I was very excited to contribute to the recently published, highly awesome book Sexual Deviance and Society, published by Routledge and written by my colleague and friend Meredith G. F. Worthen.

I wrote a bit about the book here. Go take a look if you’d like more info about the volume.

As promised, I’m sharing the full text I wrote for the book in a series of posts. Here’s a passage from spotlight box 11.1 — “What is Web Camming?”

Enjoy! (you can also read “What’s a Sexpert?” right — here)

Web camming is a relatively new type of sex work that merges the adult entertainment industry with innovative technology. On the surface, it’s a very simple concept: online video-enhanced chatting between a customer and a model. But in today’s social world, web camming is complicated by issues of gender and technology, as well as by attributions of “sexual deviance” from various communities.

Cam work’s general structure is not unlike other forms of virtual social interactions. Interested customers browse network websites containing hundreds-to-thousands of model profiles. They can then chat with a model online and, if both parties are amendable, “take them private” for a paid one-on-one video exchange. The fees are pre-set and are either processed as a flat rate in advance or by the minute. What happens “in private [chat]” can vary from a viewer-guided sexual performance to a simple conversation, depending on a customer’s wants and a model’s comfort. It is common for models to develop “regulars” and, like other sex workers in different occupations (e.g. exotic dancers or escorts), they may have a group of customers who visit them online frequently.

Web cam work is legal, a status largely contingent upon the fact that no actual physical sexual contact with customers is exchanged for money. In fact, on some networks, customers purchase virtual coins or tokens, which are then exchanged for time spent with a model online. This system adds an additional layer of distance from a “money for sex” scenario. Further, when compared to some forms of sex work, web camming is considered relatively physically safe. This is largely because, if conventions and norms are being followed, models never directly interact with customers for a sexual and/or social exchange. When conducted through a host network, as most are, models’ interactions with clients are monitored very heavily. This is done both to protect models from things like harassment and privacy violations, as well as to ensure models and customers are not violating a network’s terms of service. This includes not communicating outside the network (the exchange of personal email addresses or phone numbers, for example, is generally forbidden, as is meeting in person).

As an occupation, working as a web cam model comes with many benefits. Workers act as their own supervisors, set their own hours, and generally work from home. Camming can also be quite lucrative as a form of primary or supplemental income. Further, unlike other forms of sex work, cam work does not discriminate in terms of gender identity, aesthetics, age or any other characteristic – anyone of legal working age can register with a network and get on cam.

But working as a web cam model also comes with many challenges. Cam models do not generally receive much occupational training. Most networks offer basic coaching, but the real learning is done on-the-job and, from a model’s first moment on cam, the work can be very intense. Cam models are also exposed to some very real occupational hazards, from the risk of customers stealing webcam time (“capping” is the unwanted filming and sharing/selling of cam model erotic performances, Jones 2015:565) and potential online/virtual abuse from customers to the tedium of working without the camaraderie of coworkers. Payment for time spent on cam is also not guaranteed. Models are only paid for time spent in private chat and in special events or shows, as well as via tips. As such, a model can spend hours online but if they can’t secure a customer via private chat, they will not obtain any payment for their time working. It’s worth noting though that this payment structure is not unlike other forms of sales and commission-based work. Labor difficulties in this respect are not unique.

Though the labor processes of cam modeling and porn performance are distinctive, those with limited understanding of sex work often conflate the two. The recent trend of porn performers also working on cam augments this confusion. As such, cam models receive a fair measure of the sex worker dividend, and many go to great lengths to keep their work private. This is becoming increasingly difficult, however, as web camming’s popularity is rising steadily, making it the current growth industry in adult entertainment and in sex work overall.

Well, what do you think about web cam?

spoltight cam

(pictured: a screen grab — jk)

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Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.

Get Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment on Amazon and CT.com

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