Tweet I'm in Eevie's bedroom watching her work. She's wearing a little black dress and drinking merlot from a shatterproof wineglass one of her viewers sent her after she'd broken a real one on camera.
Generally speaking, models get tipped via tokens which translate to real cash to masturbate on camera, but they can also create "topics" that aren't sexual at all. Right now, Eevie's goal topic is taking off her dress, and most of the tips coming in are for her topic of drinking wine.
Neither she nor her viewers seem in a hurry to reach the topic. Most of her viewers right now are her "friends," who seem happy just to hang out, listen to her talk, and reminisce about their shared stories. They love to remember the coffee stand. Like, 'Holy shit, there's a girl in her underwear in public. Earlier this year, an Oregon State University student was caught broadcasting from the school library, and now MFC no longer allows its models to cam in public.
But almost three years later, visitors to Eevie's room still ask for the coffee stand. The history of Eevie's camming career is collective, a mutual memory that builds and changes with the people she's connected to, and the stories Eevie told me were my first exposure to how personal and meaningful camming relationships can become. One person Eevie seems excited to see in her room is Boggers that's his chat screen name.
Did you just get here? He replies in the group chat box: Sarah's name has been changed for this article. Boggers asks if Eevie has told me "their story. Which was really nice for us because my wife got sick 13 years ago at age First diagnosed with ALS then Lyme disease now it is 13 years later and she is basically paralyzed from the neck down and I take care of her full time. All of our friends left when she got sick and Eevie has been so sweet she is like family. We get a Snapchat a few minutes later from Boggers—it's a photo of middle-aged couple, the woman in a wheelchair, both smiling into the camera and waving, captioned "hi interviewer.
They watched me, sometimes together and sometimes separate. But this level of emotional investment is exactly where the appeal of webcams resides—it's not like any other kind of porn.
It's real, it's live, it's interactive, and it's relationship-based. A cam session is usually hours long, and most of that is spent talking. Especially if you're a medium-income cam girl, it's a lot more about the community If you're just interested in hanging out all night because you just got off work and you have no girlfriend or friends, then it's a nice two hours.
We talk, I make jokes, we listen to music, and I smoke weed and they can drink with me or smoke with me, and it's kind of like hanging out. And to further Bambi's emphasis on the community experience, there is a community among these viewers, too. The men recognize each other in rooms, greet each other, and start friendships and feuds.
The models refer to the people who regularly hang out in their room as "their guys" and talk about them as a crew, a posse, or a group of friends.
If I do have some basic or random guest who's like, 'Show me your asshole,' these guys will be like, 'Get the fuck out of here. He said one guy described the experience as "less like a strip club and more like a pub with a hot bartender who everyone wants to make laugh," which seems pretty accurate. Another described the models as "therapists who get naked.
Camming is like love on tap, and as the community grows and evolves, it only becomes more nuanced and plentiful. And her regulars include a straight married couple who named their daughter after her. Kelly O So what's the money like? Even women with moderately reliable camming incomes, like Bambi, can sometimes earn hundreds of dollars and other times nothing at all. The sites that host the rooms take a significant cut of the models' tips; MFC has one of the most generous policies, taking 40 percent.
It's especially hard to calculate income when you consider how infrequently successful cam girls work. For example, Eevie works only about 14 hours a week. She declined to disclose exactly how much she makes, but let's just say it's more than what most middle-class families earn.
From what I've heard, virtually every woman with a friendly personality is capable of making a meaningful amount of money camming if she keeps at it. Men, however, make very little, which is why they compose such a tiny sliver of the internet's camming population. Many sites, including MFC, the largest hosting site with more than , models and more than one million members, won't even allow male models—they'd rather invest their bandwidth in women.
I talked to someone who cammed with his partner off and on for about a year, under the name dadandson69, on the site Cam4. Despite having an average of 1, viewers, most of what they were making came from the same few people. Especially for a two-person show, that's a pretty meager take. I'm calling him that because his viewers would often comment on his resemblance to Ralphie from A Christmas Story. There seems to be something peculiar to the heterosexual male psyche that motivates them to spend sometimes thousands of dollars to help, impress, or reward women they'll never meet.
Of course, camming is a fickle business, and extreme perseverance is needed to gain any foothold. The steep experience curve is especially brutal when you're just starting out. That was a pretty exciting introduction for me. However, the next night I went on, I made 75 cents in the same amount of time. When new cam girls first join MFC, they're given a banner that distinguishes them as new, which generates a lot of initial traffic.
