How Cam Girls are Changing the World, One Naked Titty at a Time

Abby never went in with the intention of selling her nudes online; it just kind of happened.

Initially, her Instagram started as a place where she shared her love for horror films and cosplay. It eventually evolved into something a little raunchier when she began exploring boudoir modelling. After an onslaught of messages asking for nudes and her snapchat, Abby took advantage of this interest, set up a PayPal account, and replied to a message: “If you send $50 to my PayPal, I’ll add you on my private snapchat where I do full nude videos, stories, etc.”

In less than six months, Abby saved up enough money from this lucrative side hustle to book a return trip to Australia, all while studying and working a part-time job.

With such an enticing job description from Abby, I was left wondering why the heck we aren’t all sex workers – then I remembered. People hate sexually autonomous women!

To be fair, people don’t hate out of instinct. It’s taught to us as a response to things we don’t understand and that upset us. Still, that doesn’t detract from the fact that women have to live in a world where there is an entrenched disgust towards the independent vagina, and the woman attached to her.

This disgust is often inconspicuous, with the female body and consequent presence of female sexuality being inescapable in the tits-and-ass culture that dominates pop culture. From Britney Spears writhing around in a skimpy school girl uniform and Nicki Minaj’s iconic booty-popping music videos to the popular Fifty Shades of Grey series, women are performing sexiness everywhere.

In what Rashida Jones, producer of porn industry docu-series Hot Girls Wanted, calls the “pornification” of our society, the bombardment of sexual imagery without context sustains a traditional patriarchal narrative – the commodification of women’s bodies. Jones stresses in conversation with Vice that porn and sex aren’t inherently evil, but we should be concerned by its conflation with pop culture, espousing a message to women that sex is their currency, and to males that sexualising women is totally normal.

The general narratives found in porn also confine the functions of a vagina to a box (no pun intended), only good for pushing out babies or putting a dick in it, echoing traditional patriarchal roles as babymakers and husband pleasers. Female sexuality has long been defined by men, with developments of the sexual revolution – such as contraception and polygamy – being criticised for benefiting the male libido under the illusion of female sexual freedom.

Like any raging feminist pissed off with my oppression, I want to get angry at something. The internet is an easy scapegoat, not a completely baseless claim, as it was a pivotal tool in unlocking a Pandora’s box that would lead to the normalisation of sexual imagery. With porn being everywhere, it’s become a primary source of sex education, particularly for young boys. The one-note performances of sex in mainstream porn is warping the way sex is thought about, and consequently played out. However, the internet is merely a tool in the sexual objectification of women, and laying the blame here excuses those agents of the patriarchy, wanking behind their computers, from taking any accountability in the dehumanisation and vilification of sexual women.

The internet can also be a place where these limiting narratives around sex can also be disrupted. Abby is just one of many using the online world to combat sexualisation and disempowerment, demystify the taboo around sex, and celebrate sluttiness.

Growing up, Abby has had to unlearn a lot of what is taught to us about female sexuality, a process that’s not easy, but has been helped by her venture into this virtual world of sex work. Now she is using her platform to help others do the same.

The cultivation of an online persona, Vixen, has helped Abby demonstrate that the female body and subjectivity aren’t mutually exclusive – that there is an autonomous being behind each pair of banging tits. I wasn’t sure this was something that people were dumb enough to think, but Abby’s lived experience says otherwise.

“For some reason, those two things can’t go together. Women are either sex objects, or they’re intelligent, you cannot be both. They’re like, ‘Sexy and brains?! But… you can only be one!’” Abby mimics with exaggerated bafflement.

More demeaning is when people in Abby’s life adopt this mindset.

“It’s scary to see how differently guys will treat me once they find this account. I matched with this guy on Tinder once. We snapchatted for ages, just talking about normal things, then he followed me on this Instagram. It was like ‘Oh no’, and then two seconds later he snapped me, just asking for sex…when they find this, they feel so relaxed in just being like, ‘Let’s fuck.’”

More so than other areas of sex work online, the camming industry has a great chance to challenge these assumptions. Lacking the same celebrity mystique that glosses over porn stars, cam girls find personality and connecting with the audience is just as vital to the performance as their physical body. Placing an interest, some context, a person behind what would otherwise be seen as a sexual object, has an impact, no matter how faint.

As comes with the territory, many people take issue with what Abby does. Whether that be posting pictures in her underwear, or charging for pictures of her with no underwear, people have opinions that they aren’t afraid to let her know.

“The worst one I’ve ever gotten was this one guy asking for nudes,” she recalls, “‘You can pay for them,’ I said, and he goes, “Why would I do that if I could get that for free on porn?’, so I said ‘Okay, go watch porn then,’ and then he was like, ‘Fuck you, you stupid bitch – I’m gonna find where you live. I’m gonna come rape you.’” A totally reasonable response of course ­– how dare a woman charge for her labour and time?

In cases like this, a click of the block button works a treat: a perk of the online sex work industry.

I ask Abby why she thinks so many people can’t wrap their heads around this; why do so many men feel an entitlement to her body? Why do they feel the need to tell her what they think of what she’s doing, and in such a vile way? Because, as she points out, “it’s only from men on the internet”.

I’m met with a myriad of theories, all stemming from the same place.

“I think men just have this – #notallmen, but a lot of men, but especially on the internet – have this anger and hate towards women who are comfortable in their sexuality, because they’re so intimidated by that. They don’t know what to do with a sexually confident woman”.

This insecurity, manifesting in hate, comes from the revelation that not all women will just roll over for them (kudos to the women that do, you do you!), denting fragile egos. It sounds archaic, but this power dynamic’s modern presence proves it to be eternal and entrenched.

