Cam Modeling and “Future Having sex”
Cam Modeling and “Future Having sex”
Emily Witt’s (2016) book Future Sex chronicles her search for intimate self-realization as a New Yorker in her early 30s migrating to tech-centered SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. The book is situated both in interviews and personal experiences, stringing vignettes collectively into chapters with topics including polyamory, Orgasmic Yoga, Internet porn, and Burning Man. With this review, I highlight her chapter on sex camming.
But first, I will start with a broad overview. A major theme in the book is the kind of existential angst that comes from having too many choices. Witt seems daunted by her intimate freedom as a millennial—the unlimited range of sexual partners and procedures—first made possible by the sexual trend, and then by the Internet. She (p. 12) clarifies:
What if love failed us? Sexual freedom had now extended to people who never wanted to get rid of the old institutions, except to the level of displaying solidarity with friends who do. I had not sought a lot choice for myself, and when I found myself with total intimate freedom, I was unhappy.
Witt spent her early adult life wanting to find long lasting love—and possibly even marriage—looking at this as a getaway from the routine of causal intimate arrangements, occasionally punctuated by periods of monogamy, that has until recently defined her intimate life. But Witt’s wishes issue with the world she inhabits, as Millennial sexual norms privilege freedom over security in associations. She (pp.11-2) represents why security remains appealing, even as the web opens a lot more possibilities:
The http://blablacams.com/small-tits expansion of sexuality outside of marriage experienced brought new reasons to trust the traditional settings, reasons such as HIV, the time limitations of fertility, the delicacy of emotions. Even as I resolved for freedom as an interim state, I prepared for my monogamous future. My sense of rightness, following the failed tests of earlier generations, was like the reconstructions of the baroque nationwide monument that was demolished by a bomb but another kind of freedom had appeared: a blinking cursor in vacant space.
In questioning these new intimate configurations where freedom prevails, Witt echos what interpersonal theorists Anthony Giddens and the past due Zygmunt Bauman respectively describe as “pure relationships” and “liquid love.” Both authors claim that the ideal of unconditional commitment has been supplanted by continuous negotiation and the criterion of mutual benefit. And, even in coupling, personality remains central.
Lacking a secure, committed relationship in the old mold, Witt sets out to explore the likelihood of fulfillment (or, at least, self-knowledge) in less conventional situations. As turns out, it is in the chapter on “Live Webcams” that Witt does the most theoretical work to clarify why seeking diverse experiences—the project of the reserve—might assist in her search for sexual self-realization. Specifically, she points to an article in the publication Time Square Red, Times Square Blue by the gay African-American writer Samuel D. Delany about enough time he spent having anonymous sex in porno theaters. Witt (p. 126) summarizes the essay:
Delany described the benefits of his huge experience in casual sex. The concert halls had served as laboratories in which he had learned to discern the nuances and spectrum of his sexual desire… His observations about intimate attraction consistently disproved typical notions of beauty and ugliness. (He discovered, among other proclivities, that he previously a thing for Burly Irish-American men, including two who got hairlips.)
She estimates Delany who suggests we should “learn to find our very own way of experiencing sex sexy” and concludes:
I don’t see how this is accomplished without a statistically significant variety of partners… However supportive, the response of an individual partner just cannot do this. That is a quintessentially sociable process…
Unlike Delany, Witt (p. 204) mainly lands back again where she started, finding monogamy rewarding however now embracing an ideal of commitment as short-term:
I hope that married partnership would stop to be observed as a totalizing end point and instead become something more humble, perhaps am institutional basis for distributed endeavors such as raising children or making art.
But this return to a somewhat conventional notion of romance proves to be the most interesting aspect of the publication. Witt’s taking into consideration the freedom and diversity of experience open to the present era seems to progress. Rather than viewing the nearly infinite range of sexual possibilities as daunting, Witt eventually ends up seeing it as an chance to experiment until one finds confidence and feels affirmed in their own desires. She (p. 204) says:
I found that… mostly I wanted to live in a world with a wider selection of sexual identities. I hoped the primacy and legitimacy of a single intimate model would continue steadily to erode as it offers, with increasing acceleration, in the past fifty years.
Though she will not state it so explicitly, I’d claim that Witt has uncovered an interesting dialectic between freedom and security. Though freedom to explore may aid us in finding what we find sexually attractive, exploration may, paradoxically, lead to security in one’s set up sexual wishes, when new experience continuously prove less gratifying and thus reaffirm the appropriateness of these desires.
And, while last chapter wonders off a little, I think the desirability of embracing this tension between freedom and security is the clear (if unstated) summary of the publication.
Following this theme of sexual exploration as a mechanism of self-realization, I now want to carefully turn to the question of what camming shows Witt about her own sexuality (and what we should can learn about camming along the way). Witt (p. 114) represents her experiences with the popular camsite Chaturbate:
I first noticed Chaturbate and the many other live-sex-cam sites available online as porn… as the technological evolution of peep show booths and telephone sex lines. Like those, they had a performer and they experienced a voyeur… I QUICKLY spent more time on the website.
As she dives deeper into the site, Witt determines that the resemblances she observed between cam sites and other types of sex work/performance were only superficial. The variety and interactivity of cam sites established them aside.
