Camming Together: The Virtues of the Virtual Girlfriend

Nikki Night shimmies a pair of tattered blue jeans up the leg of a tripod and belts them tight. Once steady, she pushes a honking rubber dildo through the opening until it’s flopping out the zipper. Voila, now her students needn’t a penis on hand to simulate oral sex for their devoted fans. Night, who touts herself as the world’s first and foremost adult webcamming coach, today instructs a private room full of nearly two-dozen aspiring male and female cam performers on the online mega-network Cam4. During the primer—entitled, “New Cam Show Ideas”—she touches on other nuts and bolts of her craft: how to direct the viewers’ eyes to your “tip” button, the sexual power of the color red (“It makes you more desirable to males by tapping their primal instinct,” she suggests) and strategies to foster brand loyalty. However, she repeatedly pounds home one point: Have fun. If you’re not enjoying yourself, nobody’s going to enjoy watching you.

Given that philosophy, Night counsels her charges to set up a comfortable space reflective of their personality; she adorns her bedroom soundstage with pink and white wallpaper, a lava lamp and a hula-hoop. A vintage movie poster for the 1958 film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman hangs on the wall. The poster fits, functioning almost as a commentary on the character Night has created—a buxom sage with long, dark hair slicked up into a pompadour and a commanding yet warm presence. The poster is relevant for another, more distressing reason. Ever since the film’s starlet Yvette Vickers was found dead at age 82 in her Los Angeles apartment in 2011, her body having languished there “in a mummified state,” according to People magazine. Vickers, and the film, have become symbolic of the internet age’s epidemic of loneliness.

At the end, the aging actress had withdrawn from real-world relationships, communicating only with die-hard fans via online forums and message boards. Incidentally, the film is also the inspiration for the go-to fantasy of one of Night’s regulars from her days and nights as an in-demand camgirl (she now only teaches). Her customer would pay a premium to watch Night stomp on a carefully orchestrated miniature city constructed of figurines and tiny machines. “The giantess fetish” is just one of the many fantasies Night regularly encounters that seemingly have little to do with sex. She believes in the medium’s ability to enrich lives and combat isolation. Conventional wisdom argues that each new digital trend intended to better connect us proves to ultimately drive us further apart, but some people are finding a digital salve for their solitude in porn.

After spending more than a decade as a professional makeup artist, Night struggled for the money to start a new life after ending her marriage in 2010. “After my divorce I couldn’t tell you what my favorite color was,” she recalls. “Camming absolutely saved my life.”

She previously considered a lot of “dark things” to earn a living, including, in her opinion, bartending and waitressing: “When I have to put up with a guy cupping my ass or having to flirt with some jerk to sell him a beer, that feels more like sex work to me than camming.”

An ad for “internet modeling” led Night into the camming industry, which annually generates an estimated $1 billion. The barriers to entry were low compared to other sex work. There are no applications to fill out, no sleazy smut directors to deal with, no pimps. All it takes is Wi-Fi and a webcam. While Night’s network takes 40 percent of revenues off the top, performers, she says, work as much or as little as they want to and face no pressure to boost their earnings.

Night quickly realized that her new job bolstered her self-esteem. She suddenly felt sexy walking down the supermarket aisle in sweatpants. When she was stuck at home with a kidney infection, clients bought groceries for her. Night became proud of her full arms and broad shoulders, features she’d loathed before her divorce. She made dirtier jokes. Even her sexual fantasies changed. Suddenly, the idea of “being watched” became a tent pole for her naughtiest desires. Night had developed an empowered alter ego—a dominant yet goofy sexpot.

The extent to which sex played a small role in cammers’ interactions would shock the uninitiated.

She particularly enjoyed the bond with clients. It is said that escorts are part sex object, part therapist. The extent to which sex played a small role in cammers’ interactions would shock the uninitiated.

For many clients, it’s simply an opportunity to relinquish control, suggests Night and some of her colleagues. One former customer of Night’s requested she role-play his secretary. On cam, Night would pretend to take appointments and order office supplies. When he gave her the cue that he’d “left the office,” Night would start making personal calls and bragging to friends about how much she was stealing from her boss. She had another customer who asked her to watch him exercise.

For many men the appeal of cam sites lies in the opportunity to form a new type of relationship. MyGirlFund specializes in a service called “the digital girlfriend experience.” Co-founder Brian Cooper launched the company to converge the popularity of social networking with the allure of adult entertainment. Right around that time a major shift was occurring in the world of sex work—the old cliché of the co-ed stripping to pay her way through college had turned into the cam girl, and MGF served this titty bar exodus. In a recent survey of camgirls (who are independent contractors), MGF found nearly 40 percent of the girls working on the site were doing so, at least in part, to pay for college.

MGF functions like a social network—only users pay $1 per message to contact the talent, and after that, the options are varied. Most cammers offer some kind of adult content that can be purchased with in-site currency. Resourceful entrepreneurs function as their own directors, producers, marketers and retail stores (for products like premade adult videos).

MGF camgirl Alex Bishop built a following camming on MGF and other sites, but she’s gotten to the point where she no longer has the time to cam. “I went from struggling in poverty to making six-figures,” says Bishop, the beaming green-eyed brunette with mysterious sharp features that reminds one of a young Angelina Jolie. “I’ve erased my debt, gotten health insurance, a new car…a nanny for my kids while I’m at work. We get to travel and eat organic. We have the things we want.”

MGF business director Stefan Patrick acknowledges that the name of his site deliberately sounds like “my girlfriend.” Patrick said, “We’re really an online girlfriend site. The relationships formed on the site are deep and abiding. Of course,” he allows, “the girls are on the site to further their financial goals”


Camming Together: The Virtues of the Virtual Girlfriend

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