“You Can Look but You Can’t Touch”: Women’s Experiences of Webcam Sex Work in Aotearoa/New Zealand
Sex work is a contested subject in academia, particularly in the realm of feminist research. Many argue that sex work should be recognised as a legitimate and rationally chosen form of labour, and that decriminalisation (Aotearoa/New Zealand’s legal model) is necessary to ensure the safety of sex workers and reduce their stigmatisation. However, a prevailing argument remains that sex work is inherently violent and oppressive, and that all sex workers are directly or indirectly coerced into participating in the industry. These arguments have been complicated by digital technologies that allow people to sell sexual services without being physically proximate to clients or pimps.
One example of digitally-mediated sex work is the practice of ‘camming’, wherein ‘webcam models’ (or ‘cam girls’ if women) livestream sexual performances for payment. Camming is relatively novel, and remains underexplored in academia. The experiences of cam girls in the decriminalised Aotearoa/New Zealand context have not yet been explored in any capacity, and will therefore be the focus of this thesis. For this project, I interviewed eight Aotearoa/New Zealand cam girls (aged 22-34) and investigated their talk using critical thematic analysis, while drawing on insights offered by feminist poststructural analysis, to identify common discursive threads in relation to their work and their subjectivities.
The analysis identified that the camming processes and perceptions of the work varied significantly across participants, suggesting that cam work should not be considered homogenous. Camming was also found to be a ‘nexus of labour’, wherein a great deal of physical, emotional and psychological effort was expended, much of which was uncompensated and took place outside of paid sessions. Finally, participants described appreciating being physically safe but emphasised that camming has its own unique and significant dangers.
Overall, this thesis seeks to challenge rigid definitions of sex work and polarised academic approaches to the topic, adding further research to support sex workers’ rights and highlighting new legal and ethical issues to consider in a new media environment.