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Archive for October, 2011

Cam Modeling and “Future Sex”

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Cam Modeling and “Future Sex”

Emily Witt’s (2016) reserve Future Sex chronicles her seek out sexual self-realization as a New Yorker in her early 30s migrating to tech-centered San Francisco. The book is situated both in interviews and personal experiences, stringing vignettes collectively into chapters with topics including polyamory, Orgasmic Meditation, Internet porn, and Burning up Man. On this review, I emphasize her section on sex camming.

But first, I’ll start with a broad overview. A significant theme in the reserve is the kind of existential angst that originates from having too many choices. Witt seems daunted by her sexual freedom as a millennial—the endless range of intimate partners and practices—first permitted by the intimate trend, and then by the web. She (p. 12) explains:

Imagine if love failed us? Intimate freedom acquired now extended to people who never wished to get rid of the old organizations, except to the extent of showing solidarity with friends who did. I hadn’t sought a lot choice for myself, and when I came across myself with total sexual freedom, I was unhappy.

Witt spent her early adult life wanting to find enduring love—and perhaps even marriage—observing this as a getaway from the routine of causal sexual arrangements, sometimes punctuated by intervals of monogamy, that has up until now defined her romantic life. But Witt’s wishes turmoil with the world she inhabits, as Millennial sexual norms privilege freedom over security in relationships. She (pp.11-2) details why security remains desired, even as the Internet opens ever more possibilities:

The enlargement of sexuality beyond marriage experienced brought new reasons to trust the original settings, 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 future. My sense of rightness, after the failed tests of earlier generations, was like the reconstructions of the baroque nationwide monument that was destroyed by a bomb but a different type of freedom had showed up: a blinking cursor in unfilled space.

In questioning these new intimate configurations where freedom prevails, Witt echos what interpersonal theorists Anthony Giddens and the late Zygmunt Bauman respectively explain 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.

Lacking a secure, committed romantic relationship in the old mold, Witt pieces out to explore the possibility of fulfillment (or, at least, self-knowledge) in less conventional situations. As works out, it is within the section on “Live Webcams” that Witt will the most theoretical work to explain why seeking diverse encounters—the project of the publication—might assist in her quest for sexual self-realization. Specifically, she points for an essay in the reserve Time Square Red, Times Square Blue by the gay African-American writer Samuel D. Delany about enough time he spent having anonymous sex in porno theaters. Witt (p. 126) summarizes the article:

Delany explaind the benefits of his huge experience in casual sex. The concert halls had served as laboratories where he had discovered to discern the nuances and spectrum of his intimate desire… His observations about sexual attraction regularly disproved standard notions of beauty and ugliness. (He found out, among other proclivities, that he had a thing for Burly Irish-American men, including two who acquired hairlips.)

She quotes Delany who suggests we must “learn to find our very own way of having sex sexy” and concludes:

I don’t observe how this can be accomplished with out a statistically significant variety of companions… However supportive, the response of an individual partner just cannot do this. That is a quintessentially sociable process…

Unlike Delany, Witt (p. 204) mainly lands back where she began, finding monogamy rewarding however now embracing an ideal of commitment as short-term:

I am hoping that married collaboration would stop to be seen as a totalizing end point and instead become something more modest, perhaps am institutional basis for shared efforts such as increasing children or making artwork.

But this go back to a somewhat conventional notion of romance shows to be the most interesting facet of the publication. Witt’s taking into consideration the freedom and diversity of experience open to the present generation seems to evolve. Rather than seeing the almost infinite range of sexual possibilities as daunting, Witt eventually ends up seeing it as an opportunity to experiment until one finds confidence and feels affirmed in their own desires. She (p. 204) says:

I found that… mostly I wanted to live in a world with a wider range of sexual identities. I hoped the primacy and legitimacy of an individual intimate model would continue to erode as it offers, with increasing acceleration, in the past fifty years.

Though she does not condition it so explicitly, I’d argue that Witt has uncovered a fascinating dialectic between freedom and security. Though freedom to explore may help us in discovering what we should find sexually attractive, exploration may, paradoxically, lead to security in one’s founded sexual wishes, when new experience constantly prove less satisfying and thus reaffirm the appropriateness of those desires.

And, while final chapter wonders off a little, I believe the desirability of embracing this tension between freedom and security is the clear (if unstated) bottom line of the reserve.

Following this theme of sexual exploration as a mechanism of self-realization, I now want to carefully turn to the question of what camming teaches Witt about her own sexuality (and what we 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 technical progression of peep show booths and telephone sex lines. Like those, that they had a performer and they acquired a voyeur… Then I spent more time on the webpage.

As she dives deeper into the site, Witt determines that the resemblances she observed between cam sites and other forms of sex work/performance were only superficial. The variety and interactivity of cam sites set them apart.

