes herself with pictures, and has told her friends and family exactly what she does for a living. Is she worried that puts her in danger?

"The idea of anonymity online is a joke anyway," she argued. "And look, I know my caller's names, their email addresses, the billing address for their credit card, and their deepest, darkest fantasies. They've got far more to be worried about from me."

Not many women feel this way. While most of the women I spoke to were proud of their work and happy to discuss all the dirty details with me, they weren't about to let me publish their name. It's easy to see why: Whether it helps to pay the gas bill or finances your dream home, the taboo around any kind of sex work is still there. Mistress Susan told me she'd never reveal her second job to her work colleagues, for fear of being fired. "It's seen as no different to being a prostitute," she said.

For Miller, this taboo is the only thing stopping more women her age from making a great living. Society still has a problem with women expressing sexual autonomy-even more so if they've got the gall to be paid for it-and people get even more squeamish if the person involved is a 40-something-year-old mother who picks her kids up from school.

"For me it was an act of activism," Miller said. "To be out as a sex worker and contradicting the preconceptions about that, to be intelligent and articulate... If I can do it, I should do it and then maybe other people won't have to live in the dark and hide."

As for my mom, she quit phone sex once she'd fixed her finances, preferring her current job at a charity that supports recovering drug addicts. Does she regret her time as a phone sex operator? "Of course not," she told me. "You know, I wish I'd thought of it years ago."

Tagged:
sex work
moms
Phone Sex
Broadly Sex Work
Broadly Sex