Cam Modeling and “Future Sex”
Emily Witt’s (2016) publication Future Sex chronicles her seek out sexual self-realization as a New Yorker in her early 30s migrating to tech-centered San Francisco. The book is based both in interviews and personal encounters, stringing vignettes collectively into chapters with topics including polyamory, Orgasmic Yoga, Internet porn, and Burning Man. Within this review, I emphasize her section on sex camming.
But first, I am going to start with a broad overview. A significant theme in the publication is the type of existential angst that originates from having way too many choices. Witt seems daunted by her sexual freedom as a millennial—the unlimited range of intimate partners and practices—first made possible by the intimate trend, and then by the Internet. She (p. 12) clarifies:
What if love failed us? Intimate freedom got now extended to the people who never wanted to get rid of the old organizations, except to the level of showing solidarity with friends who did. I hadn’t sought a lot choice for myself, so when I came across myself with total intimate freedom, I used to be unhappy.
Witt spent her early adult life attempting to find enduring love—and possibly even relationship—observing 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 discord with the world she inhabits, as Millennial intimate norms privilege freedom over security in human relationships. She (pp.11-2) explains why security remains desired, even as the web opens ever more options:
The expansion of sexuality beyond marriage experienced brought new reasons to trust the traditional controls, reasons such as HIV, enough time limitations of fertility, the delicacy of feelings. Even as I settled for freedom as an interim condition, I planned for my monogamous future. My sense of rightness, following the failed tests of earlier generations, was like the reconstructions of a baroque nationwide monument that was ruined by a bomb but a different type of freedom had appeared: a blinking cursor in clear 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 suggest that the perfect of unconditional dedication has been supplanted by continuous negotiation and the criterion of shared advantage. And, even in coupling, individuality remains central.
Lacking a secure, committed romantic relationship in the old mildew, Witt models out to explore the probability of fulfillment (or, at least, self-knowledge) in less standard situations. As turns out, it is in the chapter on “Live Webcams” that Witt does the most theoretical work to clarify why seeking diverse encounters—the task of the reserve—might assist in her quest for sexual self-realization. Specifically, she points for an essay in the reserve 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 benefits of his huge experience in informal sex. The concert halls had offered as laboratories in which he had discovered to discern the nuances and spectrum of his sexual desire… His observations about sexual attraction regularly disproved conventional notions of beauty and ugliness. (He uncovered, among other proclivities, that he had something for Burly Irish-American men, including two who had hairlips.)
She estimates Delany who suggests we should “figure out how to find our very own way of having sex sexy” and concludes:
I don’t observe how this is accomplished with out 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 where she began, finding monogamy rewarding but now embracing an ideal of commitment as short-term:
I hope that married partnership would stop to be seen as a totalizing end point and instead become something more modest, perhaps am institutional basis for shared endeavors such as raising children or making art.
But this return to a somewhat standard notion of love shows to be the most interesting facet of the publication. Witt’s taking into consideration the freedom and variety of experience available to the present generation seems to develop. Rather than viewing the almost infinite selection of sexual possibilities as daunting, Witt ends up seeing it as an opportunity to experiment until one finds confidence and seems affirmed in their own wishes. She (p. 204) says:
I came across that… mostly I needed to live in a world with a wider range of sexual identities. I hoped the primacy and legitimacy of an individual intimate model would continue to erode as they have, with increasing acceleration, in the past fifty years.
Though she will not condition it so explicitly, I would argue that Witt has uncovered a fascinating dialectic between freedom and security. Though freedom to explore may help us in discovering what we should find sexually attractive, exploration may, paradoxically, lead to security in one’s set up sexual desires, when new experience continuously prove less satisfying and therefore 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 (if unstated) bottom line of the publication.
Third , theme of sexual exploration as a mechanism of self-realization, I now want to turn to the question of what camming instructs Witt about her own sexuality (and what we can find out about camming along the way). Witt (p. 114) explains her experiences with the favorite camsite Chaturbate:
I first noticed Chaturbate and the countless other live-sex-cam sites available online as porn… as the technological development of peep show booths and telephone sex lines. Like those, they had a performer and they got a voyeur… I QUICKLY spent more time on the site.
As she dives deeper into the site, Witt establishes that the resemblances she observed between cam sites and other kinds of sex work/performance were only superficial. The diversity and interactivity of cam sites arranged them aside.