Chaturbate was filled with serendipity… the feeling of clicking on through the 18+ disclaimer in to the starting matrix was the main one of turning on MTV in the middle-1990s, when music videos performed most of the day and kept audiences captive in the expectation of the favorite performer or a fresh discovery. Or maybe, to reach farther back in its history, it recalled the sooner times of the Internet—the Internet of strangers rather than “friends.”
Witt’s decision to approach her subject material through the lens of her own desire—as explained in the first portion of this review—proves both interesting and difficult in this chapter.
What makes Witt’s strategy interesting is that, in bypassing the popular rooms that she mainly discovers uninteresting, she takes us to the margins of the sites, looking for the unforeseen. This consists of an Icelandic female who strips wearing a rubber equine mask and fedora. Within a passage consultant of her snarky but appreciative style, Witt describes (pp. 112-3):
maybe it was the house that she is at or her high definition camera or an over-all feature of the Icelandic people but even faceless she gleamed with the well-being that emanates wherever per-capita usage of fish oils is high and people reap the benefits of socialized healthcare.
Witt also describes a college-age women who discussed books and made $1,500 performing a 24 hour marathon that presented much talking, some nudity, no sex. A third female suspended herself from a hook made of ice. And another woman held nude sex ed conversations.
Going for a cue from one of her interviewees, Witt details the designed use of site—one or two performers broadcasting to numerous audiences in each room—as “mass intimacy.” But, the most interesting area of the chapter was Witt’s exploration into a culture that has emerged around using Chaturbate to assist in unpaid, private, 1-on-1 sex.
Assisted by two performers that she interviewed, she “multiperved” or “audio-Skyped with one another while sifting through videos online” (p. 124). Jointly, logged on to browse the countless pages of men streaming but being viewed by nobody. She explains (pp. 124-5):
not typically the most popular men, instead clicking through to the second and third webpages for the true amateurs, the forest of men in desk chair… It turned out that they waited there for a reason… so that they will find someone who will cam-to-cam with them…
Witt (and her guides) come across a man she discovers somewhat attractive, and she chats with him. The person quickly invites her to carefully turn her cam on. She obliges and sets up a password-protected room so only he can see her. While Witt does not seem to find the encounter particularly rewarding, she (p. 125) possesses some insight into the value others find in the knowledge:
here, where expectations resided in the opportunity of an electronic encounter between two different people, tokens mattered much less. If, on its squeeze page, Chaturbate was a large number of men viewing a few women, a few web pages in, the figures changed to 1 or two people using Chaturbate to socialize privately with another person.
Witt’s experience highlights a really interesting case of technology being utilized against the grain. It is a rougish activity for users to get non-transactional romantic or sexual encounters on sites whose earnings come from viewers purchasing tokens. While these websites afford such activity and don’t prohibit it, they do not plan or explicitly condone it either. It really is, perhaps, for this reason absence control that sites loves Chaturbate remind Witt of the sooner Web.
While Witt’s study of the margins of camming sites is disclosing, she also, arguably, fails to represent most of the proceedings these sites and it is even somewhat dismissive of the more popular performers. Because she focuses on her wishes as a thirty-something NYC article writer, Witt sometimes displays a hipster bias, where, if something isn’t weird or edgy, it isn’t seen as deserving attention.
Witt is also not a joiner. Her desire to test as part her own quest for intimate self-realization, drives her visit many places; but, for the most part, Witt will identify or feel a sense of owed with the folks she satisfies. She appears to participate only at a distance, observing others as topics as much as human relationships. Witt (p. 172) describes her own romantic relationship to a sex party she attends, stating “I was still thinking about myself as simply a visitor, or rather neither here nor there, someone undertaking an abstract inquiry however, not yet with true intention.” This distancing is valuable insofar as it brings with it a degree of objectivity (most other things written about Orgasmic Mediation, for example, sound like marketing copy); however, it also means she’s struggling to offer an insider perspective through her personal narratives.
What’s missing in the section on camming—credited to some mixture of her hipster bias and insufficient personal experience—is an examination of the many measurements of creative labor that switches into producing evening the most normative-appearing shows. Acquired Witt attempted modeling herself, this might be readily obvious. The seeming ease with which models embody normative wishes is area of the work—area of the performance of authenticity.
A most troubling instant is when she uncritically relays one of her interviewee’s characterization of the top performers as “zombie hot girls” (p. 124). This privileging of the odd in porn feeds a kind of whorearchy, where certain types of sex work/practice are denigrated as a means of validating others.
Witt certainly is not consciously anti-sex work. In the last chapter, in fact, she offers a great deal of praise for the artistry women porn directors and manufacturers, and she spends a substantial time questioning her own beliefs shaped by mainstream feminism and considering more inclusive feminisms that embrace sex workers and porn as a medium. And, quite insightfully, she argues that much fetish porn is a response or response to new taboos create by anti-porn feminists.
Nevertheless, Witt does not seem to extend the interest and regard she’s for women-directed studio porn to the women-directed performances of popular cam models. I believe they have unique insights and fascinating stories to inform.
No matter these few criticisms, Witt gets one key thing right: The continuing future of sex cannot be reduced to a story of technological development but must be grasped in terms of changing patterns of human being human relationships. She (p. 210) concludes “America had a great deal of respect for the future of items, and less interest in the future of human plans.” For that reason alone, Future Sex probably deserves more attention.