Sex & Relationships

Why More and More Porn Stars Are Doing Live Camming Performances

Adult content is starting to change in subtle yet significant ways.

Photo Credit: jwblinn/Shutterstock

Thirty years ago, the idea of consuming pornography on the same device you use to call your mother would have been a hard sell. But that’s exactly where we are today. In 2013, mobile became the primary platform on which users are consuming adult content. As new technologies continue to disrupt the industry, porn producers have to get creative to maintain relevance. One of the newest trends taking hold is going "live."

Anyone who's spent some time poking around the porn sites has probably experienced a pop-up ad featuring a woman and a webcam. That individual is a member of the camming universe, a new and booming form of adult content made possible by advancements in bandwidth and technology. The industry, which the New York Times has estimated to bring in around $1 billion in annual revenue, revolves around live sex acts performed by potentially amateur individuals. Because no physical footage is (typically) amassed, cam performers can walk around relatively anonymously. It’s not that uncommon for these individuals to wear additional titles like girlfriend, roommate or even babysitter.

Sure, the camming universe and the porn industry are related, but they’re more like sisters than twins. Each requires a distinct set of skills, and not all translate between industries.

“Camming is more about the engagement, the fun, the relationship, things like that,” says Nikki Night, head of performer developing and training at Cam4. “I've seen a lot of porn stars come to the site and start to try camming and totally fail, because it's such a different thing, to engage.”

Cam4 has seen such an influx of porn stars attempting to enter the camming world that it set up a separate category for them to do so. They’re called “Super Shows,” a weekly event in which the platform invites top porn stars, beauty queens and fetish models to go live for one hour. “We set it up for them like a halfway mark. They don't really have to learn how to cam, but they're still able to give this show, and they're still able to be in that world.”

Other stars prefer a more DIY style. Catalina Cruz, a self-styled “queen of fellatio,” recently went live on her own site to debut her first two-guy threesome. “This will be the very first time I have been with any other man,” the married performer said in a press release. “My true reactions will take place live for others to see. I'm very excited, yet, to be honest, nervous too! I feel like a newbie again.”

“It's great publicity for attracting some new fans in,” says Tommie McDonald, marketing director for British-born porn performer Harriet Sugarcookie. “As a marketing event, it can be very valuable.”

It’s an important pivot, McDonald notes. Namely because, these days, porn stars aren’t pulling in the kind of cash Hollywood depictions of the industry would have you think. According to a recent report by CNBC, the average adult actress is paid somewhere between $800 and $1,000 for “traditional” sex scenes; that is, heterosexual vaginal intercourse. Male performers get even less, earning around $500-600 per scene. Add in travel time and set prep, testing requirements, and the fact that most porn stars don’t see a dime of royalties, and you’re not left with a lot of opportunities to earn huge amounts of cash. “There are easier ways to make money,” says McDonald. “It’s quite a hard job.”

Stars who do make the transition from scripted pornography to live sex shows seem to have one thing on their side: charisma. “It’s very personality driven,” says McDonald. “I know it's visual, but the rules of the game kind of work the same way as radio. It's all about keeping talking, keeping reminding people what's going on. It's a real high skilled job.”

Adult film actress Kaylani Lei recently launched her official site, where she can connect directly with fans via Snapchat or Skype. For $300, fans can purchase a 10-minute video custom-made to meet their specific fantasies. For an additional $600, they’ll get 20 more minutes of content. That same amount of money will get them slightly more on Skype. At $300, fans will get a 15-minute show; $900 gets them 45 minutes.

As far as the Super Shows go, Nikki Night has noticed that one particular group of performers tend to come out on top. “Transgender performers tend to do the best,” she says. “They make crazy amounts of tips.” Some, she says, can make up to $2,000 in tips for a one-hour performance. As we've previously noted, trans porn is among the most popular genres, specifically, among heterosexual men. 

Obviously, sex sells. That point has been demonstrated over and over again. But this particular brand of sex, this kind of interactive eroticism, may serve more purposes than one, at least according to some insiders. “Admitting that you're lonely is such a taboo thing,” says McDonald. “Young men would rather admit they’re looking for some sex. They’d rather admit that than admit they’re quite lonely.”

On the platform he works for, he’s seen very little crossover between the customers looking for more traditional pornographic content, and those interested in the camming services provided. “It’s a completely different type of customer,” he says. “They’re looking for different things.”

The internet is a big place, with more people logging on every day. For those looking to enter an increasingly competitive adult industry, dabbling in different forms of content might prove a path worth taking.  

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture. 

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