22 October, 2010 | By Magnus Frejd |
Cam Modeling and “Future Sex”
Emily Witt’s (2016) reserve Future Sex chronicles her search for intimate 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 up Man. With this review, I highlight her section on sex camming.
But first, I will start with a wide overview. A major theme in the publication is the type of existential angst that originates from having too many choices. Witt seems daunted by her sexual freedom as a millennial—the endless range of sexual partners and practices—first made possible by the intimate revolution, and then by the web. She (p. 12) points out:
Imagine if love failed us? Sexual freedom got now extended to the people who never wanted to get rid of the old institutions, except to the extent of showing solidarity with friends who do. I had not sought a lot choice for myself, and when I came across myself with total intimate freedom, I had been unhappy.
Witt spent her early adult life attempting to find enduring love—and possibly even relationship—viewing this as a getaway from the routine of causal sexual arrangements, occasionally punctuated by periods of monogamy, that has up until now defined her passionate life. But Witt’s desires issue with the world she inhabits, as Millennial intimate norms privilege freedom over security in interactions. She (pp.11-2) represents why security remains attractive, even as the web opens a lot more possibilities:
The expansion of sexuality outside of marriage had brought new reasons to trust the original controls, reasons such as HIV, enough time limits of fertility, the delicacy of emotions. Even while I settled for freedom as an interim state, I prepared for my monogamous future. My sense of rightness, following the failed tests of previous generations, was like the reconstructions of a baroque nationwide monument that was damaged with a bomb but a different type of freedom had showed up: a blinking cursor in unfilled space.
In questioning these new passionate configurations where freedom prevails, Witt echos what cultural theorists Anthony Giddens and the late Zygmunt Bauman respectively describe as “pure relationships” and “liquid love.” Both authors claim that the perfect of unconditional dedication has been supplanted by continuous negotiation and the criterion of mutual advantage. And, even in coupling, personality remains central.
Missing a secure, committed romantic relationship in the old mold, Witt sets out to explore the possibility of fulfillment (or, at least, self-knowledge) in less regular situations. As turns out, it is in the chapter on “Live Webcams” that Witt does the most theoretical work to explain why seeking diverse encounters—the task of the reserve—might aid in her quest for sexual self-realization. In particular, 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 article:
Delany explaind the advantages of his huge experience in informal sex. The concert halls had served as laboratories where he had learned to discern the nuances and spectrum of his sexual desire… His observations about sexual attraction regularly disproved typical 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 quotes Delany who suggests we must “learn to find our very own way of experiencing sex sexy” and concludes:
I don’t see how this is accomplished without a statistically significant variety of partners… However supportive, the response of a single partner just cannot do that. That is a quintessentially social process…
Unlike Delany, Witt (p. 204) mainly lands back where she began, finding monogamy rewarding however now embracing a perfect of dedication as temporary:
I am hoping that married collaboration would cease to be observed as a totalizing end point and instead become something more modest, perhaps am institutional basis for distributed endeavors such as raising children or making art.
But this go back to a somewhat typical notion of love 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 era seems to develop. Rather than seeing the nearly infinite selection of sexual options as daunting, Witt eventually ends up seeing it as an opportunity to test until one discovers confidence and seems affirmed in their own desires. She (p. 204) says:
I found that… mostly I needed to reside in a global with a wider range of intimate identities. I hoped the primacy and legitimacy of an individual sexual model would continue to erode as it has, 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 aid us in discovering what we find sexually desirable, exploration may, paradoxically, lead to security in one’s set up sexual desires, when new experience continually prove less satisfying and thus reaffirm the appropriateness of those desires.
And, while final chapter amazing things off a little, I think the desirability of embracing this stress between freedom and security is the clear (if unstated) bottom line of the reserve.
Third , theme of intimate exploration as a system of self-realization, I now want to turn to the question of what camming shows Witt about her own sexuality (and what we should can learn about camming along the way). Witt (p. 114) represents her experiences with the popular camsite Chaturbate:
I first noticed Chaturbate and the many other live-sex-cam sites available online as porn… as the technological development of peep show booths and mobile phone sex lines. Like those, they had a performer plus they acquired a voyeur… I QUICKLY spent more time on the webpage.
As she dives deeper into the site, Witt decides that the resemblances she noticed between cam sites and other types of sex work/performance were only superficial. The variety and interactivity of cam sites set them aside.
Chaturbate was filled with serendipity… the sensation of hitting through the 18+ disclaimer into the starting matrix was the one of turning on MTV in the mid-1990s, when music videos performed most of the day and kept viewers captive in the expectation of a favorite performer or a fresh discovery. Or maybe, to reach farther back in its history, it recalled the earlier times of the Internet—the Internet of strangers rather than “friends.”
