The sex industry is widely misunderstood – one cam girl talks frankly about self-love, community, and counselling others
With the SESTA/FOSTA laws in the US, the pressure on stripclubs, and the UK’s impending ‘porn ban’, sex work is an industry continually subjected to crackdowns. We’ve written before about how FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) endangers sex workers by denying them the ability to vet clients online – not that we’d expect more from a law backed by the president. The British ‘porn block’ has also been under serious scrutiny for the damage it will do to independent porn producers and actors.
Misunderstanding of the industry runs deep and dangerous, and it’s important to let people in the industry speak for themselves. One faction of that is camming, a subsection of the sex industry that’s continuing to grow, strengthened by the era of streaming and the internet-wide search for personal, intimate connection. Camming – for the uninitiated – is where clients pay to watch a livestream of a sex worker, or pay to have an individual video chat.
There’s plenty of benefits to camming – you can monetize it and advertise yourself on social media, with many gaining huge followings and solid incomes. You can maintain control of your image, while working from the safety of your home. As with every profession it has its downsides – unsociable hours are when a lot of clients will be logging on, and money can be inconsistent and unstable. And, as with any client-facing industry, there can be personal niggles about your self-image.
As this is a month for talking about mental health awareness, Camgirl Olivia* speaks to Dazed about body image, camming communities, and becoming a source of therapy for clients.
How did you first get into camming?
Olivia: I’ve been camming for five years, since age 25. A friend of mine wanted me to cam, and I really needed the money because I’d stopped working as a schoolteacher. I’ve never looked back.
The main thing holding me back before was my family knowing – they’re very religious. I know telling them would probably mean giving up something I love, and I really don’t want to.
How much do you earn from camming?
Olivia: The most I’ve made is £120K a year, but I’ve done years where I’ve made £60K, which is still great.
What’s your schedule like?
Olivia: I do three hours in the morning and could do about three in the afternoon. I rarely work evenings and never on weekends.
“I don’t take any crap. It’s empowering in that way”
Have you had any bad experiences?
Olivia: You can’t have a bad experience, because if clients say a swear word or call me anything rude, I’d just end the call. I don't take any crap. It’s empowering in that way.
Would you consider other forms of sex work?
Olivia: No, definitely not. Porn, escorting... it’s not my thing. Not a lot of the cam girls I know do.
Does it affect your dating life?
Olivia: It’s been keeping me away from guys really, just because of all the things I see and hear. All the cheating would make it hard for me to trust someone. But if the right person came along, they would have to understand my career.
What impact has camming had on your mental health?
Olivia: It’s definitely improved my mental health. I had anxiety and depression, and now I’m in a happier place. I can go out without the fear of feeling inadequate. I was always a really small girl and I put on a lot of weight because of some health reasons, so I had a real problem with that.
Cam has really helped me appreciate my body – people tell me ‘you’re so beautiful’, and there are regular clients that come back. They like the way that I am, and also the person I am, because they get to know you on cam. It’s helped me to feel more confident in myself. I went through a period of not going out for about a year, because I was worried about what people think: now, that’s non-existent.
What I’ve really realised is actually all the girls who are alternative, or aren’t necessarily your classic beauty, do really well on cam.
“Cam has really helped me appreciate my body”
Could you see a flipside in which it would negatively impact some people’s self-esteem?
Olivia: I haven’t spoken to any of the girls that would say it’s been damaging. But then yeah, I suppose it’s not something they would talk about. They all get something from it, whether that’s sexually or for their own self-esteem and confidence.
Have you found a sense of community with other cammers?
Olivia: Yeah, we have a WhatsApp group, which is a great place for us to share the weird and funny things that have happened. There’s like a thousand messages a day sometimes so it’s hard to keep up, but everyone feels like they’re part of something.
Is it easy to end up feeling like a therapist for your clients?
Olivia: I will talk for a long time without touching on anything sexual. We ask people so many questions and that’s really how I've built online relationships. I’m definitely a talker, I like to find out the nitty gritty about people, so it's definitely more like being an agony aunt sometimes.
I think that’s where the money is at, because people do need someone to talk to. I’d say we focus on men's mental health; it gives them a place to talk about things they can’t do in their real life.