Image Credit: Aska2011
"It all started at University,” Bella tells me. “My first term at uni was a real struggle financially and without camming I don’t think I would still be in Uni.”
Bella is a normal student; she studies in London and loves going out with her friends, she’s an artist and a musician. She’s also a cam girl. Bella isn’t her real name, for the purposes of this interview she’s chosen to remain anonymous and happens to have been a massive Twilight fan as a teen. As a working-class student living in London, university was a real struggle for Bella who found the cost of living too high for her to realistically afford.
“I was strapped for cash and a friend told me that webcam sites were a good way to earn a quick bit of cash,” Bella tells me “so I bought myself a decent webcam and signed up to a site called Chaturbate.” She continues, “at first it wasn’t hugely successful but after a month or so, money really started to come in.” Bella explains that the site acts as a collection of livestreams from pornstars and cam girls, who put on public or private shows in exchange for donations from users. It’s how many get into porn and offers a safe and profitable way to make money from sex.
This isn’t a rare occurrence. In 2018, the National Student Money Survey reported that 4 per cent of students resort to adult work because of financial difficulty, a trend which has seen a spike in recent years. Earlier this month the York Press reported that 500 students in York are signed up to Sugar Daddy sites, where users receive payment in exchange for any manner of services that can range from phone calls to pictures of their feet. Services like these are giving many struggling students the financial freedom to enjoy university without the fear of money troubles, Bella tells me. “I went from not being able to pay for nights out, food shops and new clothes to having hundreds of pounds disposable income.” She goes on to say “suddenly I could start paying my bills on time or paying back friends who I owed money – it was a relief more than anything.”
“Why sex work?” I ask her. “Well,” Bella ponders, “it’s a lot more flexible than any sort of retail job would be. I was able to work in sessions around my contact hours and it meant I didn’t have to sacrifice my degree or my social life for money.” “It’s also a lot more profitable,” she jokes.
Hundreds of pounds quickly became thousands as she continued with her cam shows, eventually building up a small base of who she refers to as her “regulars”, the users who she saw pledge large donations each night and who made up the majority of her income from the site. They often sent her encouraging messages and told her how much they appreciated her service. A month or so into her camming experience she started to host private shows for her clients, charging an inflated price for private Skype and Facetime calls with her regulars. “I never knew how much to charge them when I started,” she explains “I just gave them my PayPal and I’d almost instantly receive a notification telling me they’d sent me a couple of hundred pounds. I think the most I ever saw was something like £600, I could have screamed.”
Six months after she first started her cam shows, she’d amassed almost enough money to pay off her maintenance loan.
Camming has taken over the porn industry in recent years; with the democratisation of free porn from sites like PornHub, donations from cam shows are quickly becoming the best source of income for porn performers. Whereas regular porn suffers from piracy issues, being ripped and thrown online for free, the intimacy and often personal nature of camming means that it resists reuse because so often it’s not just about the voyeurism of pornography – it’s just as much about the users interacting with the performer. While Hollywood is quickly becoming populated with dedicated camming studios as businesses realise the money that there is to be made – the majority of performers are independent, operating out of their own bedrooms, working whenever they want and keeping all their earnings. Bella is one such performer.
“Webcamming was easy money but the real money lay in escorting,” she tells me, “I signed up to this online escort site and I started getting several bookings a week, each of well over £200. I’ve got quite a high sex-drive so I didn’t have a problem, it was just like a well paid one night stand.” Recently Bella has stepped down from escorting, as she makes enough money from cam sites as well as her OnlyFans account to more than support her financially. “I just got bored of the sex to be honest,” she explains “I enjoyed escorting but now I prefer to conduct all my business online.” She has a dedicated online following and posts several times a day. It can take up hours she explains. Censorship often works in her favour, with her Twitter and Instagram having limited sexual content that pushes her fans towards her OnlyFans or Patreon where they have to pay for nude photoshoots or videos. It creates a “tiered system of content” as she puts it, where the more you pay, the more you get.
It’s business 101 but it works like a dream. I then direct the conversation onto her experiences of escorting, about the stranger requests she was sent during her time on the site. “Did you turn any requests down?” I ask her. “A few,” she replied “I once had a request from a client who wanted to tie me down and piss on me. Another wanted to do something involving his own shit. That stuff’s a bit too extreme for my taste.” She laughs.
The sex, she tells me, wasn’t always great but she never felt scared or in danger. “Sometimes I just got guys who wanted to talk,” she tells me “five minutes in bed then just sit and have a chat over a cup of tea, some of them are really sweet and it’s seems like they’re just lonely.”
I ask her about the safety of her work as an escort, something which she seems keen to highlight the positives of. “The users can leave reviews,” she tells me “this means that clients can rate escorts but more importantly for me, escorts can rate clients. You can usually see their age and location, reviews often mention things like hygiene and politeness which are important to me. I only consider requests from users who I can see have a good history on the site and no signs of being violent or abusive – you can never be too careful about stuff like that.”
“It’s much safer than regular sex work, it’s almost like having the guy’s sexual CV to look through before you fuck him,” she jokes.
I ask her if any of her uni friends are aware of her work, she seems pretty positive about it. “Most of my close friends at uni know about it and they don’t see a problem with it as long as I’m safe and happy.” Bella explains “they saw how stressed I was at the start of uni and I think they can see that I’m much happier now.”
I then direct the conversation onto the changing nature of sex work, how the internet and social media have affected the industry. “It’s had a huge impact,” Bella explains. “The entire industry has been turned on its head by the internet. Pornhub changed the game in terms of pornography and now these sites are doing the same for escorting.”
“It’s made the trade a lot more accessible, profitable and safer,” she tells me. While online sex work seems to be more popular and more viable than ever before, the taboo and stigma of the subject seems just as prevalent as ever before. I ask Bella about this and she tells me that people often find the ethics of sex work a difficult concept to understand. “I think there’s a tendency to assume that all sex workers are victims and need to be saved from their own profession,” she tells me, and I note an audible level of anger in her voice. “People so often assume that sex work is the result of women being oppressed and while sometimes this is the case, more often than not in the UK, women choose to work in this industry. It’s patronising when people assume that we have no other choice – we do, we’re just good what we do.”
“I can’t imagine working a 9-5 right now,” she laughs.
Names have been changed to protect the identity of interviewees.