Witt’s decision to approach her subject material through the lens of her own desire—as described in the first section of this review—demonstrates both interesting and problematic in this chapter.
Why is Witt’s approach interesting is that, in bypassing the popular rooms that she largely discovers uninteresting, she will take us to the margins of the sites, searching for the unpredicted. This consists of an Icelandic woman who strips putting on a rubber horse face mask and fedora. Inside a passage representative of her snarky but appreciative style, Witt identifies (pp. 112-3):
maybe it was the house that she is at or her high definition camera or a general characteristic of the Icelandic people but even faceless she gleamed with the well-being that emanates wherever per-capita usage of seafood oils is high and residents reap the benefits of socialized healthcare.
Witt also explains a college-age women who discussed literature and made $1,500 performing a 24 hour marathon that presented much talking, some nudity, and no sex. Another female suspended herself from a hook made of ice. And another woman kept nude sex ed conversations.
Going for a cue from one of her interviewees, Witt explains the intended use of site—one or two performers broadcasting to many viewers in each room—as “mass intimacy.” But, the most interesting area of the chapter was Witt’s exploration into a culture that has emerged around using Chaturbate to help unpaid, anonymous, 1-on-1 sex.
Assisted by two performers that she interviewed, she “multiperved” or “audio-Skyped with each other while sifting through videos online” (p. 124). Collectively, logged on to browse the countless web pages of men loading but being watched by no one. She represents (pp. 124-5):
not the most popular men, instead hitting through to the next and third web pages for the real amateurs, the forest of men in desk seats… It proved that they waited there for a reason… so that they will find a person who will cam-to-cam with them…
Witt (and her manuals) 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 easily see her. While Witt will not seem to find the encounter particularly rewarding, she (p. 125) does offer some insight in to the value others find in the experience:
here, where hopes resided in the opportunity of an electronic encounter between two different people, tokens mattered significantly less. If, on its squeeze page, Chaturbate was thousands of men watching a few women, a couple webpages in, the numbers changed to one or two different people using Chaturbate to socialize privately with someone else.
Witt’s experience highlights a really interesting case of technology used against the grain. It is a rougish activity for users to get non-transactional intimate or intimate encounters on sites whose earnings come from audiences purchasing tokens. While these websites afford such activity and do not prohibit it, they do not want or explicitly condone it either. It is, perhaps, for this reason lack control that sites enjoys Chaturbate remind Witt of the sooner Web. http://blablacams.com/tags/cock-sucking
While Witt’s examination of the margins of camming sites is revealing, she also, arguably, fails to stand for most of the proceedings these sites and it is even somewhat dismissive of the popular performers. Because she targets her wishes as a thirty-something NYC writer, Witt sometimes shows a hipster bias, where, if something isn’t strange or edgy, it isn’t viewed as deserving attention.
Witt is also not a joiner. Her wish to experiment as part her own search for sexual self-realization, drives her visit many places; but, generally, Witt does identify or feel a sense of belonging with people she fulfills. She appears to participate only at a distance, viewing others as subjects as much as associations. Witt (p. 172) describes her own romantic relationship to a sex party she attends, stating “I was still thinking of myself as just a visitor, or rather neither here nor there, someone executing an abstract inquiry but not yet with true purpose.” This distancing is valuable insofar as it brings with it a degree of objectivity (most other things written about Orgasmic Mediation, for example, appear to be marketing duplicate); however, it also means she’s unable to offer an insider perspective through her personal narratives.
What’s lacking in the section on camming—due to some combination of her hipster bias and lack of personal experience—is an examination of the countless proportions of creative labor that switches into producing night the most normative-appearing shows. Got Witt tried modeling herself, this might be readily apparent. The seeming simplicity with which models embody normative wishes is part of the work—part 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 weird in porn feeds a kind of whorearchy, where certain forms 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 truth, she offers significant amounts of compliment for the artistry women porn directors and producers, and she spends a substantial time questioning her own values designed by mainstream feminism and considering more inclusive feminisms that embrace sex employees and porn as a medium. And, quite insightfully, she argues that much fetish porn is a response or response to new taboos set up by anti-porn feminists.
Nevertheless, Witt will not seem to extend the interest and regard she has for women-directed studio room porn to the women-directed performances of popular cam models. I’m certain they have unique insights and exciting stories to tell.
Regardless of these few criticisms, Witt gets one key thing right: The continuing future of sex cannot be reduced to a story of technical development but must be recognized in conditions of changing patterns of human relationships. She (p. 210) concludes “America had a great deal of respect for the future of objects, and less interest in the foreseeable future of human agreements.” For that reason only, Future Sex probably deserves more attention.