Chatrubate Headquarters Welcome to Chaturbate, where live-cam performers engage in the wild and the weird. But watch it long enough and you realize that social media has created a whole new sexual persuasion. So, how “internet sexual” are you?
By Emily Witt
On the computer a woman in north Florida is talking about the wildlife down where she’s from. “Raccoons, possums, armadillos, moles,” she lists. “Rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins.” She thinks. “Black snakes, but they’re not so bad.” Her profile says she was born in 1959. Her blond-gray hair is long. She’s topless, with ample, sagging breasts and a stomach tattoo of Yosemite Sam drawing his guns. On her lap is a large, two-headed dildo. “They’ve got those big-ass pythons in the Everglades,” she says. “They’re breeding with the water moccasins and they’re creating a super snake, y’all.” Chatrubate Headquarters
In Virginia, three men drape over one another in a bed, fundraising with an aggressive strategy of languid, bared-torso napping. They have promised a show when they receive 775 tokens from their audience, from which they will receive $38.75 in earnings. Their audience discusses in the chat column on the right whether they will actually perform if they meet their goal. “Nah, they too tired,” someone writes. They look pretty tired.
In Denver, a plump, bespectacled woman apportions cupcake batter into a tin. She says she’s 18 and still a virgin. She’s naked under her apron, and she promises to show her breasts as soon as she gets these cupcakes in the oven. In Austria, a woman with a beehive, blue fingernail polish, and a polka-dotted bra gives her boyfriend the most halfhearted blow job in human history. He is wearing a turtleneck sweater but no pants. In Montreal, a woman with fuchsia hair penetrates herself with a toy lightsaber. A woman with a thin black ribbon tied around her neck in a bow, who gives her location as “Orgrimmar, Azeroth,” a town from World of Warcraft, nibbles a Chipotle Burrito Bowl, slurps from a can of Mountain Dew, and shows off her pierced nipples for an audience of 1,150 people. In another chat room, 3,756 people watch as a stark-naked 21-year-old with no makeup and a body like a juice guru performs a yoga routine in a day-lit room with creamy wall-to-wall carpeting, a Pilates ball in a corner behind her. She eases up into a headstand. Chatrubate Headquarters
For the first few weeks after I started watching Chaturbate, these were some of the people I watched. Chaturbate is a live webcam site that launched in 2011. It distinguishes itself from the many other live webcam sites by its democratic approach. It is free to watch – really free, as in no logging in or setting up passwords – and open to everyone of legal age. Its tabs offer “Females,” “Males,” “Couples,” “Groups,” and “Transsexuals.” To start broadcasting, a person has only to register a name and beam herself to the world, eating Chipotle. Total sexual anarchy is forestalled by a zealous volunteer police force of users, who operate along the lines of Wikipedia moderators, reporting and shutting down any performers who look suspiciously underage or who break one of Chaturbate’s few rules – the usual bans on violence, animals, and excrement.
I started visiting Chaturbate only because an editor suggested I write an article about it. He suggested it because I am writing a book where the central question is what to do with an abundance of sexual freedom. In my research I had looked at live cam sites before and interviewed performers. I saw the web sites as the technological evolution of peep show booths and phone sex lines , but I did not at first see a new mode of sexual expression. The dynamic of a sexually stimulating performance by one person for another bored me. Seductive recital for money was not free love. Chatrubate Headquarters
Beyond its lack of restrictions, it took me a while to figure out what made Chaturbate special. At first glance, it was simply a framed box of amateur peep show performers determined to outdo each other in mimicking the costumes and attitudes of mainstream porn. The matrix of webcams that loaded on the homepage looked like most other adult webcam sites, which is to say that it provided an overwhelmingly gynecological perspective of the world. In the sidebars where viewers chatted with each other, it was still mostly men telling women they wanted to ejaculate on various parts of their bodies, or seeking individual attention from them, or telling them to do certain things or hold certain positions, and the women flattering and cooing in return. The porno gifs bounced annoyingly as ever in the margins; and the homepage’s checkerboard of thumbnail images merged into a single disingenuous orgasm. Then I spent some time on the site.
