Sexcam therapy

Inside the cam site offering psychosexual therapy to anxious users.

The home screen of Stripchat’s sexcam site is mass of pink, moving flesh. Each square features the face and body of a semi-naked performer, writhing and thrusting in their own little video world.

School_​Teach, a dark haired temptress” with a Pulp Fiction-era Uma Thurman bob and a heaving cleavage, is deep-throating a banana. MilkyFetishMegan appears to be a huge pair of faceless, headless breasts, nipples like beady eyes staring out of the screen. GingerSnaps, a polyamorous couple (winners of the YNOT award for Best Cam Couple, 2019”), are pleasuring one another and three different women. I click into the video and Queen’s Somebody to Love plays in the background. All the performers are broadcasting live from their bedrooms, in every corner of the world.

It’s a relentless flesh-show, except for one incongruous window. There, a man lounges casually in a blue open-neck shirt in front of a sunny backdrop. Click on him and you enter a chat with Dr David Ley, a psychosexual therapist hired by Stripchat to offer free group therapy sessions for site users.

He’s here because Stripchat’s clients are anxious. The site recently carried out a survey of 6,000 users, the majority of which are men aged 18 – 24. It found that 11% worry a lot” about their use of webcams. In fact, the site was surprised by the earnestness of users’ queries, which ranged from: Is masturbation unhealthy?”, to: Am I cheating on my partner?” And worryingly: Am I ruined for real relationships?” Meanwhile, a staggering 40% said they have fallen in love with performers. 

With a level of social conscience largely unseen in the porn world they decided to tackle these issues head-on. Which is where Dr Ley comes in: therapist and author of The Myth Of Sex Addiction.

There’s a difference between feeling your use of pornography is out of control and it actually being out of control.”

Ley says Stripchat, alongside the Sexual Health Alliance, approached him because they wanted a psychologist who was supportive of non shaming, healthy approaches” to tackling the issues which can arise with regular sexcam use. The question is, can a brief session of online counselling truly help someone who thinks they’re addicted to porn and cam girls?

In one open door session he reaches several hundred users, and as with the other windows, once you’ve joined, you get to ask Dr Ley questions. Some are mocking (one users says Ley looks like an alcoholic doctor”) but most are openly concerned. Is spending four hours a day looking at sexy webcams too much?” queries one user. Dr Ley seems to think not: If you spent five hours a day watching TV, would you be worried that you’re addicted to TV?” he asks.

In fact, offering a slightly skewed analogy, Dr Ley argues that there’s a difference between feeling your use of pornography is out of control and it actually being out of control. You can feel like you are out of control on a roller coaster, but all of the time you are perfectly in control.”

From answers like these, it’s hard to know whether the therapy” is there to offer serious help or to keep people on the site by putting a verbal plaster over some very real fears. After all, drowning out the noise of a hundred moans of pleasure is the relentless kerr-ching of transactions. Access to the performers is mediated through an interface that charges you by the interaction. The sound of money thrums louder here than at any expensive bar. Users buy tokens in packages – i.e. 90 tokens for $9.99, 2255 tokens for $199.99 – and every token spent gets a loud ping” onscreen which allows them to interact with their chosen performer. It’s not unusual, says the site, for a single punter to spend $10,000 a month on sexcams. From that perspective, it doesn’t make a huge deal of sense to their business model to hire a therapist who’d tell users to log off. 

Which, arguably, is exactly what some might need. Far from a niche problem, therapist Paula Hall of sex and porn addiction counsellors The Laurel Centre says sexcam addicts make up an increasingly large number of the clients who come to her for help. She says users become hooked on the fantasy that this is a more personal relationship than simple, free-to-air pornography. 

People start spending more time and money than they intend to,” says Hall. They keep chasing that same dopamine hit. They start noticing they are not spending time with loved ones, or are leaving the club early to spend more time on these sites. They might then gravitate to using them at work. Often it ends with them using the work computer. That can end their career and I’ve seen people lose a marriage over it.” Earlier this year, 38-year-old Andrew Barnbrook even defrauded his employer of £250k in order to fund his addiction to camming with one specific woman.

It’s understandable that the lines between reality and fantasy can become blurred. Each Stripchat show gives the viewer an intoxicating insight into a performer’s world; for that tiny window of time, you’re in their room, almost as if – say it quietly – you had gone back to their place after a date. It’s a plastic intimacy, but every detail has the power to pull you in further: the empty cup in the background with the inspirational slogan on it, the mismatched pillow and duvet set, the name tattooed above a right hip. KirstieVegas, a red lipped brunette camming from France has a Captain America pillowcase. Is that because she loves Captain America or because Marvel films are a good hook to get men chatting? 

And they do love to chat. User questions roll-in to the performers with machine-gun rapidity, from politely framed sexual requests – please tell me to masturbate” – to chit-chat about histories and hobbies – Where are you from?”, Do you play COD?” – to blunt demands – Are you really cumming?” and Can you squirt?” (this last question features in every chatroom I enter). 

It [sexcam] was better than dating — there was no rejection, no games — you’d chat to a sexy girl and then you’d get the sex.”

Stripchat’s performers have even begun to take steps to deter their fans from becoming obsessive. I let users know that I am not interested in dating and I establish boundaries,” says Melrose Strip, 26, a cam girl of 3 years. She can broadcast to 1000 users, four times per week and says she’s continually walking a tight-rope between keeping the guys interested and fending off negative attention. 

Darnell*, 27, has been using cam sites for two years. I find him on a sexcam confessions thread of the forum NoFapp” – an anti-porn use site where men counsel each other on how to stop masturbating to hardcore images. Also on NoFapp are wives and girlfriends who are either hoping to save their partner from the clutches of sex addiction or are trying to make sense of its fallout. Darnell is scared his work colleagues or family will find out how he spends most evenings.

He says his sexcam use came out of Pornhub. That was my gateway drug,” he says over email. He began obsessing over a Russian cam girl who he saw on the free-to-air porn site. But, having grown bored of the same 6 – 7 videos available of her, Darnell began looking for more and stumbled across her profile on a paid-for sexcam site. This, he says, was his chance to chat to her for real.

I thought I was better than the other guys that were already chatting to her,” he says. I’d say things like: Your dimples when you smile are so cute.” Or I’d ask her about an R’n’B track I’d heard her play on a previous video. She responded really well. I felt like I’d won the hot girl at school.”

Darnell says this new kink felt more refined than watching basic porn flicks that were created for everybody. He became more obsessive. He’d Shazam all the tracks that his cam girl would play in her sex shows just so he could chat to her about them and was quickly running up bills of $40 – 50 a week on her shows.

It was better than dating,” he says. There was no rejection, no games. You’d chat to a sexy girl and then you’d get the sex. You’d watch her masturbate, see how she gets off. But then I’d get agitated when other users made comments about her body, that she had a pretty pussy. I was angry they wanted her too.”

Darnell has graduated to other cam girls too but is keen to slow his use down. I’m spending $400 a month and drinking black coffee to stay up chatting to them, to keep them all happy. I love it but hate myself at the same time.”

I think about Darnell as I watch Dr Ley in his Stripchat window. He says there is no evidence porn is addictive, that it’s actually advisable you ejaculate 21 times a month for the good of your prostate and that – if you are worrying you are spending too long with online sex – you should simply up your intake of activities you consider healthy” i.e. exercise or socialising, rather than reduce your porn consumption. Our issues with porn, he says, are not necessarily linked to the porn itself but rather to the shame society foists on us for watching it.


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