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Aug 12 16 12:29 PM

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Priceconomics

The Life of a Phone Sex Operator


By†Alex†Price

08/11/2016

 


On the first night that Anton had professional phone sex, he gathered several sex toys, a deck

of cards, a pair of sandals, and a rubber band ball.

Anton, a transgender man transitioning from female to male, had delayed this moment for a

month. He felt ashamed about doing sex work and too introverted to speak intimately with

strangers. So, to make the task more familiar, the movie geek and former thespian built a

sound effects kit. The sandals made a spanking sound; snapping a rubber band sounded like a

small slap.

Working from home, Anton slept with his headphones on. When he received a call through his

laptop, it woke him up, and he’d try to satisfy callers. Some men wanted Anton, whose voice

sounds feminine, to feel scared as they acted out a sexual fantasy. Some men just wanted to

talk. Some men wanted to tell Anton that they were wearing women’s clothes and “being

naughty.”

Over his first weeks, Anton made around $200. It wasn’t a lot. But it meant Anton could pay

the next month’s bills, and it was better than the $1.35 he earned by clicking online ads for

hours. Anton says he suffers from mental health problems, which make him anxious, and a

severe case of scoliosis that makes it increasingly painful to move. He recently had to quit his

job at a domestic violence shelter, and he’d turned to phone sex work because his disability

check could not cover all his bills.

Anton’s case is not unique. We spoke with eight phone sex operators (PSOs), as well as a

representative of a large phone sex website, the former owner of a phone sex business, and a

woman who advises PSOs. While many phone sex operators choose their profession out of

personal preference, a picture emerged of an industry with particular appeal to individuals

(mainly women) who can’t access the traditional job market.

For women with physical disabilities, people with mental health problems, and mothers with

young children, the flexibility, low barriers to entry, and highearning

potential all make phone

sex a practical choice. Where the safety net of government assistance, charity, and family

support falls short, phone sex—and sex work in general—can fill in the gaps.

***

Today, free pornography is ubiquitous online, and anyone willing to pay for virtual sex can

watch performers live over a webcam. Many of the sex magazines that advertised phone sex

numbers have disappeared. For this reason, phone sex can seem as outdated as a VCR. Even

sex work researchers express surprise at the industry’s continued existence.

But phone sex still exists.

Its origins date to the 1980s, when American telephone companies introduced

(http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/16/style/justaphonecallawaymoredialitservices.

html) dedicated “dialaporn”

phone numbers. The service complemented other paid

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phone lines that connected callers with vendors who quoted stock prices, told jokes, or

reported sports scores. Dialaporn

was a hit, attracting 19 million calls

(https://books.google.com/books/about/Vocal_Tracks.html?id=IhdNPgAACAAJ) during its

New York debut. A Supreme Court decision (http://articles.latimes.com/19890624/

news/mn1868_

1_dialapornindustryindecentbroadcastsfirstamendment)

helped it

survive the attacks of outraged parents and conservative legislators.

PSOs credit the industry’s continued existence to the aspects that differentiate it from

pornography.

“Many men experience pleasure listening to the sound of a woman's voice without looking at a

bright computer screen,” explains Isabella Valentine (http://isabellavalentine.net/), a fulltime

PSO. (The vast majority of phone sex operators are women, and the majority of callers are

men.) In fact, people found hearing a voice over the phone alluring long before phone sex

existed—articles published in the early 1900s describe

(https://books.google.com/books/about/Vocal_Tracks.html?id=IhdNPgAACAAJ) female

telephone operators receiving marriage proposals from strangers.

“Phone sex is quite liberating,” adds Lynn, who works in phone sex and advises PSOs. Callers

can imagine that they are “six foot seven and hung like a stallion if they want.” And a

surprising amount of phone sex has nothing to do with sex. Lynn talks with callers she’s known

for years about their days and consoles them if a loved one has died.

Phone sex offers something different from porn and webcams. So, while there are no market

industry reports on the size of the business, phone sex seems to have adapted to the Internet

rather than fallen victim to it. Instead of finding a phone number in a smut magazine, men

now go to phone sex websites like Niteflirt (http://niteflirt.com/). Erin M., head of customer

relations at Niteflirt, says that the website’s phone sex business grows at the same steady rate

as their secondary camming offerings, and that Niteflirt has tens of thousands of active PSO

accounts.

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A recent screenshot of the Niteflirt (https://pixabay.com/en/girlwomanfemaleladyattractive791686/)

listings of independent phone sex operators.

One of the bigger changes brought about by the Internet is that it’s now easier for people to

freelance as phone sex operators. While some women installed special home lines for phone

sex in the nineties, more commonly they worked out of cubicles as employees of phone sex

companies.

In contrast, websites like Niteflirt are platforms connecting callers and operators. All that a

PSO needs to receive a call is an Internet connection.

For women who can’t work a traditional job and need a quick source of income, that makes

phone sex work appealing.

