Myths and realities of being a camgirl, told by a camgirl

I paid for two semesters of my tuition by camming, and it's not what people think.

Photo: pickpix

By: Corvus, SFU Student

If you’re an adult with internet, you’ve seen porn on the internet. If you’re a human with a sex drive (or a pulse on North American internet culture and clinical sense of scientific curiosity), you probably know that the internet offers a dizzying variety of porn that caters to every available medium, orientation, and personal fetish. This endless supply of X-rated material includes thousands of live webcam feeds where performers strip, use sex toys, or masturbate for an audience, seeking payment from viewers who want to see more. This work is generally referred to as camming, and performers are referred to by all sorts of names — from the safe-for-work ‘cam model’ to the more pejorative ‘cam whore.’ I generally refer to myself as a camgirl. In a broad sense, cam performers can also be called sex workers, as a part of the sex industry.

I paid for my first two years’ worth of tuition at SFU by pulling all-nighters as a camgirl — while studying full-time and working a weekend retail job that covered my rent. These days, I work a day job to pay tuition and rent. I use camming as a side hustle that pays for extras like sex toys and taking my friends out to dinner. Camming can be a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot about people and sexuality from the nights I’ve spent rolling around in front of my webcam, shaking my ass. 

There are a lot of myths around sex work in general, and people are often afraid to ask questions because of social stigma. There are many kinds of sex work, and I can only speak about the small portion of the industry where I found myself. Here, I’ve collected some of the most frequent myths and misconceptions I’ve encountered with regard to cam workers, and provided some realities based on my experiences.

 

Myths

  1. Camming is quick, easy money. Making money as a cam model depends on how many people in my chat room are willing to pay, which means every night is a gamble. After building up a reliable set of clients, I can plan private calls with customers, but my income is still dependent on my clients’ interest in seeing me and their own finances. Building up a collection of clients is a process that lasts months, in which creeps and scammers have to be filtered out. In the meantime, I’m at the mercy of the chat room. Some nights it’s a hundred bucks in half an hour, some nights it’s six (unpaid) hours of being asked to pleeeeeease take my shirt off by anonymous viewers with no intention of getting their credit cards out. Camming can be good money, but it’s not easy and it’s not quick.

  2. We do it because we don’t want “real” work. Dismissing sex work as illegitimate is a tradition as old as sex work itself, and it applies to online sex work too. Camming can pay as well as serving tables, but I can’t work a day job and cam in the evenings without juggling two different work schedules. If I get bored or it’s a slow night, I can end my show early, wipe off some lube, and go straight to sleep. Many people imagine that cam work is turning on a camera, getting off, and collecting a pay cheque, but it’s worth keeping in mind that most cam workers perform for hours, engaging with their viewers and planning activities and campaigns to increase interest and tipping. When I was more active as a camgirl, I would begin my shows at 5 p.m. so that viewers all across North America would be going to bed and using their computers while I was on-screen – and I’d stay up until 3 a.m. to cover every time zone. I frequently say “sex work is real work” for two reasons: first, because my work is just as valid as anyone else’s, and second, because many people are truly unaware that camming and performing requires, well, work.

  3. Sex workers are jaded and callous because of the industry. Hollywood portrayals of sex workers tend to generalize all sex workers into jaded, thick-skinned pros and exploited, waifish victims. While camming has taught me a lot about the brutality of anonymous chat rooms and the entitlement of clients who think payment is power, I also discovered a world of kindness, support, and protection amongst sex workers. When I once participated in a three-way private show with a client and a professional online dominatrix, she contacted me privately to give me tips on how to plan my private shows, and told me to triple my rates because I was undercharging my clients. There’s an irreverent sense of humour that pervades conversation between sex workers who market themselves as submissives, and an ironclad camaraderie against abusive clients, scammers, and “bad dates.” On the other hand, camming is a largely independent activity. MyFreeCams, for instance, has a rule against two-person performances as they complicate the payment process. I tend to think of my fellow sex workers as industry friends, not coworkers. Sex work can be lonely due to stigmatization, but sex workers are not heartless or numb — we’re just at work. This leads me to another myth . . .

  4. Sex workers have “dead eyes.” I hear this about camgirls, strippers, and every other type of sex worker. However, I personally feel a lot more dead and listless when I work my retail job than when I’m in front of a camera. If I’m not looking straight at the camera and smiling, it’s because I’m trying to adjust my underwear and I don’t want to make it obvious. When an exotic dancer is staring into space as she turns around the pole, she’s just as likely to be thinking about the fact that she needs to do laundry as any tragic and profound reflection on exploitation.