Chaturbate was full of serendipity… the sensation of clicking through the 18+ disclaimer into the opening matrix was the one of turning on MTV in the mid-1990s, when music videos played most of the day and kept viewers captive in the expectation of a favorite performer or a new discovery. Or possibly, to reach further back in time, it recalled the sooner days of the Internet—the web of strangers rather than “friends.”

Witt’s decision to approach her subject material through the zoom lens of her own desire—as described in the first portion of this review—demonstrates both interesting and difficult in this section.

Why is Witt’s approach interesting is that, in bypassing the favorite rooms that she mainly finds uninteresting, she requires us to the margins of the websites, searching for the unexpected. This includes an Icelandic female who strips putting on a rubber equine mask and fedora. In a passage consultant of her snarky but appreciative style, Witt describes (pp. 112-3):

maybe it was the house that she is at or her hi-def camera or a general characteristic 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 citizens reap the benefits of socialized healthcare.

Witt also explains a college-age women who talked about literature and made $1,500 performing a 24 hour marathon that featured much talking, some nudity, and no sex. A third woman suspended herself from a hook manufactured from ice. And another woman kept nude sex ed conversations.

Taking a cue in one of her interviewees, Witt details the intended use of site—one or two performers broadcasting to numerous audiences in each room—as “mass intimacy.” But, the most interesting part of the chapter was Witt’s exploration into a culture that has emerged around using Chaturbate to assist in unpaid, private, 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). Together, logged to browse the countless pages of men loading but being viewed by nobody. She represents (pp. 124-5):

not typically the most popular men, instead clicking on through to the second and third webpages for the real amateurs, the forest of men in table chairs… It turned out that they waited there for a reason… so that they will find somebody who will cam-to-cam with them…

Witt (and her manuals) come across a man she discovers relatively attractive, and she chats with him. The man quickly invites her to carefully turn her cam on. She obliges and sets up a password-protected room so only he can see her. While Witt will not seem to find the encounter particularly rewarding, she (p. 125) possesses some insight in to the value others find in the knowledge:

here, where hopes resided in the opportunity of an electronic encounter between two different people, tokens mattered significantly less. If, on its landing page, Chaturbate was thousands of men viewing a few women, a few web pages in, the quantities changed to 1 or two people using Chaturbate to interact privately with another person.

Witt’s experience highlights an extremely interesting case of technology being used against the grain. It really is a rougish activity for users to get non-transactional personal or sexual encounters on sites whose income come from viewers purchasing tokens. While these sites afford such activity , nor prohibit it, they do not intend or explicitly condone it either. It really is, perhaps, due to this lack control that sites wants Chaturbate remind Witt of the sooner Web.

While Witt’s examination of the margins of camming sites is revealing, she also, probably, fails to signify most of what is going on these sites and it is even somewhat dismissive of the more popular performers. Because she targets her wishes as a thirty-something NYC article writer, Witt sometimes displays a hipster bias, where, if something isn’t weird or edgy, it’s not seen as deserving attention.

Witt is also not really a joiner. Her wish to test as part her own quest for sexual self-realization, drives her visit many places; but, for the most part, Witt will identify or feel a feeling of owed with the folks she meets. She seems to participate only at a distance, observing others as topics as much as associations. Witt (p. 172) describes her own romantic relationship to a sex party she attends, stating “I used to be still thinking about myself as only a visitor, or rather neither here nor there, someone commencing an abstract inquiry but not yet with true purpose.” This distancing is valuable insofar as it brings with it a degree of objectivity (almost every other things discussed Orgasmic Mediation, for example, appear to be marketing copy); however, it also means she’s unable to offer an insider perspective through her personal narratives.

What’s missing in the chapter on camming—due to some combination of her hipster bias and lack of personal experience—is an examination of the many sizes of creative labor that switches into producing evening the most normative-appearing shows. Acquired Witt tried modeling herself, this would be readily obvious. The seeming convenience with which models embody normative wishes is part of the work—area of the performance of authenticity.

A most troubling moment 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 odd in porn feeds a kind of whorearchy, where certain kinds of sex work/practice are denigrated as a way of validating others.

Witt certainly is not consciously anti-sex work. In the last chapter, in reality, she offers significant amounts of praise for the artistry women porn directors and manufacturers, and she spends a substantial time questioning her own beliefs shaped 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 reaction or response to new taboos set up by anti-porn feminists.

Nevertheless, Witt does not seem to increase the interest and regard she’s for women-directed studio porn to the women-directed performances of popular cam models. I believe they have unique insights and interesting stories to inform.

Regardless of these few criticisms, Witt gets one key thing right: The future of sex can’t be reduced to a tale of technical development but must be comprehended in conditions of changing patterns of human being interactions. She (p. 210) concludes “America got a great deal of respect for future years of objects, and less interest in the future of human arrangements.” For that reason alone, Future Sex probably deserves more attention.

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