And as social distancing leaves her stuck inside, she has found herself working more than ever. Though she tends to work directly with individual customers through Discord, a chat app favored by video game players, she’s now using other platforms more, including Chaturbate, OnlyFans and Skype.
Though she’s working especially hard and acknowledges that sex work and the stigma attached to it can be difficult, she said she feels privileged that she’s able to work from home. “There has been a shift,” she said, “but it isn’t like I’ve suddenly had the rug pulled out from under me and I’m unemployed, you know?”
The Economics of Camming
Sex online, in general, seems through the roof. OnlyFans, a website where people subscribe to see the kind of pictures and videos that can’t be displayed on Instagram, reported a 75 percent increase in overall new sign-ups — 3.7 million new sign-ups this past month, with 60,000 of them being new creators.
Subscription business though is very different than gratuity-based revenue. On sites like CamSoda, tipping is usually tied to “rewards” for viewers. For example, if someone tips a certain number of tokens — the websites often create their own currencies, and in this case, each token is worth 5 cents — the model may take off an item of clothing or perform a sexual act.
Many cam models do also supplement their income through subscription sites like OnlyFans or Patreon, where they sell photos and videos.
Ms. French, who used to be a cam model herself, created ManyVids to allow for various revenue streams for models. For example, there is a separate store section, where models can sell items of clothing they’ve worn. Remi Ferdinand, 30, who works as a stripper and a cam model, said it’s one of her favorite platforms for that very reason.
Most of the established cam models who spoke with The New York Times painted a coherent picture: Over time, they’ve built up stable connections with their regular viewers, which is what carries them through difficult financial times.
But some, like Betsy, 32, and Raie, 33, a British couple who cam together on Chaturbate, said that even though they’ve seen a large number of new audience members recently, they haven’t been getting tipped more.
“I think people are not only hoarding toilet paper, they’re hoarding money, because no one knows when their next paycheck is coming,” Raie said.
The couple has been together for nearly 10 years, have been married for six and have been camming for three. Though Raie usually does freelance work outside of sex work as a chef and a makeup artist, both jobs have come to a halt as a result of the pandemic. The couple now relies on camming as their sole source of income. Regardless, they feel relatively secure because they stand out from other cam models given that Betsy is trans and Raie is cisgender.
Ms. Ferdinand, who was also doing sex work during the 2008 recession, feels stable and happy as she works from home. Still, she’s unsure about the future. “Anytime there’s a financial issue, anything that’s considered a luxury type service is always the first one to take a hit,” she said.
An Influx of New Cam Models
Cecilia Morrell, a cam model in Toronto, said that such a sudden increase in new models makes it difficult for pre-existing ones to stand out.
“There’s a large amount of people that are looking to jump into this industry for the first time, and that saturates the market quite a bit,” Ms. Morrell, 21, said.
Valentine, a sex worker in Portland, Ore., is concerned that people who have never been involved in sex work and start camming may not consider the sociopolitical context of that work.
“Sure, do it, create an OnlyFans, start camming — but that means you have to support sex workers all year round now,” said Valentine, who declined to give her age. “You can’t just dip in and out of it because you think it’s easy and then trash us in the end.”