But the momentum is hard to keep up. It takes a lot of self-promotion, consistency, and show development. The most successful models aren't successful by luck—they're intelligent business people. As Bambi told me, "You can turn any aspect of your life into making money if you're willing to share it with the internet. Two women I talked to said their best moneymaking gambit was a monthlong contest at the end of which whoever had the lower cam score had to lose their anal virginity live on cam.
You can buy videos, photosets, panties, raffle tickets for a date, and a spot on a model's Snapchat contact list. You can pay to get text-message access through Kik, and if you tip a model a certain amount, she'll add you to her MFC friends list, enabling you to send private messages. Almost all the women have Amazon wish lists, with items such as sex toys, groceries, and furniture. And sometimes their male fans will use Amazon to send spontaneous presents, like Eevie's wineglasses.
I asked two highly successful Seattle models who perform under the screen names Aella and AwesomeKate about what first motivated them to cam.
Aella said she had heard about it from an ex-boyfriend who'd cammed and suggested it to her. I watched her do it in, like, 20 minutes. Like I could get a whole chicken if I wanted, and all the cans of food, it didn't matter.
Definitely wasn't gonna stop then. She was like banging her feet and boobs on a piano, dressed in costume. They have both become advocates of camming, figures within the industry, and self-taught self-promotion experts both maintain a careful and constant online presence—they have personal websites and more than 14, Twitter followers each.
It's so incredible to feel the sensation of making your own success, and to be self-driven and creative, and to be so in control of what you do. Kate is flirtatious and outgoing, and was even doing sexy webcam shows for strangers online before she was getting paid. Whereas Aella said, "I never have really been comfortable being seductive or sexy as a woman," and approaches camming as a sort of performance art.
One of Aella's biggest publicity breakthroughs was when a photoset of her dressed as a mime being dragged off by garden gnomes went viral through Reddit, and she attributes a lot of her success to weirdness, spontaneity, and a blend of comedy and nudity that most people don't expect.
Kate is a singer and guitarist, and one element of her performance is playing songs for her room. In fact, she once turned down a career singing in order to cam. I'd already been accepted and had bought my plane ticket.
That's what I wanted to do, ever since I was little, and instead I just sing those songs naked online. And don't make minimum wage. Kelly O It's important to note that all the people I talked to for this piece were English-speaking, Seattle-based American models working for themselves—but for many, especially outside the United States, camming is a form of exploitation and even sex trafficking. There are institutions called "studios" where someone almost always a man provides the computer, room, and internet connection in return for a large cut of the earnings, usually for a multitude of women, and with varying degrees of legitimacy.
The studios of the Philippines were notoriously so exploitive and brutal that MFC banned all models from the country, but the studio business still thrives elsewhere, especially in former Eastern bloc countries like Romania.
A Vice article examining Romanian cam studios states that there are an estimated 2, studios in operation in the country, and that the average Romanian studio owner takes 60 to 75 percent of a model's earnings—and that's after the site itself has already taken a cut of 40 to 65 percent.
Most Romanian studios explicitly forbid models from speaking Romanian or mentioning that they're from Romania in order to put the American mind at ease. A article on Gizmodo states that many of these studios are run by the Mafia and are used to launder money, which is easy to do when the corporate structure of most hosting sites is a tangled, intentionally obscured mess of fake addresses, ghost companies, and subsidiaries around the globe.
For example, the webcam site Streamate is a subsidiary of Flying Crocodile, both of which are supposedly headquartered in Seattle, but no one answered the phone numbers I found for them online. I couldn't find an e-mail address. And when I went to the Belltown addresses these multimillion-dollar companies list online as their headquarters, I found spooky, abandoned-looking, dilapidated office spaces barring public entry.
There are American studios, but more common are cam girl "mansions," where multiple cam girls live and work together without a studio "owner. When Kate visited Aella in Australia and they cammed together, Aella described it as "the best thing that happened to my career. Even though you're forming relationships with the viewers, as Eevie said, "You don't have coworkers or classmates.
Most models block other models from their rooms. It's very common for a model to enter another model's room and link to her own site in the chat, or for models to poach each other's high tippers. The Cam Girl Mansion is an annual event where Locke invites 20 models to a rented Las Vegas mansion to live together, cam together, and attend parties and conventions.
Locke said she was motivated to found the Mansion by what she saw on cam girl discussion blogs. When I walk around, it feels like a video game. Camming is a way to express sexuality that feels safe and insulated, and the distance created by virtual space makes possible a kind of introverted exhibitionism.
Bambi, who also works as a waitress at a strip club, said she finds being face-to-face with her audience inexplicably overwhelming and is very hesitant to try actual stripping.
And that was exactly what happened.