What do you do when you fall in love over a webcam?
Posted Jul 23, 2019
Webcamming has become increasingly common and popular as a form of sexual media. As computer camera technology has both improved and become less expensive, webcamming has become a relatively quiet option for sex workers and clients to interact.
There’s no physical contact, and the models can remain anonymous, so it provides a safer option for sex workers. Across the world, webcamming has led to a quiet revolution, where housewives, college students, and everyday people, can become porn stars in their own homes, and “get paid to have orgasms.”
Webcamming can be surprisingly lucrative, and falls through a number of legal loopholes. However, webcamming remains largely under the radar, without much larger social attention. Some preliminary research on webcam models has been done, but there's still a lot more to learn.
Even less research and social attention is paid to the people who pay these models, and who spend time interacting with them online. Recent studies on online porn users typically lump webcam use in with online porn, though there may be some significant differences between these platforms and forms of media.
Webcam viewing is, first and foremost, interactive, and live. As opposed to simply watching a static image or video, the viewer can talk with the model, the object of their interest, and can talk about anything: the weather, the furniture in the model’s set, ask about the model’s tattoos, or share with the model the fantasy that the viewer has always had and never said out loud.
In the Netflix series Big Mouth, a recent episode showed one of the adolescent males discovering online sex, and interacting with a webcam model, who promised to take off her lingerie, if he bought her various things from her Amazon wishlist (spoiler alert: she never actually did disrobe).
Stripchat (very NSFW) is a company that provides an online webcam platform where users can interact with online models. Stripchat, with some advice and suggestions from me and the folks at the Sexual Health Alliance, recently completed a groundbreaking survey of their users. In just a few days, they got responses from over 6,000 users, a stunning response rate. Stripchat was interested in who their users are, and, in a remarkable stroke, were interested in the characteristics that predicted whether their users might struggle or have problems with the product that Stripchat sold.
The survey looked at a variety of factors, from age and gender to sexual orientation, libido, and relationship status. We also asked about feelings of anxiety, relationship problems related to use of webcams, and whether the users had ever fallen in love with the models they watched.
Results were extraordinary and fascinating. They are summarized here, in a SFW press release from Stripchat. While these results DON’T constitute a scientific study, and our analysis and interpretation of the results aren’t scientific or statistically rigorous, these data offer remarkable insights which will hopefully guide and inform future research. Here are a few of the findings which I found noteworthy :
- Overall, Stripchat users tend to be younger, 18-24, compared to generally older users of porn.
- Forty-two percent of users reported experiencing some anxiety and worry about their use of webcams, and 11 percent worried about it frequently (for comparison, population-based surveys suggest that around 10-12 percent of people, in general, worry about their sexual behavior and use of pornography).
- Another 42 percent of users reported they had developed strong feelings for the models they watch, whether it be a friendship or genuinely feeling like they had fallen in love. This finding alone is an extraordinary rebuke to those who claim that consumers of sexual media are objectifying performers, and view them as the equivalent of meat—these viewers are actually falling in love.
- Religious people reported higher levels of anxiety about their use AND used webcams on a daily basis, far more than less religious users.
- Most viewers of webcams didn’t feel like their use of webcam was a form of infidelity. But, if the viewer was married, it more than doubled the likelihood that the webcam user saw their behavior as cheating. They were also more likely to report that they had fallen in love with a model AND to report that they had relationship conflicts with their spouse over their use of webcams. But, interestingly, they were less likely to worry about their use of webcams.
- A surprising number of the respondents, around 1100, report they have frequent sex, on an average daily basis. And those highly sexual people were some of the respondents who were most likely to report falling in love with a model, and to have conflicts with their primary partners over the use of webcams. But, again, they were the LEAST likely group to report worry over their use of webcams.
Who was the most likely to report anxiety over the use of webcams? In this survey, it’s not actually the people who use webcams the most. It’s not the people who are out of control of their sexuality. It’s actually the people who are younger, who are having less partnered sex, who are single, not dating, and who masturbate the least. We also found that users who reported being more religious were more likely to report that they had worried about their use of webcams.
This is consistent with the modern research on porn and those who feel “addicted” to porn; their anxiety over porn use is predicted not by use, but by a moral/religious conflict over porn.
Another unique finding in this survey was about women—not the models themselves, but female webcam users and viewers. Surprisingly, about 8 percent of the respondents were female. Those women were more likely, on average, than men to report higher levels of anxiety about their webcam use, greater fears that it is cheating, and greater levels of negative marital impact. Compared to men, female webcam users were much more likely to report that they had spent over $1,000 on webcams.
More than half the female users of Stripchat identify as other than heterosexual, compared to over 80 percent heterosexual identity in the male users. Research on porn-related problems finds very few women who worry and experience problems related to their porn use. Webcamming may reflect a new, unique issue for females, and it is likely important that future research figures this out.
Based on these data, it appears that anxiety and relationship problems about webcam use have little to do with sex, nor with the explicit media itself. Instead, much like concerns about pornography use, worry over the use of webcams appears to reflect other issues, such as moral conflicts, worry that you’re not having the kind of sex or relationship you want to have, and being unable to integrate your use of webcamming into your primary relationship.
I’m concerned about those users who are reporting problems. Because there is so little research or knowledge about webcamming in general, and so much stigma around social media, I suspect these users have no access to healthy support. In this survey, users asked for help. Because of this, I’ve partnered with Stripchat and The Sexual Health Alliance to offer these users the opportunity to gain some support.
On August 1, 2019, at 5 p.m. Eastern, I’ll be hosting an “ask me anything” on the Stripchat platform, with the goal of offering help and support to these folks. Feel free to join us, or view the archived video when we post it.
Special thanks to Renee Palmer for her clever title suggestion.