By Kieron Kessler and Robby Floyd

Camming in pop culture

The 1975 released their new song “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” this year. The song highlights the view of a person who turns to camming for a human connection.

“I see her online/ all the time/ I’m trying not to stare down there as she talks about her tough time,” lead singer Matty Healy sings.

As described by the BBC, the “hottest record in the world” may shed light on an alternative form to an online relationship. The song was released during the coronavirus pandemic — a period of time that is providing challenges, or a “tough time” for models in the camming industry.

Rose Stokes is a columnist for MetroUK who has written several articles regarding the sex work industry. According to Stokes, cam work has gained popularity among college students partly due to the flexibility a cam performer has with their work schedule. This allows for cam workers to do camming around other part-time jobs or schoolwork.

“I know loads of people who have done camming full-time after college,” Stokes said. “I know performers who made the same [amount of money] camming that they would have in their old job in a shorter amount of time.”

Camming is typically performed by one person in real time. Viewers can chat with each other and the performer and give them bonuses. The cam models are able to work from the safety of their home, or anywhere with an internet connection.

COVID-19 pushes already existing gaps

The camming industry has been affected by COVID-19 to the extent that some performers are not able to work. Cam workers who are students and mothers specifically have lost the time and privacy necessary for camming.
COVID-19 is also causing changes and pushing forward gaps that already exist in camming.

According to Angela Jones, a sociologist at Farmingdale State College, the racial and class divisions are becoming more prevalent as the oversaturated industry continues during the pandemic. There has also been an increase in cammers, not viewers, as sex workers from other industries turn to camming for economic stimulus.

Jones notes how deep racial and class divisions are in the industry. Mark Hay is a freelance journalist who has written for Vice. He has spent 10 years covering sex work and has noticed those divisions. Hay analyzed that the people at the top of the camming industry tend to be white, cis, straight women.

There are certainly racial disparities on who gets more viewers, tips, etcetera

Mark Hay

Jones, a former sex worker, started looking at the camming industry when a student stopped attending class and became a cammer. She is interested in this newer form of sex work and the sociology behind it. According to Jones, average cam workers are not seeing massive economic stimulus despite the amount of people staying at home who turn to camming.

Experts say sexual racism plays a part

As Jones outlines in her book “Camming,” sexual racism has always existed in the camming industry. When discussing COVID-19 and the impact on camming, Jones makes the conclusion sexual racism is a heavy factor in determining who is making money through cam sites.

Jones says as cammers enter the market during COVID-19, sexual racism and market saturation is creating situations where average cammers are not making as much money.

“The market was saturated six years ago, let alone now. Now, you have people entering what is already a saturated market,” Jones said. “The people who are the most successful are disproportionately white, thin, and cis, people from the US. The most successful people with the higher incomes have been working in the industry for a long time.”

Adjusting to the challenges COVID-19 caused

Lower class cammers of color are already experiencing trouble with healthcare, work and a high amount of COVID-19 cases in their communities.

Jones says these factors have led certain cammers of color to pause on camming. Cammers who are mothers and students, who cannot afford the space to cam, now struggle when it comes to finding time to work when their family is in the house.

“There is a shakeup on viewership as cammers are trying to adjust to new hours and some with new spaces,” Hay said.

For Jones, it is important to note we do not live in a world in which everyone has equal access to what is needed to be successful. Jones argues class and racial factors are heavy in determining who is a successful cammer, especially as more people are turning to camming during COVID-19.

Established cammers are facing challenges due to COVID-19

Even for those not in lower classes, the pandemic has given trouble to established cam performers. According to Stokes, since the global pandemic, there has been an increase in those who want to be cam performers but a decrease in viewership.

As Stokes describes, with many looking to find additional revenue streams, some young women have taken to camming without knowledge or prior experience in the sex work industry.

A lot of people think you just turn on the camera and start making money. But to be successful, you need to be an astute businessperson and understand the nuances of the industry.

Rose Stokes

According to Stokes, the cam performers she works with have described the chat rooms lately as ‘quiet.’

“Obviously when people are hanging out with their kids, they don’t have access to privacy,” Stokes said, “and some of them are [watching cammers] in secret anyway.”

Cam workers are now looking for ways to solve this problem and diversify their incomes. One new way is ‘the girlfriend experience.’ This service is a type of sex work that is more personal and less sexual.

Jones, Stokes and Hay all have noticed that porn stars and strippers – who already have a strong following – are moving to camming as a source of revenue and are focusing on work that is less personal and more sexual.

Jones elaborates on why it seems easy for porn stars to enter the saturated industry and make a steady income during the pandemic.

“Strip clubs are closed, porn studios are closed, so if you are a porn star who has a really huge following and then you jump on cam, you have this following already which allows for economic stimulus there,” Jones said.

Webster professor sees experienced sex workers turn on the camera

Sheetal Shah is the head of the department of behavioral and social sciences at Webster-Leiden. She has studied sex work and sex trafficking in regards to her position at Webster.

Shah has noticed those who are fairly new to sex work are not making the switch to camming. She sees that, even in the Netherlands, it is the experienced sex workers who are the ones turning to the camera.

Hay points out the issue that even though experienced porn stars are turning to camming, the industry does not offer the same guarantee of money the porn industry offers.

“Just having experience in pornography doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to do the things that make you a successful cammer,” Hay said.

In fact, it’s very common to make the jump [to camming] and then wash out.

Mark Hay

Having a following and experience in camming are key factors in determining whether or not a sex worker can become successful, especially during the pandemic. As Hay describes, camming is a different platform for sex work, so it is difficult to make the switch from face-to-face sex work.

As COVID-19 moves forward, Jones highlights a need to understand how the camming market functions in order to clearly analyze these issues.

“I think it’s the way we treat a lot of markets broadly,” Jones said. “The idea that ‘We live in this meritocracy and if you work hard, anyone can log on and be successful’ when that’s not the reality of the market. That’s not the reality of any market.”