The SaucyTime homepage, a website that sets up FaceTime conversations with naked glamour models
It’s hard to imagine being sexy on FaceTime, given that for most people it's just that thing that happens to your iPhone when you press the wrong button sometimes. Also, doesn't it make your head look like a thumb? The only people who seem to use FaceTime are long-distance grandparents, people with babies and tech-wankers. It doesn't exactly scream "future of sex", does it?
This is what I’d believed, but I apparently I had it all wrong. To an increasing number of men with erections and enough data allocation left on their monthly plans, Apple’s pocket-Skype is yet another masturbatory aid to add to the arsenal – a new platform for people to talk to girls they’ve met on the internet and paid to strip naked in a private one-on-one show. Of course, looking at it like that, it makes sense; succeeding in business is all about moving with the times. In that respect, the business of taking your clothes off is really no different to journalism or the medical supply industry.
Amy Lu Bennett, a 26-year-old glamour model from Berkshire, is a case in point. Anticipating the demise of the lads' mags that kickstarted her career, Amy Lu switched her attention to the internet – where Nuts, Loaded and Front readers had already migrated in droves – and started her own site, Xtreme Playpen. She posed topless for her own photos and videos, and built up a network of girls who would do the same. She also became a cam-girl, working for Playboy TV, selling cam sessions on the internet and pioneering the latest industry trend: FaceTiming men, one-on-one, for cash.
“FaceTime is personal,” says Amy Lu over the phone, while a guy tattoos the face of her Jack Russell, Miffy, on to her leg. “Men want that intimacy of being in your bedroom and talking to you on your phone. For them, it feels more like having a girlfriend, and actually – aside from blokes who pay – I don’t really FaceTime anyone other than my boyfriend, so I suppose it makes sense.”
If you google girls who strip on FaceTime, you won’t get a lot of joy; it’s a trade that still largely exists within chat rooms and private inboxes. In fact, there’s only one established FaceTime service for cam-girls online – SaucyTime, a downloadable web app for iPhone and iPad. Its founder, Chris Jeffrey, told me he was surprised that there wasn’t more competition, considering they have upwards of 50,000 registered members for just 40 girls, most of whom are ex-glamour models.
“We take glamour models off that pedestal and make them attainable,” he said. “It’s about personality and attitude, but this isn’t about bearing your breasts – it’s about being a fantasy girlfriend, the sort of girl these guys would want to go out for a beer with. There’s an emotional investment you just don’t get if you’re tapping out messages on a keyboard.”
Chris says that the girls take the majority cut from each of their calls, and it must be beneficial that the marketing and advertising that sustains the site and app all comes out of his own pocket. The cumulative reach of 40 girls plugging the SaucyTime brand via their individual social media accounts, though, is obviously beneficial to everyone involved. For girls like Amy Lu, FaceTime itself provides an easy way to go directly to the customer and cut out website owners like Chris.
“Sites like [SaucyTime] would take a cut,” she explains, “which is why more girls are doing it with their fans directly. I don’t really advertise FaceTime. Someone will see you on TV or online, then they either tweet you and message you, or ask for your email address to arrange.”
Another reason to keep negotiations private is to avoid skinflint users trying to barter for their cyber-shows. “I think girls don’t want to publicise that they’re doing FaceTime for a certain amount, because once you put out a rate everyone can say, ‘Well, I saw you only charge this much,’ or, ‘I saw someone cheaper’,” Amy Lu explains. Nonetheless, she was willing to give some insight into how much she can earn. While she’d make around €60 an hour for a glamour shoot – in her opinion, not a lot of money (“I had a bloody dog trainer come round the other day who charged me €60 an hour, and she was fully clothed”) – she estimates that she can charge more than €60 PayPal advance for just 15 minutes on FaceTime.
A guy with some stellar lines using SaucyTime
So what do you get for your money? “Every girl is different, but I’ll only go nude,” Amy Lu tells me. “I’ll take my pants off and you can see the triangle at the front, but not any fanny. Other girls do more, but it’s just what you’re comfortable with. FaceTime’s always a two-way camera, so it’s all about the eye contact. It’s all an act to make them feel special. You’ll get different requests – stocking and suspenders is a common one. I also get a lot of feet fetish people who want to see you rub cream into your feet. It’s not always your boobs… feet people don’t like boobs, they’re really not interested.”
