Cam Modeling and “Future Sex”
Emily Witt’s (2016) book Future Sex chronicles her search for intimate self-realization as a fresh Yorker in her early 30s migrating to tech-centered SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. The book is situated both in interviews and personal encounters, stringing vignettes jointly into chapters with topics including polyamory, Orgasmic Yoga, Internet porn, and Burning Man. With this review, I highlight her chapter on sex camming.
But first, I will start with a broad overview. A significant theme in the publication is the type of existential angst that comes from having too many choices. Witt seems daunted by her sexual freedom as a millennial—the limitless range of sexual partners and practices—first made possible by the intimate trend, and then by the Internet. She (p. 12) points out:
Imagine if love failed us? Intimate freedom acquired now extended to the people who never wished to get rid of the old institutions, except to the degree of showing solidarity with friends who did. I hadn’t sought so much choice for myself, and when I came across myself with total intimate freedom, I had been unhappy.
Witt spent her early adult life wanting to find long lasting love—and possibly even relationship—looking at this as an escape from the cycle of causal intimate arrangements, sometimes punctuated by intervals of monogamy, that has until recently defined her passionate life. But Witt’s wishes discord with the world she inhabits, as Millennial intimate norms privilege freedom over security in relationships. She (pp.11-2) represents why security remains desirable, even as the Internet opens a lot more options:
The growth of sexuality outside of marriage experienced brought new reasons to trust the original controls, reasons such as HIV, the time limits of fertility, the delicacy of feelings. Even as I resolved for freedom as an interim state, I prepared for my monogamous destiny. My sense of rightness, following the failed tests of earlier generations, was like the reconstructions of the baroque national monument that was ruined with a bomb but another kind of freedom had came: a blinking cursor in vacant space.
In questioning these new passionate configurations where freedom prevails, Witt echos what interpersonal theorists Anthony Giddens and the late Zygmunt Bauman respectively describe as “pure relationships” and “liquid love.” Both authors claim that the ideal of unconditional commitment has been supplanted by continuous negotiation and the criterion of mutual advantage. And, even in coupling, individuality remains central.
Missing a secure, committed romantic relationship in the old mold, Witt sets out to explore the likelihood of fulfillment (or, at least, self-knowledge) in less standard situations. As turns out, it is in the section on “Live Webcams” that Witt does the most theoretical work to explain why seeking diverse encounters—the task of the publication—might aid in her search for sexual self-realization. In particular, she points for an article 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 article:
Delany described the advantages of his huge experience in casual sex. The concert halls had served as laboratories in which he had discovered to discern the nuances and spectral range of his sexual desire… His observations about sexual attraction consistently disproved conventional notions of beauty and ugliness. (He discovered, among other proclivities, that he previously something for Burly Irish-American men, including two who had hairlips.)
She estimates Delany who suggests we should “learn to find our own way of having sex sexy” and concludes:
I don’t observe how this can be accomplished without a statistically significant variety of companions… However supportive, the response of a single partner just cannot do that. That is a quintessentially sociable process…
Unlike Delany, Witt (p. 204) mainly lands back again where she started, finding monogamy rewarding however now embracing a perfect of dedication as temporary:
I hope that married partnership would stop to be observed as a totalizing end point and instead become something more humble, perhaps am institutional basis for distributed endeavors such as increasing children or making artwork.
But this return to a somewhat regular notion of romance demonstrates to be the most interesting facet of the reserve. Witt’s taking into consideration the freedom and variety of experience available to the present generation seems to evolve. Rather than viewing the almost infinite selection of sexual possibilities as daunting, Witt eventually ends up seeing it as an opportunity to experiment until one discovers confidence and seems affirmed in their own desires. She (p. 204) says:
I came across that… mostly I wanted to live in a global with a wider range of intimate identities. I hoped the primacy and legitimacy of a single sexual model would continue to erode as it has, with increasing acceleration, in the past fifty years.
Though she does not condition it so explicitly, I’d claim that Witt has uncovered a fascinating dialectic between freedom and security. Though freedom to explore may aid us in finding what we should find sexually desirable, exploration may, paradoxically, lead to security in one’s founded sexual wishes, when new experience continuously prove less gratifying and therefore reaffirm the appropriateness of these desires.
And, while last chapter amazing things off a bit, I think the desirability of embracing this pressure between freedom and security is the clear (if unstated) summary of the reserve.
Following this theme of intimate exploration as a system of self-realization, I now want to turn to the question of what camming educates Witt about her own sexuality (and what we should can find out about camming in the process). Witt (p. 114) explains her experiences with the favorite camsite Chaturbate:
I first noticed Chaturbate and the many other live-sex-cam sites available online as porn… as the technical advancement of peep show booths and telephone sex lines. Like those, that they had a performer and they had a voyeur… I QUICKLY spent additional time on the webpage.
