Cam Modeling and “Future Having sex”
Emily Witt’s (2016) publication Future Sex chronicles her seek out sexual self-realization as a fresh Yorker in her early 30s migrating to tech-centered San Francisco. The book is situated both in interviews and personal experiences, stringing vignettes jointly into chapters with topics including polyamory, Orgasmic Deep breathing, Internet porn, and Burning up Man. On this review, I emphasize her section on sex camming.
But first, I am going to start with a wide overview. A significant theme in the book is the type of existential angst that originates from having way too many choices. Witt feels daunted by her sexual freedom as a millennial—the unlimited range of intimate partners and practices—first made possible by the intimate revolution, and then by the Internet. She (p. 12) clarifies:
What if love failed us? Intimate freedom acquired now extended to people who never wished to get rid of the old institutions, except to the level of showing solidarity with friends who do. I had not sought a lot choice for myself, and when I came across myself with total sexual freedom, I was unhappy.
Witt spent her early adult life attempting to find enduring love—and possibly even relationship—observing this as an escape from the cycle of causal sexual arrangements, sometimes punctuated by periods of monogamy, that has until recently defined her intimate life. But Witt’s desires conflict with the world she inhabits, as Millennial sexual norms privilege freedom over security in associations. She (pp.11-2) details why security remains appealing, even as the Internet opens a lot more options:
The growth of sexuality beyond marriage got brought new reasons to trust the original handles, reasons such as HIV, the time limitations of fertility, the delicacy of feelings. Even while I settled for freedom as an interim condition, I planned for my monogamous destiny. My sense of rightness, after the failed experiments of earlier generations, was like the reconstructions of the baroque nationwide monument that was demolished with a bomb but another kind of freedom had arrived: a blinking cursor in empty space.
In questioning these new passionate configurations where freedom prevails, Witt echos what public theorists Anthony Giddens and the past due Zygmunt Bauman respectively describe as “pure relationships” and “liquid love.” Both authors claim that the perfect of unconditional dedication has been supplanted by constant negotiation and the criterion of shared advantage. And, even in coupling, personality remains central.
Lacking a secure, dedicated relationship in the old mildew, Witt sets out to explore the likelihood of fulfillment (or, at least, self-knowledge) in less conventional situations. As turns out, it is within the section on “Live Webcams” that Witt will the most theoretical work to clarify why seeking diverse experiences—the task of the reserve—might aid in her quest for sexual self-realization. Specifically, she points to an article in the book Time Square Red, Times Square Blue by the gay African-American author Samuel D. Delany about the time he spent having anonymous sex in porno theaters. Witt (p. 126) summarizes the essay:
Delany explaind the advantages of his huge experience in informal sex. The concert halls had offered as laboratories in which he had learned to discern the nuances and spectral range of his intimate desire… His observations about intimate attraction regularly disproved conventional notions of beauty and ugliness. (He discovered, among other proclivities, that he had something for Burly Irish-American men, including two who acquired 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 with out a statistically significant variety of partners… However supportive, the response of a single partner just cannot do this. This is a quintessentially public process…
Unlike Delany, Witt (p. 204) mostly lands back again where she began, finding monogamy rewarding however now embracing an ideal of dedication as temporary:
I hope that married partnership would cease to be seen as a totalizing end point and instead become something more humble, perhaps am institutional basis for shared efforts such as raising children or making art.
But this return to a somewhat typical notion of romance shows to be the most interesting aspect of the publication. Witt’s thinking about the freedom and diversity of experience available to the present era seems to evolve. Rather than viewing the almost infinite range of sexual options as daunting, Witt eventually ends up seeing it as an opportunity to experiment until one finds confidence and feels affirmed in their own desires. She (p. 204) says:
I found that… mostly I needed to live in a world with a wider range of intimate identities. I hoped the primacy and legitimacy of a single intimate model would continue to erode as it has, with increasing acceleration, in the past fifty years.
Though she does not state it so explicitly, I’d claim that Witt has uncovered a fascinating dialectic between freedom and security. Though freedom to explore may help us in finding what we should find sexually desired, exploration may, paradoxically, lead to security in one’s established sexual desires, when new experience continuously prove less satisfying and thus reaffirm the appropriateness of these desires.
And, while last chapter wonders off a little, I believe the desirability of embracing this tension between freedom and security is the clear http://blablacams.com/ebony (if unstated) summary of the reserve.
Following this theme of intimate exploration as a mechanism of self-realization, I now want to carefully turn to the question of what camming educates Witt about her own sexuality (and what we can learn about camming in the process). Witt (p. 114) explains her encounters with the popular camsite Chaturbate:
I first noticed Chaturbate and the countless other live-sex-cam sites available online as porn… as the technical evolution of peep show booths and telephone sex lines. Like those, that they had a performer plus they acquired a voyeur… Then I spent more time on the webpage.
As she dives deeper in to the site, Witt decides that the resemblances she observed between cam sites and other forms of sex work/performance were only superficial. The diversity and interactivity of cam sites established them apart.