***

“These conversations happen,” Anton explains. “You ask your friends, ‘What would you do if

you were in a pinch?’ Sex work comes up.”

Anton felt that pinch in March, when he realized he’d have to leave his job working a night

shift at a domestic violence center. His employers had bent over backwards for him, and most

nights, he could lay down while answering the hotline. But sometimes a crisis—like an abusive

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husband showing up at the shelter—would send him running, unleashing waves of anxiety and

back pain. With his spine curvature worsening, he couldn’t do the job anymore.

Some Internet browsing led Anton to Lynn, an escort turned phone sex operator who also

advises aspiring PSOs through her website (http://phonesexsecrets.info/2014/10/phonesexsecretsthreeyearsasuperhero.

html/phonesexsecretslynnsuperhero)

and personal

consulting sessions. Lynn has loyal callers who she expects to send her anniversary presents,

and she enjoys her work. Most of the women who seek her out, though, are simply “desperate

for money.”

“Single mothers or divorce situations or a husband laid off,” Lynn says, “those situations come

up quite a bit.”

Lynn begins her sessions by talking with women about whether they should do phone sex at

all. The resume gap of years spent as a PSO can’t easily be explained to employers, and Lynn

has heard of exhusbands

weaponizing a woman’s phone sex work in court cases over child

custody.

She also cautions women that the money isn’t easy. PSO work is more like starting a small

business: Marketing is important, and the big paydays are down the road. The people who

succeed tend to either enjoy the work or feel that failing is not an option. “Having a hungry

child is a huge motivator,” Lynn says.

Anton does not have children, but that is how he felt. He’d trained to be an art teacher, and

he’d prefer to do freelance writing or editing. “The first person I told about doing [phone sex], I

cried and said ‘don’t judge me,’” he says. So he created a Niteflirt profile, a website, and a

Twitter account for his PSO persona. He used a picture he took with his face half covered by a

wig, and he photoshopped out identifying features. It’s a woman’s wig, and Anton sounds

feminine, but he decided to be honest that he identifies as a man and that his voice may drop.

Each night, after doctor appointments about pain management or his gender transition, he sits

in a chair or lies on a cinderblock shelf with his laptop, headphones, and sound effects kit.

Sometimes a pleasant chime wakes him up for a call. But usually the only sound is the fan that

Anton leaves on to mask any noises that may trigger his anxiety.

“I’ll just sit here for hours,” he reported in late April. “Sometimes for days.”

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(https://unsplash.com/photos/XyNi3rUEReE)

***

Although little hard data exists about sex workers due to criminalization and stigma, people

like Kate D’Adamo, a National Policy Advocate at the Sex Workers Project

(http://sexworkersproject.org/), say that sex work often serves as an important source of

income for people struggling with formal employment or sudden financial hardships.

“It’s definitely not uncommon for folks who are dealing with disability to enter sex work,” she

says. “The underlying theme is [people find sex work when they] have a financial situation that

has to be met in some informal way. They’re downsizing; their hours are cut back; they’re

going to school again; they’re a mom. That’s always going to be—although not for everyone—

pretty much the common theme.”


Many of these people receive assistance from government programs. But many don’t, and

there’s no bright line between college students stripping to cover their bills and someone who

“has no other option.”

Compared to prostitution, stripping, pornography, and other forms of sex work, though,

several attributes of phone sex make it particularly practical for people, like Anton, who can’t

access formal employment.

The most obvious advantage is the ability to work from home. Phone sex gives Anton an

income that doesn’t require physical exertion. Another phone sex operator—a young woman

who says she was sexually assaulted, has PTSD, and is stalked by her assailant—appreciates

being able to stay home and interact with people on her own terms.

While this benefit is obvious for people with physical disabilities, mental health advocates

stress the difficulty of focusing and managing anxiety for people with conditions like

depression. “Doing phone calls from the house, or doing things from a safe space, those are

great [ways] to make money” for people in recovery, says Theresa Nguyen of Mental Health

America.

Similarly, the flexibility of phone sex appeals to women taking care of children or sick parents,

as well as PSOs with disabilities. Although peak phone sex hours are evenings and nights, time

zones increase the number of profitable hours, and for people exhausted by physical or mental

health challenges, choosing how much to work is helpful.

Phone sex is also rare in that age and appearance are almost a nonissue.

Lynn says she knows

PSOs making over $100,000 a year in their sixties. Unlike other sex work, where women earn

less as they age, phone sex operators can earn more by building a brand over time. Lynn even

suspects that PSOs in their twenties are disadvantaged by having less experience reading men.

Most importantly, it’s possible to get started immediately in phone sex. That’s helpful for

anyone with a disability who keeps hearing “No” from hiring managers, or anyone with a

sudden budget shortfall. Although it also means more competition that lowers prices.

Saying how much the average PSO makes is difficult. Time on the phone is lucrative: By the

minute, newbies might charge under a dollar; a typical PSO might charge two dollars; and the

rare star with a strong brand might charge $50.

