Coronavirus Has Scrambled the Sex and Porn Industry. Cam Girls Are Cashing In.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 22: Webcam model Lana Del Bae, shown through a ring light, participates in a live webcam broadcast at the Chaturbate booth at the 2020 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

For many businesses, coronavirus has been a disaster. Amidst stay-at-home orders and a faltering economy, spending is plummeting and tens of millions of people have lost their jobs. The unprecedented circumstances, however, has led one industry to thrive. A surge in demand for digital sex work means that cam girls are finding that their services are increasingly being sought out as even the most intimate and physical parts of our lives move online.

COVID-19 measures have redefined the contours of our interactions, and the way that we experience sex and intimacy is now almost wholly defined by whether we have a live-in sexual partner to weather out lockdown with. For many people, shelter-in-place orders have meant that however they usually access sex—be it through dating apps, a partner or meeting with sex workers—is now off-limits. In place of real-life experiences, some are filling long evenings at home interacting with performers who stream adult content live from their living rooms.

“I’m working more hours, earning more, and have a lot more time to shoot content,” cam girl Camilla West, who got into online adult performing after reading an article about how much she could earn in the industry, tells Observer. “Some of my regular clients have stopped being so regular as they are isolating with families and partners, and some people are a lot more money-conscious. But that being said, I’ve gained a lot of new regulars who are isolating alone, working from home, and are a bit bored and lonely. People have money to spend and nowhere to spend it, so they find themselves online.”

Most cam girls tend to offer some services for free, putting on live shows via webcam or chatting using direct message. Private performances, fetish requests, or more pornographic content can also be requested for an additional fee. When loneliness is as endemic as the virus itself, and the stresses of an upended reality invade our everyday lives, being able to interact with cam girls can be a lifeline for some.

“I’m noticing a lot of people on the frontline camming with me,” says Red Delicious, a cam girl signed with Off the Record Models. “People tell me that they want to keep using my services because I’m always happy and enthusiastic about life, and I know that clients are seeking a distraction from the doom and gloom. Clients are also now keener to discuss meeting me after social distancing ends and want to give me their phone number or email with a view to actually dating. There is a greater desire to connect beyond camming now.”

Yet although the demand for digital sex work is increasing, competition in the sector is rising at an equally fast rate. Since the start of the pandemic over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment, and many may see the chance to make quick cash from their own homes to be an enticing opportunity. OnlyFans, a website where people can subscribe to see explicit content posted by social media users, recorded a 75 percent increase in new sign-ups in March, with 50,000 of these being from new creators. It’s become so ubiquitous so fast that Beyoncé mentioned the site in a song at the end of April.

Cam girl Red Delicious poses in her garden Red Delicious

Industry saturation is also deepened by an influx of sex workers who would usually be relying on providing face-to-face services for the majority of their income. As social distancing measures scupper their client base and make most of their work impossible to safely carry out, many have made the move to digital work.

“Sex workers are expert at dealing with rapidly changing circumstances that disrupt their work routine,” says Barbara Brents, a sociology professor and author of Paying for Sex in the Digital Age. “Because they are so highly stigmatized, mostly criminalized, ineligible for any income support, and have no institutions to protect them, they have become highly adaptable. Some people are adding the online environment to the array of sexual services in whatever way their resources allow—things like selling photographs and underwear, private chats, and marketing their services in different ways.”

One such individual who has had to reconfigure her income stream is 26-year-old Honey Gold. Having previously made the majority of her money in pornography, Gold is one of many who is now finding that online work is the most lucrative way of making up for lost earnings.

“My working life, along with the working life of everybody in the adult industry, has changed a lot due to the pandemic,” she says. “Our job is to perform, usually on set, and with production being brought to a standstill, there are many who haven’t been able to earn any money. At the moment I’m substituting any lost work by focusing on working online. It may surprise a lot of people, but I’m actually earning more by communicating with fans online than I ever did from porn.”

Gold says that once the COVID-19 outbreak ends she can see herself continuing to work independently. She believes that the adult entertainment industry was heading in the direction of self-produced content posted online long before social distancing came into place, and hopes that the increased freedom of online work will ultimately increase her earning potential. However, not all industry participants have found the move to digital work so welcome.

“The competition for clients is a challenge,” says Brents. “A lot of sex workers complain that clients are so intrigued by the amount of material that you can get for free online that they are a little less willing to pay. [Moving to working online also] requires a particular skill and resource set, and is not as easy as some might think.  The more familiar you are with the online environment the better you’re going to be able to navigate technical demands, privacy issues, payment systems, marketing, platform rules and other challenges that might get in the way of actually turning a profit online.”

Increased interest in camming content has benefits for some, with sex workers being able to screen clients and avoid violence. Yet for many, the rapid adaption has also curtailed their earning potential and pushed them into providing more services for free. The rise of camming makes it clear that the need for human contact is crucial in challenging times and it is important that the industry’s participants are adequately recognized and protected.

“I hope we recognize that online sex work can be a safe environment for sex workers and provide regulations and support,” says Brents. “There are a lot of lonely people for whom sexual services are a gift. This pandemic has taught us all that humans need physical contact, and sex workers provide an important service to humanity.” 

Coronavirus Has Scrambled the Sex and Porn Industry. Cam Girls Are Cashing In.