And while social distancing has her stuck inside, she needs to work more than ever. Although she tends to work directly with individual clients via Discord, a chat app preferred by video gamers, she now uses other platforms more frequently, including Chaturbate, OnlyFans, and Skype.
Although she works particularly hard and acknowledges that sex work and the stigma surrounding it can be difficult, she feels privileged to be able to work from home. « There’s been a shift, » she said, « but it’s not like I’m suddenly ripped off and unemployed, you know? »
The economics of camming
Sex on the internet seems to be going through the roof in general. OnlyFans, a site where people sign up to see the kind of images and videos that can’t be viewed on Instagram, reported a 75 percent increase in overall new signups — 3.7 million new registrations last month, of which 60,000 are new creators.
However, the subscription business is very different from gratuity-based income. On sites like CamSoda, tipping is usually tied to « rewards » for viewers. For example, if someone tips a certain number of tokens — sites often create their own currencies, and in this case each token is worth 5 cents — the model can remove an article of clothing or perform a sexual act.
Many cam models also supplement their income through subscription sites like OnlyFans or Patreon, where they sell photos and videos.
Ms. French, who used to be a cam model herself, created ManyVids to enable various revenue streams for models. For example, there is a separate shop area where models can sell the clothes they have worn. Remi Ferdinand, 30, who works as a stripper and cam model, said it’s one of her favorite platforms for exactly that reason.
Most of the established cam models who spoke to The New York Times paint a coherent picture: They’ve forged solid connections with their regular viewers over time that have carried them through tough financial times.
But some, like Betsy, 32, and Raie, 33, a British couple who got together on Chaturbate, said that despite seeing a large number of new viewers lately, they haven’t been tipped more.
The coronavirus pandemic: important things to know
« I think people aren’t just hoarding toilet paper, they’re hoarding money because nobody knows when their next paycheck will come, » Raie said.
The couple has been together for almost 10 years, married for six and on cam for three. Though Raie typically freelances outside of sex work as a chef and makeup artist, both jobs have ground to a halt as a result of the pandemic. The couple now rely on camming as their only source of income. Regardless, they feel relatively safe standing out from other cam models as Betsy is trans and Raie is cisgender.
Ms. Ferdinand, who also did sex work during the 2008 recession, feels stable and happy working from home. Still, she’s unsure about the future. « Anytime there’s a financial problem, anything that qualifies as a luxury service is always hit first, » she said.
An influx of new cam models
Cecilia Morrell, a cam model in Toronto, said that such a sudden surge in new models makes it difficult for existing models to stand out.
« There’s a huge number of people who are looking to get into this industry for the first time and that’s pretty much saturating the market, » said Ms. Morrell, 21.
Valentine, a sex worker in Portland, Oregon, is concerned that people who have never done sex work and start camming may not consider the socio-political context of that work.
« Sure, do it, start an OnlyFans, start camming — but that means you have to support sex workers all year round now, » said Valentine, who declined to reveal her age. « You can’t just go in and out because you think it’s easy and end up wrecking us. »