The development of the internet has completely transformed the way we do business; and the “oldest profession” is no exception. In a world of online chatrooms, webcam performers can market anything from conversation to explicit sex acts. And unlike pornography or prostitution, there are virtually no laws regulating this form of sex work.
Webcamming is an easy market to enter. All it takes is a computer, a decent webcam, access to a high speed internet connection and a webcam hosting site. The hours are flexible, the working environment is safe and the salary can be very rewarding. The majority of performers are women, but there are also male and transgender performers.
On sites such as Chaturbate and MyFreeCams, a tipping system operates in public chatrooms. Here, payment is voluntary, and performers are tipped for performing sexual and non-sexual acts. This makes a show profitable for the performer, at a relatively low cost to the viewer.
In private chatrooms, performers are paid by the minute for a private show. Here, the customer can make requests for specific sexual acts to be performed. Unlike the public chatrooms, these performances tend to be highly pornographic.
In both public and private shows, performances can be highly interactive. Performers and customers are able to communicate with each other using keyboard, speech and two-way cameras.
Silence of the cams
But while consumers and producers are busy experimenting with these new capabilities, both governments and campaigners remain eerily silent. This is odd, given that the British government has increasingly taken a heavy-handed approach to regulating sexual commerce.
For example, in 2014 a new law banned certain acts from being depicted and uploaded by British pornography producers. And the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently on its way through parliament, seeks to restrict minors’ access to pornographic material online.
Yet both laws focus on recordings, rather than live streaming; in effect, they turn a blind eye to webcamming. This creates something of a paradox: performing an explicitly pornographic act via a webcam carries no repercussions, but if the same show is recorded and uploaded, the performer can be liable to a fine of up to £10,000 (US$12,500).
Another typically vocal group which has remained strangely quiet on this topic is radical feminists. Since the birth of the feminist movement in the 19th century, women involved in sex work have been portrayed as victims in need of rescue. Today, webcam performers are challenging this contrived image.
A new woman
Webcam performers are often highly entrepreneurial, and they harness mainstream social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr to build and maintain relationships with customers. It’s difficult for radical feminists to claim that a shrewd businesswoman – who may have thousands of fans, thanks to her clever use of social media – has been victimised by her involvement in this form of pornography.