Chaturbate was filled with serendipity… the sensation of clicking through the 18+ disclaimer in to the opening matrix was the main one of turning on MTV in the mid-1990s, when music videos performed most of your day and kept viewers captive http://rt.blablacams.com/profile/akuma_sakurai in the expectation of the favorite performer or a fresh discovery. Or maybe, to reach further back in its history, it recalled the sooner days of the Internet—the web of strangers rather than “friends.”
Witt’s decision to approach her subject matter through the lens of her own desire—as explained in the first section 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 finds uninteresting, she takes us to the margins of the sites, searching for the unpredicted. This includes an Icelandic female who strips putting on a rubber horse mask and fedora. In the passage consultant of her snarky but appreciative style, Witt explains (pp. 112-3):
maybe it was the house that she was in 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 benefit from socialized healthcare.
Witt also explains a college-age women who talked about books and made $1,500 performing a 24 hour marathon that presented much speaking, some nudity, and no sex. A third 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 represents 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 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). Together, logged on to browse the countless web pages of men loading but being watched by no one. She details (pp. 124-5):
not even the most popular men, instead clicking through to the next and third web pages for the real amateurs, the forest of men in table seats… It proved that they waited there for a reason… in order that they will find a person who will cam-to-cam with them…
Witt (and her guides) stumbled upon a man she finds relatively attractive, and she chats with him. The person quickly invites her to turn her cam on. She obliges and creates a password-protected room so only he can easily see her. While Witt will not seem to find the encounter particularly satisfying, she (p. 125) does offer some insight into the value others find in the experience:
here, where expectations resided in the chance of an electronic encounter between two people, tokens mattered significantly less. If, on its squeeze page, Chaturbate was a large number of men watching a few women, a few pages in, the quantities changed to one or two people using Chaturbate to communicate 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 get non-transactional intimate or sexual encounters on sites whose earnings come from viewers purchasing tokens. While these websites afford such activity and do not prohibit it, they do not plan or explicitly condone it either. It really is, perhaps, due to this lack control that sites prefers Chaturbate remind Witt of the sooner Web.
While Witt’s study of the margins of camming sites is disclosing, she also, probably, fails to stand for most of what is going on these sites and is even relatively dismissive of the popular performers. Because she targets her desires as a thirty-something NYC writer, Witt sometimes shows 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 sexual self-realization, drives her visit many places; but, for the most part, Witt does identify or feel a sense of owed with individuals she fulfills. She appears to participate only at a distance, viewing others as subjects just as much as human relationships. Witt (p. 172) identifies her own relationship to a sex party she attends, stating “I had been still thinking of myself as just a visitor, or rather neither here nor there, someone executing an abstract inquiry but not yet with true intention.” This distancing is valuable insofar as it brings with it a degree of objectivity (almost every other things discussed Orgasmic Mediation, for example, appear to be marketing duplicate); however, it does mean she’s struggling to offer an insider perspective through her personal narratives.
What’s lacking in the chapter on camming—due to some combination of her hipster bias and insufficient personal experience—can be an examination of the countless proportions of creative labor that switches into producing night the most normative-appearing shows. Experienced Witt tried modeling herself, this might be readily apparent. The http://blablacams.com/anal-play seeming convenience with which models embody normative desires 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 very best performers as “zombie hot girls” (p. 124). This privileging of the strange in porn feeds a kind of whorearchy, where certain types 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 significant amounts of compliment for the artistry women porn directors and producers, and she spends a substantial time questioning her own beliefs formed by mainstream feminism and considering more inclusive feminisms that embrace sex workers and porn as a medium. And, quite insightfully, she argues very much fetish porn is a reaction or response to new taboos setup by anti-porn feminists.
Nevertheless, Witt does not seem to increase the eye and regard she’s for women-directed studio porn to the women-directed shows of popular cam models. I believe they have unique insights and fascinating stories to inform.
Irrespective of these few criticisms, Witt gets one key thing right: The future of sex cannot be reduced to a story of technological development but must be known in terms of changing patterns of human being associations. She (p. 210) concludes “America experienced a lot of respect for future years of items, and less interest in the foreseeable future of human plans.” For that reason alone, Future Sex probably deserves more attention.