Tina is used to the usual requests—mostly to show off her breasts. So when a customer asked her to “chew a bunch of bubble gum, put on the latex gloves and rub my hands with lotion,” she thought it was pretty weird. Oh, and he only wanted her lips and hands to show on camera.
She couldn’t wait to tell her coworkers all about it.
The only thing is, Tina is a cam girl, someone who makes money by performing sexual acts—from masturbating to stripping—in front of a camera for a customer at the other end of a computer. And cam girls, as you’d expect, usually work alone.
But that doesn’t mean they really are alone.
Cam girls are just like a lot of other online workers—in constant contact with each other, often getting support. And like other online workers, cam girls have their own communities where they can chat, gossip, share tips and even argue with each other.
Tina posted her unusual encounter on the forum’s “Fetish Clips” thread, where some of the other girls were already sharing some of their strangest requests.
The experience was “kind of weird, but hey it makes money,” responded one. Others suggested she try blowing up balloons on her next cam visit with this client. Joking with friends, she called the customer “Mr. Bubblegum.”
“They are like my support team,” said Tina, 36. “We help each other and we chat about everything.”
So just who are these cam girls?
To answer that, we went to one of their online forums and spent some time getting to know a few. Because they face online harassment—and possible legal repercussions—we are not naming the women or linking to their forum, a place where they often seek refuge. (All the names used here are made up—either by the cam girls themselves, or by us.)
The seven women we interviewed don’t fit any one stereotype. They come from all walks of life, have a wide variety of careers and hobbies, and have all different body types. They also range in age from 20 to 41 and represent several ethnicities.
What they have in common unites them more than their differences: They offer sexual gratification to customers whom they never have to physically meet or touch, but who affect them, nevertheless. And networking makes a big difference for them.
“We have a community based upon reciprocity and camaraderie which belies any notion of cammers as isolated silos who view other cammers strictly as competition,” said Jesse Quinn, a 29-year-old GirlsPrivateCam.com model. (Her site, like others linked in the story, is not safe for work, so use your discretion.)
Quinn, who has two undergraduate degrees and a master’s degree in sociology, started working as a cam girl two and a half years ago, she said.
Sometimes she turns to her fellow cammers in the forum to get advice on new lingerie. Other times, she might find herself explaining the sociological reasons rude customers resort to racist names. When Quinn, of Mi’kmaq descent, was complimented on her English—she actually teaches English-as-a-second-language courses and English is her first language— she got to vent, and the other girls commiserated by liking her post. Here’s how she recounted the incident:
“I got an overall great review on one of my indy listings (eg. he said my pics were accurate, which is hella important in indy) but he also included this statement ‘I’d say her english is strong conversational but not quite fluent.’
“wtf?? Um, I have three degrees, I teach ESL at one of my volunteer gigs working with newly-arrived refugees, AND I can properly reconstruct that sentence…it’s ‘her english is strong conversationally but she is not quite fluent’
“anyway, I wasn’t angry, I just found it bizarre..”
“The forum offers a community of women who share my frame of reference,” Quinn said in an interview. “I can vent or laugh about an event and they bring to it an understanding,”
Camming is actually Quinn’s side job. She landed what she calls her dream job this year,—a position at a social and economic policy think tank. But she keeps camming because she enjoys it. (Of course, she hasn’t told her daytime employer about her off-hours work.)
“The common assumptions of some customers are that women who participate in the sex industry are lazy, unintelligent—that in general we do this work because we have no other options,” she said. “I recognize that women sign up freely, for their own personal reasons.”
Other women, such as London Jones, cam fulltime. Jones, a London resident, suffers a chronic stomach condition and frequently has to visit the hospital, so she’s been unable to hold down a job. One day, while sitting in the hospital, she began to look up jobs on Craigslist and stumbled on an ad for cam girls.
“Initially I was repulsed,” Jones said. “I thought ‘I’m 23, well educated, top of my class and this sort of work is beneath me. I left the page and carried on looking at other ads. But all the time, the modelling job was stuck in my head.” (Cam girls are often called models or hosts.)
So she did it. Jones first wound up working for a studio that took 80 percent of her earnings, she said. She started researching and reviewing different cam sites before moving to myfreecams.com and livecam.com.
Jones also reviews camming sites and posts her experiences on her blog, My Camgirl Secrets. She likes to to offer guidance to girls just starting in the industry.
Finding other cam girls and connecting with them can “keep you sane… (and) grounded,” she said. Getting support from other cam girls reminds her that “you aren’t alone or strange in doing this. I hated feeling lost in the industry at times and I didn’t want other girls to feel that way because it is such a big decision. I didn’t want people to dive in uninformed.”
Sometimes, being informed means understanding that people aren’t always so kind in the camming world.
“I am curvy, so I know I’m not going to be able to satisfy the people that don’t like curvy girls,” said Innes, 20 and a college student. “I’ve been called fat a few times, but I learned not to get bothered by it.”
Like a lot of cam girls, Innes spends a lot of time advertising, shooting and editing photos, and keeping in touch with her customers.
Still, she said wouldn’t change it.
“How many other people can say that they masturbate for a living?” she asked.
Danielle got into camming later in life. At 41, she “woke up and realized I had a sex drive.” Now, camming supplements her income and her self-esteem. The flexible schedule gives her more time to spend horseback riding.
Like Innes, she knows her body type isn’t for everyone, but she sees that as an upside of camming.
“There are enough men out there with different tastes that no single cam girl is going to appeal to them all,” she said. Unlike others, she does not see camming as “a competition. I am more than willing to share ideas as well as ask for help from other cam girls.”
Aria DeLaunay, 24, an independent cam girl who advertises herself as an “ebony webcam model,” said cam girls are “kind of like sisters in the way that we will argue and fight and bitchslap amongst ourselves. But the moment someone else tries to take a swing at us we are a pretty united front for the most part. Because no one can say bad things about your sisters but you,” she said.
DeLaunay is a moderator on the cam-girl forum and has experience with her communities’ enemies.
“Girls that have been found on here by camming customers have been hounded and harassed before, myself included,” she said.
New girls are constantly joining the forum to seek answers, share stories and find solace. And they are welcomed.
In fact, Tina’s posting signature says: “Please don’t be rude to newbies. We were all newbies at one time.”
This year, the women all worked together to create a post just to get new visitors up to speed, covering types of studios, webcam technology, show promotion and more. At the end, the authors invite new girls to ask questions and not to hesitate to explore.
“To you newbies reading this,” it reads, “Welcome to the circus we call [our forum.]”
Photo of Aria DeLaunay