  5. Cam models are sex experts. Why do people ask me for sex tips after I tell them I take off my clothes in front of a camera? The whole point of camming is that I’m by myself, not with a partner. I can give you advice about what kind of lube can stand up to six-hour action with a silicone toy, and I can help you make your butt look nice on-screen, but in-person work is a whole different arena. Plus, if you want industry secrets, you’ll need to pay up.

 

Truths

  1. Working independently is risky. As formalized sex work can be outright illegal, semi-criminalized, or heavily regulated, most cam models work independently through sites like MyFreeCams or Chaturbate (though some experienced, established performers host their own websites). These websites take on the risk and stigma surrounding the sex industry, and this does not make them great employers. MyFreeCams takes a whopping 50% of a model’s tips, but it’s also the most popular site. Cam work is self-directed, dependent on tips, and not well-regulated. Your employer doesn’t pay you hourly, so if you don’t snag some viewers who want to pay, you don’t get paid. Camming fits into the realm of precarious, gig-economy labour like driving for Uber or delivering for DoorDash — except people keep their clothes on when delivering Thai food. I made a year’s worth of tuition money in a few months by getting naked on the internet at night, but some nights I got paid 26 cents for four hours of posing and chatting with viewers — which is why my main income has always been from a daytime job.

  2. Speaking of precarious labour: camgirls know when you’re broke. There’s no point trying to hide the fact that you don’t intend on paying for a show or tip, because it’s pretty obvious who in the chat room’s got cash in hand and who’s just visiting. I have no hard feelings against viewers who don’t pay — in a chat room, non-paying users can keep the conversation going and make the experience more engaging for everyone. However, the non-client who pretends they’re just about to tip or pay for a private show is an annoying waste of time. Whining for me to take my shirt off for free is the easiest way to get banned from my chat room for life.

  3. People who pay for sex aren’t creeps. There’s a lot of stigma around people who pay for sex, but anyone on the selling end of the industry will tell you that people’s reasons for paying for sex are highly varied and largely . . . pretty boring. I can’t speak for sex workers in other industries, but as a camgirl I often got paid to chat with clients who were lonely, isolated, or simply too busy to engage in in-person relationships. One of my favourite clients was a military man who was stationed in a remote area where he couldn’t easily meet people. He found it convenient to spend money on a camgirl, but only about half of our private shows were sexual in nature. We would talk for hours about his family back home (who he cared for greatly), his aspirations to move his career forward, and how his life differed from mine in Canada. We had running jokes about Canadian slang, and he once mailed me a sex toy and added a note that said “git r done!” Another customer was a recently divorced man who was very busy rebuilding his life, and wanted to satisfy his kinks without disrupting his daily routine. Of course, we also talked about superhero comics and recommended music to each other. Before I became a camgirl, I had no idea how many people need this kind of companionship in their lives. People combine their loneliness and their sexual desire in all sorts of ways.

  4. People’s kinks are weird . . . but not that weird. People are often curious about what exactly clients pay to see on camera, hoping to hear wild tales of bondage hoods, diapered adult men sucking on pacifiers, or some other “extreme” fetish that doesn’t usually make it to the front page of their favourite porn websites. I think people want to hear that their own fantasies aren’t so weird after all. My experience with kinks and fetishes is constrained by the fact that, at the end of the day, camming is a one-person activity.

  5. Camming puts me in a position of control. People can’t physically do things to me when I cam, and I can’t physically do things to them —  I am being paid to do things to myself, and say things about myself or about my client that will get them off. However, anyone can tell you that distance and difficulty don’t matter when you’re horny. While there’s a huge market for sex workers who are paid to dominate their clients (on cam and in person), I marketed myself as a submissive, letting people tell me what to do. This worked out in my favour, as clients would buy items they wanted to see me try out, and each toy or skimpy outfit would become part of my regular camming collection. A client paid me to try out different butt plugs he had purchased for me, working up to bigger toys. Another client paid me to drink glasses of warm water and time how long I could hold my bladder until I had to pee. Yet another client was really into the sight of saliva and spit, and would have me put a clothespin on my tongue so I was forced to drool while we had a private show. The best part about being a cam model? If someone demands that I do something I won’t do, I can just reach out and shut off the webcam.
SHARE