At first I avoided the most sexually explicit channels. I preferred to watch women, but not usually at their most pornographic. I watched when they were just doing things, chatting or cutting out paper hearts for Valentine’s Day or listening to the songs of Miley Cyrus. I watched the women because they were more interesting than the men, who invariably positioned themselves in a black computer chair at a desk in ghastly desk-lamp illumination, dick in hand, making the usual motions, unless they reclined in bed and did the same, with little in the way of creativity or gimmicks. It was amazing the diversity of what men wanted performed for them and how little they offered to others, except for a few of the gay guys, who seemed to understand that some form of flirtation might exhilarate the spirit and therefore did yoga routines in bike shorts or lip-synched to pop hits. I did not spend a lot of time looking at the “Transsexual” tab, not because I wasn’t curious but because many of the broadcasts came from what looked like a brothel in Barranquilla, Colombia. Chatrubate Headquarters
A lot of the performers use the site to make money. Viewers can tip their favorite performers with tokens, Chaturbate’s official currency. Chaturbate takes a 50 percent cut, such that each token costs 10 cents for the person who bought it and is worth five cents for the person who earned it. In exchange for some tokens, the performers might fulfill a request, or address the tipper directly. Despite this payment system, Chaturbate’s freedom extends to impecunious viewers, who do not have to limit their participation to voyeurism but can also write jokes in the sidebar that make a performer giggle or, less generously, that insult her.
Chaturbate first revealed its potential to be something I had not seen before the morning I watched a 27-year-old woman named “Elisa Death Naked” broadcast from a house in Iceland with glass bricks, a spiral staircase, warm-looking patterned rugs, and a cozy fire crackling in the fireplace. She did not reveal her face, and instead wore, at the beginning of her striptease, a rubber horse mask with a fedora on top, along with a gray crop top, black sweatpants, and rainbow knee socks. Her primary props were a chair painted with a replica of the Mona Lisa and a strap-on dildo. Maybe it was just the house that she was in or her high-definition camera, but even faceless she gleamed with the well-being that emanates wherever per-capita consumption of fish oils is high and citizens benefit from socialized health care. Her sex show, however, was strange.
“I have a pretty weird boner right now,” commented one confused viewer, as Elisa changed into a Halloween mask of a ghost and began fellating her dildo. She did not interact with her audience, instead exhibiting her free-flowing sexual narrative in a kind of manic trance. I watched her highlight reel, which showed clips from even more creative scenarios – her violently ripping apart a stuffed bear, fucking herself with a toy train, and strapping the dildo to a rocking horse and riding it. The show was a sexualized riff on the Island of Misfit Toys, plus industrial metal (the soundtrack was Rammstein). In addition to the usual Amazon Wish List (almost everyone has an Amazon Wish List for their fans to buy them things, or to bypass the site’s 50 percent cut), Elisa had links to clothes she wanted from the British online clothing store ASOS, and I clicked through them, with a vague awareness that I wanted to dress however she dressed. Chatrubate Headquarters
Edith first appeared in a worrisome context: rolled over naked, face down in bed after a session with her Hitachi vibrator, possibly weeping. Several of her 2,072 viewers exchanged concern: “Do you want to stop Edith?” or “What up? I clicked away and I come back and she’s crying?” or “She’s fucking joking,” and “What happened??? She’s really upset” and “I can’t stand to see her sad.” Then she cut off her video feed.