Iconic art critic John Berger even chimed in on the issue, saying, “From earliest childhood, each woman has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually… how she appears to men is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life… This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.”

In challenging this – reminding men that they are just there to pay her bills and not to validate her worth – Abby upsets the status quo.

Instead, Abby only cares about how she appears to men, as it’s a crucial part of her covert operation of manipulating the patriarchy’s collective boner. Taking advantage of a market of horny dudes is genius (and people are worried cam girls are getting exploited?). Abby sees the humour in the irony cloaking the industry, but its criticisms emphasise a sad truth that fuels this irony.

“Men are the ones that dominate the market, but it’s women who are getting shamed – we’re just here providing a service that men are demanding … Why are we the ones to blame, when we’re not the reason this market exists in the first place?”

Despite these moments of infuriation, Abby is comfortable that at the end of the day, she’s getting paid.

As a hybrid of porn, stripping, and to an emotional degree, escorting, the camming industry is regularly criticised for its contribution to the onslaught of sexual imagery already in the world, and for peddling to the male gaze. It’s a debate that goes back to the ’60s, where there was a staunch divide between sex-positive feminists and anti-porn feminists that saw engaging in sexuality as reductive, demeaning behaviour.

With both sides raising valid points, Abby is no stranger to crises of faith.

“Some days I go, I can’t do this anymore, I’m literally feeding into this idea that women can be brought. At the same time, I’m making money off something that I’m taught to hate.”

In a world that tries to dictate Abby’s sexuality, putting her body up for sale is an empowering act of rebellion.

“I’ve been through a sense of being degraded, and this is my way of taking back ownership of my own body – by literally making myself an item that you can purchase – and I know that sounds kind of ironic that you own your own body but you sell it to people, but I’m marketing myself, I’ve made myself a brand, I choose who gets access to it, how much it’s worth, and for some reason, that makes me feel empowered”.

Abby’s work has helped her overcome trauma and regain control in a part of her life where it was so abruptly taken from her, after having nudes leaked online when she was in her second year of uni.

“That was horrible, I needed therapy to get through that,” she says.

With no support from the proctor or the police, Abby felt alone and judged in the aftermath.

“This camming, on the other hand, has helped me cope with that … I was made to feel ashamed of my own body. I had these pictures released of me without my permission and I was like ‘I’m dirty, I’m wrong.’ I couldn’t leave the house for weeks because I felt like there was something wrong with me”.

Aside from her personal experience of empowerment, ultimately Abby’s work is nobody else’s business.

“My feminism has always supported that as long as you’re happy and it’s your choice, you do whatever you want,” she adds, an attitude I wish for the rest of the world to adopt.

A buzzword commonly used in conversation around female sexuality is “slut”. Between its combative overuse, and efforts to reclaim the word – with movements like Amber Rose’s Slutwalk – the word doesn’t have the same impact it once did.

“It’s gotten to the point where the word doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I get called slut on the daily, and I’m like ‘Well yeah, sure’”.

I think Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti broke the word down best: “It’s a warning … a reminder to women to adhere to sexual norms or be punished,” she wrote, explaining why a woman can be slut-shamed for simply having a vagina.

“A slut is something I would say I am,” Abby proudly claims, a statement that would surely infuriate her haters.

“It’s a woman who is promiscuous, and enjoys her sex life, and I’m not ashamed of that… a woman who is so confident in her sexuality, and doesn’t give a crap about what everyone thinks.”

The most important part of reconceptualising the “slut” is the conversations that take place in the process, and establishing context to go alongside the images of stereotypical, objectified “sluts”.

Abby’s voice online is contributing, with others, to the creation of this context. YouTube channels such as Come Curious and Watts The Safeword offer sex education that combats those traditional patriarchal narratives spun in porn. Sex journalism in the digital age has taken the concept that was first ventured into in relationship columns, with stories of promiscuity being now more accessible to a larger audience.

Furthermore, these stories are coming from a wider range of experiences and expertise. Karley Sciortino’s multimedia brand Slutever celebrates and normalises kinks, fetishes and all things sex. Sluts, sex workers, health professionals, virgins, the curious and non-cisgender folks are working collaboratively to paint feminine sexuality as a normal, diverse, non-threatening, empowering thing. Most significantly, female sexuality is being defined by lived experiences, rather than by hearsay and old wives tales.

I find empowerment in seeing Abby thrive with her camming career, and sense hope in her positive experiences. Her strong boundaries have seen her establish a loyal clientele. Most of them are rather courteous (as in normal, respectful humans), and can talk to her just as much about her love of horror films, as well as how much they want to spank her.

Feeling this hope too, Abby ponders: “We’re progressing a lot, especially compared to how we were 20 or so years ago, but there’s always gonna be people that just hate that women feel sexy, and empowered, and that sucks”.

As with any gigs, there’s the ups and downs, and as Abby optimistically puts it, “As long as those people (negative nellies) are the minority, I think we could get to that place one day where … sex isn’t this bad thing.”

Honestly, I’m still not sure why people hate sexually autonomous women. It seems exhausting, and who wants to channel that much negativity in their life? I’ve yet to actually ask a man – by the time I’d completed most of this research I was so exhausted with the constant slut-shaming narratives, that Bret Kavanaugh debacle was happening on the side, and I was just so infuriated with all males in general, the last thing I wanted was their opinion on female sexuality. Women are finding confidence in their sexuality, and that’s all that matters.

*Subject’s name has been changed. For convenience, this discussion is laden with generalisation (yes, #notallmen), and is rather hetero- and cisnormative

Cover by Charles Deluvio