And as social distancing leaves her stuck inside, she found herself working harder than ever. While she tends to work directly with individual customers through Discord, a favorite chat app for video game players, she now uses other platforms more, including Chaturbate, OnlyFans, and Skype.
While she works particularly hard and recognizes that sex work and the stigma associated with it can be difficult, she said she felt privileged to be able to work from home. “There has been a change,” she said, “but it’s not like I suddenly had the rug under me and I’m unemployed, you know?”
The economy of the camera
Online sex, in general, seems through the roof. OnlyFans, a website where people subscribe to see the type of photos and videos that can’t be posted on Instagram, reported a 75% increase in total new signups – 3.7 million new registrations last month, 60,000 of them being new creators.
Subscription activities are very different from tip-based income, however. On sites like CamSoda, tips are usually tied to “rewards” for viewers. For example, if someone tips a number of tokens – websites often create their own currencies, and in this case each token is worth 5 cents – the model may take off clothing or perform a sexual act.
Many camera models also supplement their income through subscription sites like OnlyFans or Patreon, where they sell photos and videos.
Ms French, who was a camera model herself, created ManyVids to enable various sources of income for the models. For example, there is a separate store section, where models can sell the clothes they have worn. Remi Ferdinand, 30, who works as a stripper and camera model, said it was one of his favorite platforms for this reason.
Most of the established camera models who spoke to The New York Times painted a consistent picture: Over time, they established stable bonds with their regular viewers, which helped them through tough financial times.
But some, like Betsy, 32, and Raie, 33, a British couple who met on Chaturbate, said that while they’ve seen a lot of new audiences recently, they haven’t received no more tips.
“I think people aren’t just hoarding toilet paper, they are hoarding money because nobody knows when their next paycheck is coming,” said Raie.
The couple have been together for almost 10 years, have been married for six years, and have been touring for three years. Although Raie typically freelances outside of sex work as a chef and makeup artist, both jobs have been cut short due to the pandemic. The couple now rely on the camera as their sole source of income. Either way, they feel relatively safe as they stand out from other camera models given that Betsy is trans and Raie is cisgender.
Ms Ferdinand, who also worked in the sex trade during the 2008 recession, feels stable and happy when working from home. However, she is not sure of the future. “Whenever there is a financial problem, anything that qualifies as a luxury service is always the first to be affected,” she said.
An influx of new camera models
Cecilia Morrell, a cam model in Toronto, said that such a sudden increase in the number of new models makes it difficult to distinguish pre-existing models.
“There are a lot of people looking to get into this industry for the first time, and it’s saturating the market a bit,” said Ms. Morrell, 21.
Valentine, a sex worker in Portland, Ore., Worries that people who have never been involved in sex work and who start filming do not take into account the socio-political context of the work.
“Sure, do it, make an OnlyFans, start filming – but that means you have to support sex workers all year now,” said Valentine, who declined to give her age. “You can’t just jump in and out because you think it’s easy and then throw us in at the end.”