A Porn Star Isn't Your Friend If You Are Paying Her to Be Your Friend

Having accomplished its goal of turning every teenager on Earth into a sext-crazed fiend, social media is now having its way with the adult film industry. According to a piece that Aurora Snow wrote for the Daily Beast, social media has revolutionized the porn industry by facilitating new relationships between porn "superfans" and the porn stars they idolize. At an increasing rate, adult film performers are turning to private webcam shows, either to supplement their income or as a replacement job. And, according to Snow, their devoted fans are following them:

Superfans are willing to go the extra mile, shelling out hard-earned cash for a girl they have never met and most likely never will, but they hand over their earnings regardless. It's a new kind of relationship.

Fans pay for one-on-one time with their performers of choice, and the truly devoted tend to get even more involved. It's not uncommon for "superfans" to ply their favorite cam girls with gifts and "financial contributions."

On one hand, this "new kind of relationship" is sort of progressive, as it allows women in the adult industry to have greater agency and to make their own decisions regarding how they're presented. Ruby Knox, an adult film star who made the switch to webcam shows, decided to do so because she felt that "the industry was incorrectly dictating what type of persona I was exemplifying." As a "cam girl," she's capable of controlling every aspect of how she presents herself, which a significant and empowering change.

However, the relationship between a paying superfan and the cam girl of his choice is immensely complicated and pretty problematic. Although, on the surface level, it may seem like straightforward transaction, it's rife with unspoken expectations. Snow addresses this problem, and then quickly backtracks:

Superfans who are buying relationships with gifts, financial contributions, or their regular cam sessions stand out and the objects of their affection begin to take notice. Suddenly, there is more of an obligation to answer the superfan’s emails, to want to please back by filming the kinds of scenes he wants to see. While the generosity is appreciated (who doesn't love gifts?), fans don't have to buy our attention just to be heard.

The superfan is not simply paying a cam girl to talk to him, and he's not just paying her to perform sexual activities on camera: he's paying her to act out his fantasies in a way that masquerades as a normal relationship or friendship. If a fan is paying a performer's bills and buying her expensive gifts regularly, there's a great amount of financial pressure on her to behave in ways that please him specifically. Although it's true that fans don't have to buy attention, those fans who do buy attention end up with an uncomfortable amount of control over their favorite performer. Take the case of Nick, for example:

Nick, a superfan visionary, invested time, money, and patience into one of his favorite porn star's careers. "I spent a certain amount of money every month for two years on a certain porn star to invest in her career, so she could pay her bills and had regular money,” he said. “I presume it was like an investment: she had regular money coming in every month so she could plan for that." Tired of the monotonous content, Nick's goal was to help create better porn from afar, and he was willing to pay for it in an unconventional way. "I became a solid partner in her career; we discussed concepts and companies for her to work for."

It's not difficult to argue that paying all of someone's bills and then telling her what career decisions to make is an act of financial coercion. It's misleading of Nick to claim that he's a "solid partner" in her career if she depends on him to support herself. If her livelihood depends on keeping him happy — as an individual, not as someone who belongs to the generalized category of "fan" — then there's no way that the two can be on equal footing, even if Nick does believe that he has her best interests at heart.

Furthermore, by weakening the boundary between fantasy and reality, the superfan-cam girl relationship causes men to conflate the two and promotes an unhealthy view of gender relations. For instance, one man, Brent, sees himself as being in a relationship with three webcam girls at the same time. “I do everything I can to make them happy," he claims. "I spend just as much time and money on them as I would a girlfriend, and we never fight." Wow, Brent, your three girlfriends sound so cool! I'm sure it's just a coincidence that you're paying them to behave however you desire! While Brent has tried actual dating, according to the article, "he prefers his hassle-free relationships with his favorite cam girls." It's fine to see paying for webcam sex as a hobby, but when it becomes a viable model — or a seemingly acceptable replacement — for a real relationship, then it becomes troubling.

While it's admirable (and deeply necessary) for women in porn to assert their individual interest and make their own decisions, this is not a real solution to the systematic problems that plague the industry. Because this type of relationship serves as a continuation of the belief that women exist to act out men's fantasies, it's not liberatory. Furthermore, it doesn't really provide women with financial freedom: it merely provides them with another source of income that's centered around male desire. It's completely fine for women in porn to engage in relationships like this if they so choose, but to depict the extreme variations of this strange power dynamic as 'fun, normal friendships plus presents plus a little bit of superfan input!' is misleading and wrong.

"Porn Superfans: Aurora Snow on the Relationship Between Cam Girls and Their Fans" [Daily Beast]

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