Typically, camgirls (and boys) will offer some form of entertainment and those watching are able to leave money, tips or donations for the performer using their credit card.

Popular sites include Chaturbate, Streamate, Adultwork, My Free Cams, Live Jasmine, Flirt4Free, Suicide Girls and Webcamstartup. 

Theoretically speaking, any form of performance is possible, such as baking a cake, but in general camming tends to be sexual in nature. Since performers are able to engage with the people watching them, usually via text chat, performances range widely from suggestive flirting (often young girls with much older men), to performing sexual acts on demand (masturbating) in front of the camera, to full live sex. 

This, according to a psychologist based in the Cape Town’s leafy southern suburbs, who prefers to remain anonymous to protect her clients. 

“From what I have seen in my own work,” Dr S* told us, “the performers are often young to late adolescent girls. They are often university students, young travellers, or high school scholars. They reflect the demographics of my practice and hence tend to be white middle class and upper middle-class female university students from well to do backgrounds.”  

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We asked her what motivates these young women to perform on camera for money

“I am sure there are many different reasons for doing this, including easy money, but I have been surprised at how the girls in question have not been in desperate need of money and would quite easily have other opportunities open to them.”

“Some find the thrill of being desired by many and engaging sexually in a way that allows them to be excited, to excite, to earn money, to have no obligations, and to feel in full control to be quite enticing. To these, the experience feels like a taste of stardom”, she said.

“For others, receiving attention from men in a way that is so clearly transactional and explicitly sexual feels safe. These performers find security in not being confused by whether the person wants to love and care for them or is just interested in them sexually. They might not be particularly interested in the sexual part themselves but they are comfortable with the exchange that takes place.” 

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Camgirls are just modern Can Can dancers

Dr S reminds us that with porn as prevalent as it is, this has become quite normalised in society. For some, she adds, these performances are probably seen in a similar light as to how ‘Can Can’ dancers once were. 

Dudu Nhlabathi, a South African dating coach also known as Dear Sis Dudu, says that camming is becoming more socially acceptable to the young generation, because “this is how they socialise and they don’t see a big deal about it”. 

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Surely there are risks for those involved in this kind of work? 

One never knows what behaviour would have been carried out in place of camming if this online opportunity was not present, Dr S says. “In-person sexual promiscuity and sex work carries a number of risks that don’t need elaborating. Camming brings its own set of risks. Although the performers will often sign up on a site that is most viewed in a country different to their own, this does not prevent them from being discovered by people they know.”

Dudu warns that performers can develop a false sense of security, expecting that they are safe because they are far removed from their audience and protected behind the camera. She explains that the world is extremely small and we all have a digital footprint. If a performer is recognised in the public domain, she is at risk. South African camgirl Angie Jewels agrees. 

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“There’s no such thing as privacy, sorry to say. So many times I’ve blocked South Africa’s IP range so it can’t access my cam, and I get a room full of South Africans! That just doesn’t work. Also, if you’re looking to be serious about it, and to be a webcam model, you have to be okay with the fact that you’re going to get found out,” she said. 

Risks include exposure, extortion, stalking and more. It is also easy for the material produced to find its way onto other networks and it can be near impossible to remove something once it has been placed online.

“I do not believe these performers have given much thought to the potential consequences of their actions or the idea that material could end up in front of a future boss or be being watched by their father in law,” Dr S said. “I suspect that some people are able to do work like this and remain unharmed, but I generally feel concerned when I listen to the stories.” 

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How can women who choose this work stay safe?

Angie Jewels says camming is not the same as what it’s like in the rest of the adult industry, “it’s really dangerous. I feel that a lot of the girls really need to be educated on this.”

We asked South African sex educator Kate Rowe how the young women who choose to participate in camming can stay safe, both emotionally and physically.

Kate explains that in order to protect themselves, performers need to know and be able to discern their own boundaries and to be able to clearly communicate their yes and no. “You need to be able to look inwards and inquire what is okay for you and what is not, and what is motivating your choices,” she says. 

As for those who don’t support or understand why a young woman would choose to participate in camming, Kate says “In situations which are rooted in sexuality and mixed in with the shame and negativity which is associated with them,” she said, “it is important to choose curiosity over judgement. We need to firstly acknowledge our own perceptions and judgements, and recognise how they may be affecting how we see the people who choose to do this work.” 

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“It is not okay for women to own their desire.”

“In any sexuality-based work, whether you are a sex worker, a porn producer, an erotic fiction writer or someone who cams, you are slap bang in the middle of the quagmire of unspoken, unfelt and unmet needs, along with the long term paradigm of sex is bad,” Kate explains, “and the story which says “It is not okay, especially for women, to own their desire.”

In these situations, keeping oneself safe is a priority.

For many women there is a learnt narrative which says how you look, your body and how much you are desired by others is intrinsically linked to your value and self-worth.

“Someone may want to break down boundaries or break out of a stifling environment where they feel very controlled. They may want to explore power and sex (consciously or unconsciously). They may want to feel in control, or they may want to feel loved and adored,” Kate says. 

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Chasing adoration is a risky business 

Performers might be driven to reveal more and more, or to perform more and more explicit acts, to maintain or to gain attention. Dudu says that when performers are offered increasingly higher amounts of money to perform certain acts, the risks of them loosening their boundaries increases too. 

Kate says “If someone is not able to look inwards at what the internal motivation is and to take care of their own emotional needs, this work can be damaging and dangerous. Women can keep themselves safe when they have the tools, skills and awareness to make choices which are healthy.” 

An international website called O Camgirl offers professional camgirls “unbiased, actual information about the webcam modelling industry.” The site posts that “camming is not a quick fix for financial troubles. If you’re interested in becoming a cam model, you need to know what you’re doing and who you’re working with.” 

If you’re in need of local professional support, browse www.therapyroute.com to find a qualified psychologist. 

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