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Vex Ruby 5
Courtesy of Vex Ruby

The virtual cam girls bringing impossible fantasies to life

Digital cam girls, or LewdTubers, are using anon avatars to combat the stigma surrounding sex work – and tap into a new and virtualised market

Several nights a week, around 8PM, you can find LewdNeko streaming live. Sometimes she’ll play a game, other times she’ll narrate visual novels, and, on occasion, she’ll stream stark naked and audibly moan as viewers remotely control her vibrator. She describes it as “gaming with a side of camming”. You can even give her, as she calls them, “punishment spanks” when she loses.

There’s just one catch: her fans don’t actually know who they’re spanking. Well, they don’t know what she looks like, at least. LewdNeko is a digital avatar – and a sexy one at that. She has hot pink, waist-length hair, piercing, cat-like yellow eyes, and perfectly round breasts that jiggle whenever she moves. As if one alias wasn’t enough, she also goes by ‘Nemu Konishi’, but the identity of the real person behind the avatar remains a mystery.

LewdNeko is one of many anonymous virtual cam girls, or LewdTubers, who sprung up during the pandemic. Although VTubers (virtual YouTubers) originated in Japan in the mid-2010s, it wasn’t 2020 that they – and, in turn, their NSFW counterparts – really took off online. Due to the nature of their content, LewdTubers are unable to stream on Twitch or YouTube, so instead exist on more traditional cam sites like Chaturbate, Cam4, and ePlay. Projekt Melody, an anime-styled adult streamer is considered to be one of the format’s pioneers, amassing nearly 20,000 followers in her first three days of streaming on Chaturbate in February 2020 (three years on, and she has over 600,000 on Twitter alone). Now, though, there are so many LewdTubers that there’s even a directory to help fans navigate them all.

LewdNeko herself started streaming in April 2020, having suddenly found herself with lots of free time. Initially, she was doing voice-only streams of NSFW visual novels on a now-defunct adult-friendly platform, but when she came across LewdTubing, she was hooked. “I’d been pro-sex work for a while,” she tells Dazed, “and I remember seeing [the 2018 cam girl horror] CAM and wondering if that was something I could do.” She says she was drawn to virtual camming specifically because of the anonymity it can provide, but also because of the freedom and experimentation it offers. “I wish the world didn’t stigmatise sex work, but until that day comes, using my real face could be a huge career-bomb for the fields I work in.” Besides, she adds, “it’s pretty fun to have an avatar that can look like whatever you want, whenever you want” (LewdNeko, like many of her counterparts, has cat ears).

It costs to have a different body, though, so each LewdTuber’s technical set-up varies based on their budget. LewdNeko, for example, describes hers as “very basic”. Her avatar was made in VRoid, a 3D-modelling software, and has been tweaked over the years to add skin texture and new outfits. When she’s livestreaming, she uses webcam-tracking software called VSeeFace, which enables her avatar to mirror her real head and facial movements. Then, like most cam girls, she uses a Lovense bluetooth sex toy – specifically the Domi 2 – which vibrates during livestreams when viewers send her tips. Those moans, though – they’re her own. “My voice has always been one of my selling points,” she explains. “Since my tech is pretty low-end, having a really expressive voice and personality has been really important.”

Although she’s happy for now, LewdNeko does hope to upgrade in the future. “My personal goal has always been to have a VR set-up someday,” she says, “but it’ll take a while to acquire the funding, since I’d have to put thousands of dollars into it.”

Other virtual cam girls have been able to go all out. Vex Ruby, with her wide-rimmed glasses, gothic style, and distinct purple bob, also launched in 2020, and is powered by ViRo – a virtual adult social platform. Her set-up includes motion trackers all over her body that are picked up by 12 infrared cameras dotted around her IRL streaming room. This means she’s fully 3D-rendered; every movement and facial expression she makes is tracked. She can even stick out her tongue and dance on a real-life stripper’s pole in her playspace (though, she admits, “I’m no more graceful in real life than I am on cam”). Viewers can remotely control Vex Ruby’s Lovense, too – she favours a combo of the insertable Lush and the Ferri panty vibrator – and, if they’ve got their own Bluetooth-controlled devices, they can even sync with hers to feel the same sensations at the same time.

“I wish the world didn’t stigmatise sex work, but until that day comes, using my real face could be a huge career-bomb for the fields I work in” – LewdNeko

She says responses to her streams have been “overwhelmingly positive” once viewers get used to the idea. “The funny thing is, you’d think that when people come onto my cam show and they say, ‘What the heck is this?’, that they’re being snide, right? But it’s just not what they’re used to seeing. Once they get talking to me and their guard is let down, it’s a magical thing to see for sure.”

This seemingly sudden rise of virtual cam girls shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. There’s been an uptick in regular camming in recent years, in part thanks to the pandemic and the boom of subscription sites like OnlyFans. At the same time, sex workers remain under constant attack, facing relentless social media censorship, financial discrimination, and further stigmatisation by anti-porn crusaders. It’s easy to see why anonymous sex work might make for a more appealing offer (that’s not to say it always protects you; in February, a virtual sex worker was denied entry to the US for “prostitution”).

More than that, though, people have been fascinated by – and monetising – computer-generated avatars for years. Lil Miquela broke the internet way back in 2018, and adult content has existed in the virtual world Second Life since the 00s. As well as being able to hook up with one another – something that offers freedom, adventure, and independence for those with disabilities, social anxiety, or who may otherwise be housebound – Second Life enables players to earn real-life money from in-game sex work. There are even brothels.

This new iteration of virtual camming tracks with developments in sex tech, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. Just look at the increasing popularity of virtual girlfriends, VR porn, and AI-powered dating apps. As sex workers tend to be early adopters of new technology, it makes sense that they’d be the ones to innovate first. Some virtual cam girls are pushing the boundaries of this new form of sex work even further. FeFe, a LewdTuber with over 444,000 Twitter followers, even released her very own pocket pussy last year – an impressive feat for someone who, in a way, technically doesn’t exist.

There’s another, simpler, reason, too – thanks to the consistent popularity of hentai porn, there’s an overwhelming demand for this kind of anime-girl-brought-to-life content. “Virtual camming provides a gateway between that 2D aesthetic and the personality and interaction that comes with viewing a cam girl,” says LewdNeko. “We’ve created a new subculture that’s based around these hentai-inspired fantasies.”

It’s also just fun. “One of the really nice things is that the sky’s the limit,” she continues. “This allows more niche or ‘physically impossible’ fetishes to be feasible, like, you can literally be a giantess or a monster girl.”

“We’ve created a new subculture that’s based around these hentai-inspired fantasies” – LewdNeko

Still, relying on a digital avatar – and the complex technology that powers it – comes with its own unique problems. “When virtual models work with companies, in some cases, they may not actually own the rights to their character, so if they stop working for that company, they can essentially lose their entire online persona,” explains LewdNeko. “That can make it pretty difficult to start back up again.”

For both LewdNeko and Vex Ruby, though, the pros outweigh the potential cons. As well as total freedom of expression online, the flexible, anonymous work gives them freedom in their personal lives, too. Vex Ruby, for example, is training to become a certified sex educator.

“There’s certainly some downsides to anonymity online, but it can also mean that people get to discover parts of themselves that they may never have otherwise,” concludes LewdNeko. “I’ve always talked about how important ‘sex/kink pawsitivity’ is to me and my brand. I want people to feel safe to explore and talk about all the things that make them happy – no matter how perverted it may seem.”

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