The Accidental Voyeur: Bate and Switch

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Reece Ryan looks like the girl next door who sure wants to satisfy you better, and from her very own bedroom too (as in the photo above). She has 77,650 social media followers and wants you to know she is 30 years old, has modeled for Victoria’s Secret, does not smoke but drinks socially, and is sexually into men, women and couples. She even won a “Best Cam Tips” award last month — a great way to celebrate her birthday, September 12 – for teaching webcammers how to better monetize their shows, even disclosing her unique sales strategies for selling her own panties online. But if you prefer girls who flaunt their body art, there’s also Ramona Flour in all her tatted glory, who won the Inked Awards Cam Girl of the Year in 2014.

Reece and Ramona are all yours on the webcam portal Chaturbate (https://chaturbate.com). When I learned about it, I flat-out laughed out loud. Really, has there been a more self-explanatory name for an adult website? Their slogan is: “The act of masturbating while chatting online” (and their Twitter page proudly proclaims: “You have the right to chat and bate”). Some say these sites are the future of porn but while I can’t say I agree (because it’s still early days and who the heck knows the future?), I do think of them as the working essence of democracy in motion — in the sense that I may not use them myself but I will certainly defend your right to get off that way if that’s your special kink.

It’s also, to me, the modern version of watching strippers collect their cash from the tip rail, because in order to use Chaturbate you need to purchase credits (or, in this case, “tokens”) and pay the girls in tips, which is how they earn money and how the site itself derives much of its revenue stream since 99 percent of the site is “free.” Shirley Lara, Chief Operating Officer of Chaturbate, tells me that “the revenue stream for our independent broadcasters is based upon their fans voluntarily wanting to compensate the broadcasters for a job well done and to provide further creativity to broadcasters.” Yes, she repeats that phrase because her performers are “broadcasters” (so don’t you roll your eyes and start calling them “webcam girls”), but with so much free stuff already out there on the Internet, I ask her, what is the financial sustainability of free cam sites like hers?

“We believe the sustainability for quality free cam sites is strong,” she replies. “The relationship between broadcasters and their fans is based upon a mutual admiration for each other. Surfers are tired of pressure sales tactics where they don’t get any value for their money. Our platform is the exact opposite. Our members are provided quality entertainment content and a virtual relationship with their favorite broadcasters and, for that, they show their appreciation by helping to support the broadcasters’ creativity.”

My own curiosity about such creativity came relatively late, piqued only because of a bizarre incident in 2011. A photographer I had once worked with had sent me a confidential email, moping about how he had just broken up with his girlfriend, a well-known porn star (whose name I won’t divulge here, along with his). He said I was more than welcome to get the goods from him if I ever wanted to write a book about her – he was willing the spill the beans on all her dubious habits and mad shenanigans, and, of course, provide photos since he’d shot her many times. He also told me she was then making US$400 an hour from webcamming and that fact did initially prompt me to think that such a collaboration might help me catch the wave of this supposedly hot new trend in porn.

However, I told him there was no way I’d write this kind of thing without getting her cooperation and, seriously, how was I going to get her to do that if she knew her ex-boyfriend was going to help me by slamming her in print? He sheepishly wrote back, saying he was drunk when he wrote me (having just done the online equivalent of telephone drunk dialing) and apologized. But it did bring back a nice memory for me. Webcam girls were the online version of what I’d once done many moons ago at the Paris House in Los Angeles (at 7527 Santa Monica Blvd, if it’s still there), where you could choose a girl who would then strip in a private room and have an actual conversation with you while posing in various positions.

I took a shine to one particular girl, who was ever so casually cool as she sat in front of me with her thighs wide open so we could discuss the lovely folds of her vulva. She had no problems letting me inspect her pudenda while praising it to high heaven. That wasn’t an everyday conversation, to say the least, but I do remember it fondly. (I have been accused of “vagina envy” and I think it started from there, if I’m honest.) However, I stopped going there and don’t bother to use webcam sites today. Why? Because essentially, with webcam porn, you’d have to crave the combo of sight and sound.

Or, as Lara now declares to me: “Human interaction on cam sites is key. The interaction between Chaturbate’s members and the broadcasters on our platform is what it’s all about. Chaturbate allows everyone to set up their own businesses on our live streaming platform and we are designed to allow broadcasters to individualize their rooms.” Many of the girls are true-blue amateurs who don’t do movie porn and some don’t even show their faces, resorting to masks and other cosplay devices, but for me, mask or no mask, there’s the deal breaker: I don’t really get off on needing to hear girls talk.

I once wrote a script for an Eastern European girl who was shooting a custom video for a fan back in 2004 (She wasn’t good with English and wanted me to help her talk dirty while she self-pleasured for the camera) so I can understand wanting to see a girl do more than merely frig herself silly before your eyes. It’s just that, as I’ve learned in the long run, a sexy or sultry visual presence always floats my boat but vocal prowess other than during the throes of orgasm really doesn’t do much for me. (I often watch porn with the sound turned off, believe it or not.) Don’t get me wrong, though — I’m neither complaining nor condemning. Pornography in recent years has been a trainwreck in search of salvation and I’m happy to wave the freak flag for anyone trying something different and deserving of success.

Tinna Angel has a wireless vibrator that reacts to the sound of tips? Sensual Eve points and squirts hard into her webcam for you? It’s the safest form of sex work there is (never mind how the tips can tally, easily milking your bank account). “Every pleasure has an edge of pain / So pay for your ticket and don’t complain,” to quote Bob Dylan. True, I talk to too many porn stars in real life but if I hadn’t met pretty Penny at the Paris House all those years ago (and checked that box, so to speak), I might be worked up to a frenzy too, blissfully stroking and tipping the long night away.