Buckle in. I have a whole lot of thoughts about this question. I won’t pinpoint the exact origin of this question, because it’s beside the point. However, the reason I bring it up is that it’s a question I’ve seen asked time and time again – in various forms. The question boils down to whether or not cam models/clip makers/online Dominatrixes, etc., are sex workers.
There are a lot of arguments as to whether the answer is yes or no. In fact, there are so many arguments that I could probably write an entire dissertation exploring them, and maybe one day I will.
First, I’m going to explain my personal opinion. Put simply, yes, I do believe that cam models and the like, are sex workers. If you are providing sexual enjoyment or pleasure, whether that be online or in-person, you are a sex worker. If you take pictures for a photo set where you’re teasing to titillate, you are a sex worker. If you are selling foot pictures to make money on Instagram, you are a sex worker, because you are working in the sex industry. You are selling sex and the idea of sex.
You can’t turn around, and argue that they’re just feet when you know the person that requested the photos will get off on your feet – it will give them sexual pleasure.
To boil it down, here’s how I view it in an analogy – a neurological one because the neurology department is where I spend half my time these days. In the field of neurology, there are plenty of subjects in which a neurologist can specialise. However, though a neurologist may specialise in a subject, they still have a background in neurology, and thus, they are still a neurologist. Though sex work takes on many forms, sex workers choose the field they specialise in. Some prefer domination, so they become Dominatrixes, some prefer to hang out on webcam, and some prefer to meet in person and give what’s known as ‘full-service work’, yet all give a level of pleasure suited to their specialism. There is an underlying commonality that binds sex workers together.
Some view cam modelling as entertainment rather than sex work, because camming is technically (in some places) legal. Often, they think they’re above the law, morally in the right, and so on. Here’s how it breaks down: I know that if I tell people I am a sex worker, I will get a worse reaction than if I tell people I’m an online dominatrix. However, this is still sex work. It’s just that online sex work is seen as more acceptable than in-person sex work.
Looking at it from the other side, there is a view that to claim the title of a ‘sex worker’ you must do full-service work – escorting. I’ve even seen some claim that you can only be called a sex worker if you work on the streets. However, the notion that you have to ‘earn your stripes’ by doing full-service work to be called a sex worker, unsurprisingly, does not sit well with me. This is one of those occasions where I can relate it to disability politics. I’ve had many older people tell me I’m too young to be in a wheelchair because I’ve not ‘earned’ my wheelchair yet.
As with any subject, the story has many sides, and the above are just two sides to the complex topic of sex work. Everyone from the outside wants to lump us together, yet divide us all simultaneously – it’s not exactly straightforward for us, let alone everyone else. However, policing and gatekeeping the language and terms involved in sex work leads to arguments and dissonance. Sex workers are a community that has so many problems with outsiders. We must come together to look out for each other because no one else will.
People dehumanise sex workers so often that to some, it’s second nature to think of sex workers as ‘lower class citizens’. Sex workers are killed because of that stigma and will continue to be killed because of that stigma. This stigma is deadly and divisive, and it endangers the lives and livelihoods of many. By distancing yourself from the community, you weaken the community’s voice and allow others to disregard us. This allows the stigma to be perpetrated further.
PayPal is a perfect example of the stigma sex workers face. PayPal is a company that stigmatises a group of people purely down to their job. The problem with PayPal is that they will penalise the sex workers or the patrons of sex workers, but have no qualms working with the hosting companies or studios – like MFC. They regularly close the accounts of sex workers and patrons of sex work. PayPal denies a select group of people access to their services because of their jobs, even though accepting the custom of sex workers would be hugely beneficial to them.
At the end of the day, sex workers are trying to change the narrative the vast majority of the public has ingrained into their minds, both from what they’ve seen and been told. By using the collective term of a ‘sex worker’, we are trying to reclaim our own narrative, we are trying to show people our individual stories, and we are trying to stop the stigma. By splintering off, and attempting to distance ourselves from one branch of sex work to the next, we confuse the public, we confuse the people who want to help us, and we confuse ourselves.
Claiming that you’re not a sex worker because, in your mind, you have a preconceived notion of what a sex worker is is the reason we are fighting for our rights right now. It’s why politicians can sneak in behind our backs to strip away the rights of the most easily targeted: the sex workers on the streets, and the sex workers who need to advertise to make money.
It won’t be long before politicians make webcamming their target. What will all those cam models say when the politicians come for them? A number of services disallow use when porn is involved (Skype, for example), yet cam models still use these programs for shows. How can they pretend that pleasing themselves for other’s pleasure is not a work of sex?
So, are cam models sex workers? You need to decide for yourself, but I urge you to take some time to consider it fully. If we’re to prosper as a community, or even survive – what with SESTA, FOSTA, and the DE Bill, we must come together, and help each other.