Any girl I’ve ever spoken to who sells her body in some shape or form – be it stripping or sex – tells me that you get two types of customer: the lonely types looking for some companionship, and the ones who more or less disrespect you and move onto the next girl. It seems the same rule holds true in the FaceTime game; “Yeah, the first guys are what we call regulars – always ringing you, always coming to your cam just to quickly say hello and to tell you that you look beautiful,” says Amy Lu. “Those are the ones who want to FaceTime more; the ones that treat you like a girlfriend.”
Unsurprisingly, being the founder of a company that relies on FaceTime to connect men with naked women, Chris was quick to tout the benefits of using FaceTime to connect yourself to naked women. “You might have a family PC, or wives and girlfriends who look at web history,” he said, “but you don’t share your iPhone with your partner, unless you’re in a really weird relationship where you wear matching jumpers.
“Webcam is static, but this is mobile – you can take the conversation anywhere,” he continued. I asked if he was subtly referring to the kind of imaginative camerawork that a desktop computer doesn’t allow. “In terms of camera angles, yes, but also in ways you might not have considered; the caller might want to show the girl round his house and then take her up to the bedroom.”
FaceTime is also an easy means of communication for travelling customers. Chris told me that he has members in 88 countries, including members of the military stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they have access to WiFi but, because of security reasons, can’t use their phones to make calls. SaucyTime is for the soldiers.
I got in touch with one of Chris’s FaceTime customers, and asked why he prefers his iPhone's camera over, say, a webcam or the TV. “The webcam sites normally have tons of blokes all typing away and asking stupid questions to a model in an online peep show situation,” he told me. “I'm not interested in getting involved in that. I prefer one-on-one and not being hounded to pay tips so we can have a nice chat, and where whatever happens, happens! I always like to chat first and that relaxes us both – find out a bit about them if I haven't spent time with them, where they’re from and ask about stuff I've read on their SaucyTime profile.”
FaceTime definitely has an intimacy to it that other cam-sites don’t – an aesthetic it shares with user-generated porn, which is becoming more and more popular thanks to sites like Reddit and Make Love Not Porn. I asked Amy whether she thinks this homemade look is part of the appeal. “There’s a part of my Xtreme Playpen site called VIP, where we put all the girls’ DIY stuff and men pay to see it,” she said. “I find that the unprofessional photos go down much better than the professional ones. It’s the same as with FaceTime – guys like that idea that she’s alone in her bedroom, filming it on her phone herself.”
Like user-generated porn, however, FaceTime has its downsides. In the same way that uploading your own sex tape heightens the risk of your family finding out what it looks like when you orgasm, there’s some ambiguity around putting yourself out there to a global cyber audience. Amy Lu’s never encountered a full-blown nutcase, but she told me that guys can be quick to get attached over FaceTime, and that if they iMessage her and she doesn’t reply after say, five minutes, she can expect plenty of abusive messages. FaceTime customers can only see her email address, not her phone number, but she does use the same phone for work that she uses day-to-day.
I ask if she's ever FaceTimed anyone while out and about. "What, like from the Topshop changing room?" she laughs. "No, I always do it from home, really, because I’ve got to be concentrating. If you’re looking out the window and yawning and stuff, they’ll be like, “Okay, bye.'" And what about the weirdest place anyone’s ever called her from? “Most of the guys look like they’re at home," she says, "but I have had one guy FaceTiming me from the toilet at work, so I’m guessing he worked in an office."
It's hard to make predictions about which way the online sex industry will go – five years ago, the trend was to make the kind of hyper-extreme videos that inspired Cameron's porn ban; now, it's to produce clips that look like they were filmed in a back garden on a VHS recorder. But it's clear that the interactive element is gaining popularity, and I'd wager that, in the next couple of years, Chris and Amy Lu are going to have far more competition to contend with.
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