As she dives deeper into the site, Witt determines that the resemblances she noticed between cam sites and other kinds of sex work/performance were only superficial. The diversity and interactivity of cam sites established them aside.
Chaturbate was full of serendipity… the sensation of clicking on through the 18+ disclaimer in to the starting matrix was the one of turning on MTV in the middle-1990s, when music videos performed most of your day and kept audiences captive in the expectation of a favorite performer or a fresh discovery. Or possibly, to reach further back in its history, it recalled the earlier 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 portion of this review—shows both interesting and problematic in this section.
Why is Witt’s approach interesting is that, in bypassing the favorite rooms that she generally discovers uninteresting, she takes us to the margins of the websites, looking for the unforeseen. This consists of an Icelandic female who strips putting on a rubber equine cover up and fedora. Inside a passage representative of her snarky but appreciative style, Witt identifies (pp. 112-3):
maybe it was the home 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 intake of fish oils is high and residents benefit from socialized healthcare.
Witt also identifies a college-age women who talked about books and made $1,500 doing a 24 hour marathon that highlighted much speaking, some nudity, and no sex. A 3rd woman suspended herself from a hook manufactured from ice. And another woman kept nude sex ed discussions.
Going for a cue in one of her interviewees, Witt explains the designed use of site—a couple of performers broadcasting to numerous 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, 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). Together, logged on to browse the countless pages of men streaming but being viewed by no one. She represents (pp. 124-5):
not even typically the most popular men, instead hitting through to the next and third web pages for the true amateurs, the forest of men in desk chairs… It proved that they waited there for a reason… so that they will find someone who will cam-to-cam with them…
Witt (and her guides) stumbled upon a man she discovers somewhat 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 get the encounter particularly rewarding, she (p. 125) possesses some insight into the value others find in the knowledge:
here, where hopes resided in the chance of an electric encounter between two people, tokens mattered significantly less. If, on its website landing page, Chaturbate was a large number of men watching a few women, a couple web pages in, the quantities changed to one or two different people using Chaturbate to communicate privately with another person.
Witt’s experience highlights a really interesting case of technology used against the grain. http://blablacams.com/profile/kassablanca It is a rougish activity for users to seek non-transactional personal or intimate encounters on sites whose income come from viewers purchasing tokens. While these websites afford such activity and do not prohibit it, they do not intend or explicitly condone it either. It really is, perhaps, because of this lack control that sites loves Chaturbate remind Witt of the sooner Web.
While Witt’s study of the margins of camming sites is revealing, she also, arguably, fails to signify most of the proceedings these sites and it is even somewhat dismissive of the popular performers. Because she focuses on her wishes as a thirty-something NYC article writer, Witt sometimes shows a hipster bias, where, if something isn’t weird or edgy, it’s not viewed as deserving attention.
Witt is also not a joiner. Her desire to test as part her own search for sexual self-realization, drives her visit many places; but, generally, Witt will identify or feel a feeling of owed with individuals she fulfills. She appears to participate only at a distance, observing others as topics just as much as relationships. Witt (p. 172) explains her own romantic relationship to a sex party she attends, stating “I was still thinking of myself as simply a visitor, or rather neither here nor there, someone executing an abstract inquiry however, not yet with true purpose.” This distancing is valuable insofar as it brings with it a amount of objectivity (most other things discussed Orgasmic Mediation, for example, appear to be marketing duplicate); however, it does mean she’s unable to offer an insider perspective through her personal narratives.
What’s lacking in the section on camming—credited to some mixture of her hipster bias and lack of personal experience—can be an examination of the countless dimensions of creative labor that switches into producing evening the most normative-appearing shows. Experienced Witt attempted modeling herself, this would be readily obvious. 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 weird in porn feeds some sort of whorearchy, where certain kinds of sex work/practice are denigrated as a means of validating others.
Witt certainly is not consciously anti-sex work. In the previous chapter, in reality, she offers significant amounts of praise for the artistry women porn directors and companies, and she spends a significant time questioning her own values designed by mainstream feminism and considering more inclusive feminisms that embrace sex workers and porn as a medium. And, quite insightfully, she argues that much fetish porn is a response or response to new taboos create by anti-porn feminists.
Nevertheless, Witt does not seem to extend the eye and regard she’s for women-directed studio room porn to the women-directed shows of popular cam models. I believe they have unique insights and amazing stories to inform.
Regardless of these few criticisms, Witt gets one key thing right: The continuing future of sex cannot be reduced to a tale of technical development but must be understood in terms of changing patterns of individual relationships. She (p. 210) concludes “America got a lot of respect for future years of objects, and less interest in the future of human arrangements.” Because of this by itself, Future Sex probably deserves more attention.