Chaturbate was filled with serendipity… the sensation 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 played most of the day and kept audiences captive in the expectation of the favorite performer or a new discovery. Or maybe, to reach further back in time, it recalled the earlier times of the Internet—the web of strangers rather than “friends.”
Witt’s decision to approach her subject material through the lens of her own desire—as described in the first section of this review—shows both interesting and problematic in this chapter.
What makes Witt’s strategy interesting is that, in bypassing the favorite rooms that she generally finds uninteresting, she requires us to the margins of the sites, looking for the unforeseen. This consists of an Icelandic girl who strips wearing a rubber horse mask and fedora. In a passage consultant of her snarky but appreciative style, Witt details (pp. 112-3):
maybe it was the home that she is at or her hi-def camera or a general feature of the Icelandic people but even faceless she gleamed with the well-being that emanates wherever per-capita consumption of fish oils is high and citizens reap the benefits of socialized healthcare.
Witt also identifies a college-age women who talked about literature and made $1,500 doing a 24 hour marathon that featured much speaking, some nudity, no sex. A 3rd female suspended herself from a hook made of ice. And an other woman held nude sex ed discussions.
Going for a cue from one of her interviewees, Witt identifies the intended use of site—a couple of performers broadcasting to many viewers in each room—as “mass intimacy.” But, the most interesting part of the section was Witt’s exploration into a culture that has surfaced around using Chaturbate to assist in unpaid, anonymous, 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 to browse the countless web pages of men streaming but being watched by no-one. She explains (pp. 124-5):
not even typically the most popular men, instead clicking through to the next and third web pages for the true amateurs, the forest of men in desk chairs… It turned out that they waited there for a reason… so that they will find a person who will cam-to-cam with them…
Witt (and her guides) stumbled upon a man she discovers relatively attractive, and she chats with him. The person quickly invites her to carefully turn her cam on. She obliges and creates a password-protected room so only he can see her. While Witt does not seem to find the encounter particularly satisfying, she (p. 125) possesses some insight in to the value others find in the experience:
here, where expectations resided in the chance of an electric encounter between two people, tokens mattered much less. If, on its website landing page, Chaturbate was a large number of men watching a few women, a couple pages in, the quantities changed to 1 or two different people using Chaturbate to socialize privately with another person.
Witt’s experience highlights an extremely interesting case of technology being utilized against the grain. It really is a rougish activity for users to seek non-transactional close or sexual encounters on sites whose revenue come from audiences purchasing tokens. While these websites afford such activity and do not prohibit it, they don’t want or explicitly condone it either. It is, perhaps, because of this lack control that sites enjoys Chaturbate remind Witt of the sooner Web.
While Witt’s study of the margins of camming sites is disclosing, she also, arguably, fails to signify most of what is going on these sites and it is even somewhat dismissive of the popular performers. Because she targets her desires as a thirty-something NYC article writer, Witt sometimes displays a hipster bias, where, if something isn’t odd or edgy, it’s not seen as deserving attention.
Witt is also not a joiner. Her desire to test as part her own quest for sexual self-realization, drives her visit many places; but, generally, Witt does identify or feel a sense of belonging with people she meets. She appears to participate only far away, looking at others as topics just as much as associations. Witt (p. 172) details her own romantic relationship to a sex party she attends, saying “I had been still thinking about myself as only a visitor, or rather neither here nor there, someone commencing an abstract inquiry but not yet with true purpose.” This distancing is valuable insofar as it brings with it a degree of objectivity (almost every other things written about Orgasmic Mediation, for example, sound like marketing duplicate); however, it does mean she’s unable 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 lack of personal experience—can be an examination of the many dimensions of creative labor that goes into producing night time the most normative-appearing shows. Experienced Witt tried modeling herself, this might be readily apparent. The seeming simplicity with which models embody normative wishes is area of the work—area of the performance of authenticity.
A most troubling minute is when she uncritically relays one of her interviewee’s characterization of the very best performers as “zombie hot girls” (p. 124). This privileging of the odd in porn feeds some sort of whorearchy, where certain forms of sex work/practice are denigrated as a way of validating others.
Witt certainly is not consciously anti-sex work. In the previous chapter, in truth, she offers a great deal of compliment for the artistry women porn directors and manufacturers, and she spends a substantial time questioning her own beliefs formed by mainstream feminism and considering more inclusive feminisms that accept sex workers and porn as a medium. And, quite insightfully, she argues very much fetish porn is a response or response to new taboos create by anti-porn feminists.
Nevertheless, Witt will not seem to extend the interest and regard she has for women-directed studio room porn to the women-directed shows of popular cam models. I’m certain they have unique insights and exciting stories to tell.
No matter these few criticisms, Witt gets one key thing right: The future of sex can’t be reduced to a tale of technical development but must be recognized in terms of changing patterns of human interactions. She (p. 210) concludes “America had a lot of respect for the future of items, and less interest in the foreseeable future of human arrangements.” Because of this only, Future Sex probably deserves more attention.