From watching her Chaturbate show, I learned that Edith was a 19-year-old college student in the Midwest who seduced her audience by dressing like an American Apparel model, revealing the depth of her existential solitude, and compelling every one of her viewers to feel as if he and only he were the person who might understand and rescue her from both her tortured soul and her vow of celibacy. This dreamy formula attracted men by the thousands, men who clamored to suggest that Edith read Infinite Jest, Stranger in a Strange Land, the research of Masters and Johnson, or the poetry of Walt Whitman, to beg her for a personal message, and to tip her when she showed them her milky-white breasts, bruised knees, and untamed bush. (She had been inspired in her celebration of body hair by YouTube videos of Siouxsie & the Banshees.) She would read out loud, everything from R.D. Laing to Sam Pink. She would name-drop Michel Foucault and David Bohm. Her username quoted from a J.D. Salinger story and the first item on her Amazon Wish List was William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. The second item was a long, ornately printed dress and the third item was a nun’s habit. Men would discover and claim her the way that men discover and claim early electronic music from Poland or a difficult-to-reach Goan restaurant in Queens. Chatrubate Headquarters
The second time she showed up while I was online was early one Tuesday morning. She wore a white cable-knit sweater and a 1950s-style skater skirt and stood barelegged in a cold-looking room with white walls and tile floors. Pale winter sun filtered through one window. The room had a coffee maker in one corner, a guitar in another, and a fabric chair of the sort made for tailgating, with built-in beer koozies in the back. Several sneakers and boots lay scattered around. Someone remarked that the scene looked like a flophouse out of Breaking Bad.
A man dressed in a coat and scarf made coffee, ignoring Edith as she stripped down to a pale pink leotard and began fancifully dancing around, occasionally pulling down the leotard’s straps to reveal the rest of her body. In another corner, visible in glimpses when Edith carried her computer around the room, a woman slept under covers on an air mattress. Edith breakfasted on a pint of ice cream, gazing flirtatiously at the camera. She sat down on the edge of the air mattress and lifted her skirt. Behind her, the slumbering form drew the covers in around her, and the man making coffee, or perhaps a different man (people wandered in and out – “there are three other people under the bed,” joked one viewer), had now sat down in the beer koozie chair and was reading a book. Their disinterest was such that it was as if Edith were not in the room at all, as if she were a ghost. This only raised the frenzy of the chatters, who couldn’t fathom how anyone could ignore such an angelic creature in their midst.
The best of Chaturbate’s performers, like Edith, could draw in thousands of viewers by just lying around or chatting, and one felt compelled to linger and watch them the way one might put down a book to watch a housepet wander around the living room. (Often in fact, one was watching someone’s golden retriever or tortoiseshell cat, which was usually grabbed and forced to settle peevishly in a lap.) Chatrubate Headquarters
One day, Edith did a 24-hour marathon, which is something that people occasionally do. She began in early afternoon, fully dressed in a blue baby-doll dress patterned with roses, smoking cigarettes in her bedroom and holding forth to an audience of more than 2,000 people content just to listen to her talk. “I will be getting naked, absolutely, when the time comes,” she said. “But if you’re trying to bust a nut in 10 minutes you might want to go to another room and come back.” She talked about her early forays into webcamming. She had begun some six months before on the site My Free Cams, under another literary name. She was banned when she mimed hanging herself with a Hitachi Magic Wand one day when the people chatting with her started demanding illegal requests, and she switched to Chaturbate. She talked about her favorite pornos, including a video called “Sasha Grey Takes Many Dicks.” She liked Stoya’s writing but thinks she’s overrated – too “generic porn girl.” Someone asked her if she likes James Deen. “I’m not really into male porn stars,” she said.
Edith was herself contacted by a porn agent once. Initially the idea appealed to her: living in a house with other porn performers, with their own driver, hair stylists, and a swimming pool. She talked to the other girls in the house. “They all had names like Tiffany and Mercedes and they were, like, ‘I get paid to bone.'” Edith mimed shooting herself in the head in exasperation. The porn agent had talked down to her, and after some evasion of the question eventually told her the job would involve boy-girl sex (in porn industry parlance men are boys and women are girls). Edith was a virgin and not interested, so she did not sign up. She said she told the guy he was an “arrogant, condescending asshole” and that she “hoped his dick would fall off.” Chatrubate Headquarters
This story was written by Emily Witt. It was edited by Mark Lotto, fact-checked by Hilary Elkins, and copy-edited by Lawrence Levi. full article here: https://medium.com/matter/are-you-internet-sexual-1f855e113df