My introduction to webcam as sexual commerce

My introduction to the use of webcam as a form of sexual commerce was a touch unusual. My friend Sally* was doing an MA in textiles, using patchwork in order to explore BDSM. She had made contact with a locally based dominatrix and had arranged to interview her, a touch apprehensive she asked me to accompany her to the interview.

The Dominatrix, Vicky*, was working out of a large Victorian terraced house close to where Sally and I live. It is a house I walk past everyday on my way to the train station and its neat appearance and total conformity with the other houses in the road meant that I had never paid it any attention at all. When we arrived we were greeted at the door by Vicky’s mum, who whispered for us to be quiet as Vicky was working. We waited in the hallway until she had finished and were ushered into the room that Vicky was working in. Vicky was not alone, there was an almost naked man in a cage and besides her on the sofa sat a transsexual woman named Janet*. It transpired that we had arrived while the trio were live streaming a domination session via a webcam. At the same time the session was being video recorded using a separate camera.  It was a scheduled show that had lasted an hour and she had earned just over £130 for that hour by transmitting live via the website. She had also earned a fee from the submissive who had agreed to be humiliated and beaten by Vicky and Janet. The video recording was so that Vicky could upload the session to the clips4sale website and so make yet more revenue from this one encounter. This was in 2011 and since then Vicky and I have remained friends and as I got to know her I realised just how resourceful and smart Vicky was.

Vicky was introduced to webcamming by her sister and had really run with it, she had experimented with different themes and specialities and had quickly realised that she had a talent for both submission and domination. She acquired a substantial amount of equipment and eventually started to meet in real time with some of her regulars. The transwoman Janet was also a submissive and she too webcammed. Even Vicky’s mum, Dawn*, in her 50’s  subsidised her benefits with webcamming. Vicky carried on camming for several years after we first met and in that time she worked hard to escape the poverty that had made camming an attractive employment option for her. She was able to buy a car, take her kids on holidays and rent a second property so she no longer needed to work from home. She was doing very well for some time but things turned sour when Vicky met a new partner decided to move herself and her kids in with him. The relationship deteriorated rather rapidly and she was forced to take refuge in a hostel for women experiencing domestic violence and the kids moved in with her mum. Having lost her confidence as well as all her equipment when she left her abusive partner, she did not feel comfortable enough to resume webcamming but she did use instant messaging (IM) via the website. IM is the exchange of text using webcam technology but without the visual, think Skype without video. Although this does not pay as well as webcamming she was eventually able to save the deposit for a flat and was able to slowly rebuild her life.

Vicky no longer webcams, she has studied, trained and is now working in a totally unrelated industry. Despite the very few resources available to Vicky as a single parent in an area of deprivation it would be very hard to create a victim out of someone as entrepreneurial and savvy as Vicky. She was able to work her way out of poverty and improve the quality of life for both herself and her children using webcamming, later she was able to use this form of sexual labour to rebuild her life after her involvement with a violent partner. The lack of feminist led moral panic around the use of webcam as a form of sexual labour has allowed a form of sex work to evolve which isn’t infused with the presumption of victimhood and abuse. Vicky’s experience of sex work using webcam is nuanced and has provided me with an opportunity to study a form of post-industrial sex work that has yet to be taken up by radical feminism.

Rachel Stuart, PhD researcher at the University of Kent

*All names have been changed.

Please note all our blogs are the views of the author  and do not necessarily represent the views of the Beyond the Gaze Team.