But this doesn’t account for the time PSOs spend on marketing or the cut (around 30% to 50%)

taken by sites like Niteflirt, and it’s impossible to schedule calls one after the other. Many

operators spend time watching Netflix or doing chores between calls.

Then again, PSOs can also sell extras like audio recordings, video clips, or used underwear, and

some phone sex operators do additional sex work like meeting clients for escorting or sex.

Although the work can be lucrative, it appears that only a minority make a fulltime

living from

phone sex. Erin M. of Niteflirt says the site has tens of thousands of active accounts, but fewer

than 2,000 make over $10,000 a year. Niteflirt users who earn that much, Erin says, tend to

devote 40 hour weeks to their business. For most PSOs, phone sex supplements other income

or fills a small budget deficit.


Not every PSO turns to phone sex as a last resort. Nancy Ava Miller

(http://www.nancyava.com/) started a BDSM phone sex company as an extension of her work

creating support groups for people interested in stigmatized fetishes. Lynn once left sex work,

but returned to it because she missed connecting with clients. Dahlia Raine, a PSO and sex

worker, likes both the money (she previously made $80 a day as an administrative assistant

with a college degree) and the kink lifestyle.

The fact that many sex workers enjoy and value the services they provide is a driving force

behind the movement to legalize and destigmatize

sex work.

Still, for many individuals, phone sex is a necessity for when formal employment fails. We

spoke to or learned about single mothers who work as PSOs while their young children sleep;

people like Anton, whose physical or mental health problems pushed them to look into phone

sex work; and women for whom taking care of sick, aging parents is a fulltime

endeavor.

Erin, the Niteflirt representative, says that around half of the PSOs who post on internal

forums or contact customer support bring up that they appreciate the flexibility of phone sex

work for these reasons. Lynn links some of the practicality of PSO work to the fact that women

tend to earn less than men while bearing childcare responsibilities that can make leaving the

house a problem. There is a troubling symmetry to the fact that women hurt by gender norms

may feel compelled to rely on those same gender norms in the phone sex business.

Katherine Koster of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (http://www.swopusa.org/) also sees

sex work fitting into the gig economy: In the same way that the middle class is reacting to a

poor economy by renting out rooms on Airbnb and driving for Uber, they are taking up phone

sex.

In many ways, the stability required to be a PSO—in the form of an Internet connection and

quiet, personal space—make it a more middle class form of hustling than the alternatives

(prostitution or illegal drug sales) available to the destitute.

(https://pixabay.com/en/girlwomanfemaleladyattractive791686/)

***

The United States has innumerable laws and programs to help people who might turn to phone

sex in desperation.

Welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and the earned

income tax credit all devote billions and billions of dollars to helping Americans in poverty.

For the one in five Americans with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires

that employers make “reasonable accommodations.” Other programs offer insurance payments

to workers who have become disabled and supported employment to help people with

disabilities join the workforce. While we typically link disabilities with physical injuries, mental

illness is the leading and fastest growing (http://www.nami.org/AboutNAMI/PublicationsReports/

PublicPolicyReports/Road to Recovery.pdf) condition among beneficiaries of federal

disability benefits.

How generously the American government should help vulnerable or struggling citizens is a

question of values. But a recurring theme of statistical reviews of government poverty and

disability programs is that they reduce poverty and unemployment rates without providing

enough aid to eliminate economic anxiety.

“The perception that there are people living extravagant lifestyles is so wrong,” says Theresa

Nguyen of Mental Health America, as she explains that people with mental illnesses who

successfully navigate the benefits process might receive $800 a month. “It’s hard. You have to

live within your means and budget, and sometimes it takes all your time to figure out how to

get food and basic necessities.”

This has been the case for Anton, who receives disability assistance, subsidized health care

(due to his low income), and had help finding an apartment from a nonprofit. Yet it’s still not

enough for his spartan lifestyle in a neighborhood where he keeps the lights on 24/7 to feel

safe.

Anton has now been taking phone sex calls most every night for three months. He faces long

stretches of silence, but he does have a few regulars who help him earn $200 a month. He says

that’s just enough to allow him to afford rent, food, medications, electricity, Internet, and gas.

His next goal is to make enough from phone sex to buy a bed or a second chair.

“When my friends come over,” Anton says, “there’s no place to sit.” That said, between

interrupting his sleep for phone sex and getting himself to doctor appointments, Anton doesn’t

have much energy for social visits.

Over time, Anton has learned how to market himself as a sweet, romantic PSO with an unusual

voice. He’s learned to say “no” to men who want an experience he doesn’t want to provide, and

to attract callers who he’ll enjoy talking to.

“I’m glad for the experience, all in all,” he says. “But if I could do something else, I definitely

would.”

"I would no more be a Master than a slave. It does not conform to my idea of Democracy." Abraham Lincoln 1856.

Last Edited By: UncleLewis Aug 12 16 1:11 PM. Edited 2 times