The streetwalkers move to the sidewalk as middle class, college-aged girls and older women alike take the digital screen.
Author’s Note: This post is a spin-off from my last post, Exploiting Online Attention (2020 December 9). Readers may need to read this post first before continuing. This is the also the first, introductory, part of a series of related posts to come over the next few weeks, as described below.
The Disintermediation of Sex
Prior to the rise of the internet, and particularly the user-driven, social media phase of the internet, the sex industry was mostly a seedy subculture that was gate-kept by “professionals” comprised of extremely unsavory, shifty individuals of corrupt character. Being a participant in this industry, no matter whether one was a professional or a client, bore the popular image of being an indigent-class desperado and/or a deviant.
During this period, a woman would generally not opt to participate in the various permutations of the sex industry, from stripping to peep shows, from prostitution to pornography, unless she had fallen into dire circumstances and was completely desperate and destitute.
Today, that is no longer the case.
While the women who participate in the various aspects of the sex industry are still very much a self-selected group and a decided minority of women, it’s not nearly as small as the group was when the industry was run by the pimps, madams, strip club kingpins and pornographers. And the motivations of many in the group have changed — for many of the women, participation in the industry isn’t “survival as a last resort option”, which it often was in the days of pimps and the rest, but is a lifestyle choice based on other options available for income generation for students or office workers who are looking for supplemental income, travel, gifts and the like. In the past, these kinds of women had very low participation rates in this industry, but this is not so today — today it is a different scene, precisely because the internet has disintermediated the sex industry, which is having a spillover impact on the entire sexual marketplace (SMP).
When everything became digitized through the rise of the internet, the first impact was felt by providers of content that could be easily digitized (music, books, videos) and distributed in digital format more cheaply than traditional “hard copy” content providers could do, and without the “middleman” of book stores, record shops and video stores, all of whom took a “cut” of the profit while also controlling the distribution of the material. Next to be hit were “brick and mortar” retailers, which gradually found that their own models for logistics, distribution and product sales were being replaced by Amazon and its imitators who, again, succeeded in removing the layers of middlemen and replacing them with one consolidated middleman — Amazon itself or its lookalike site — which acted as the principal distribution source for … well, after a while, just about everything other than groceries and fresh meals. The wave of disintermediation and the creation of consolidated online “clearinghouse” middleman entities on the internet marched ruthlessly through almost all of the consumer-facing economy, from travel agencies to hotels to taxicabs.
The rise of the internet was, of course, associated with the rise of online pornography in the 1990s, which then spread to the proliferation of online porn videos in the 2000s with the growth of the availability of broadband internet. This represented the disruption of the prior distribution channels for porn, which were newsstands, erotic book and video shops, and seedy XXX theaters.
The Smartphone Changes Everything
But the true sea change came with the rise of the smartphone. The first iPhone was released in June 2007, and by 2011 or so penetration rates of smartphones were becoming substantial throughout the developed world. The smartphone was unique in that it provided high resolution, ultra-portable still and video cameras to a large number of people (eventually over a billion), which over the course of time enabled more and more people to take pictures and videos of themselves and, by virtue of the nature of the smartphone as an “always on” internet access device, to share these images and videos with people. Social media, a creation of the 2000s, found new applications with the rise of the smartphone, as platforms like Instagram became the near ubiquitous means by which people shared and viewed images of others. In the course of a literal handful of years, virtually anyone in the developed world could take pictures and videos of themselves and share them almost instantly with as many, or as few, people as they wanted.
The impact of this was nothing short of revolutionary, and the appreciation of this impact on the ever-changing minefield of male-female relations is widely overlooked or misunderstood. The effects were legion. One of the most salient, which we have addressed elsewhere, has been the rise of smartphone-based app dating from not existing at all to being the primary means by which people meet the opposite sex in less than a decade.
Another substantial effect of the rise of smartphones, however, has been the large-scale privatization and amateurization of the sex industry. The pre-smart phone internet had already begun this process, with prostitution becoming largely disintermediated by means of websites which played the role of the “Amazon of Prostitution” by providing a single middle-man, accessible by content providers (women) and consumers (men) completely in the virtual space. Virtually overnight, the seedy world of pimps and madams, while not being entirely eliminated, lost a lot of its “turf” as these Hooker Amazon sites made it possible for women to find customers and run their sex-for-money business without dealing with the creepy, organized criminal lowlifes who used to run it, often abusing the women who participated in numerous and well-documented ways.
However, prostitution still involves meeting a person in the real world by its nature, so while the rise of online prostitution marketing sites marked a change away from the seediness of the world of pimps and madams, the participation rate in prostitution as an income generation activity remains essentially limited by the typically strong resistance of many women to have sex with strangers for money in what is generally a “strictly transactional” setting — that is, one-off meetings for an hour or two in a hotel room where cash is exchanged for personal services of a sexual nature.
The real revolution here happened later, with the rise of the smartphone and the related apps that perfected the creation and dissemination of pictures and videos. These functions were very popular in general, but from the very beginning they were particularly popular with attractive women, who, with the rise of Instagram, became the pulsing core of the entire social media scene. Many women proceeded to collect hundreds of thousands of followers, in some extreme cases millions, with many men ardently following their every post — liking, commenting, complimenting, direct messaging and the like.
I have written elsewhere how this has made the cost to women of male attention very cheap, in relative terms, because it can be collected in large amounts at a very safe, sanitized distance — as compared with, say, catcalls while walking past a construction site. However, what few people saw coming was how this trend of women displaying themselves on sites like Instagram to garner male attention would intersect with the continually growing and innovating online sex industry.
Personally I think this came as a surprise to most people because in the public mind — in our minds — the sex industry, whether in person or online, is associated with seedy lowlife types. Most of us did not foresee how the online attention getting activity associated with apps like Instagram would effectively merge with the new online sex industry to create something essentially new, precisely because we did not see the kinds of women who participate in the former as being interested in participating in the latter. After all — they never really had before. Why would they now?
Disintermediation is an extremely powerful thing.
From Instagram to OnlyFans
In the context of the rest of the sex industry outside of prostitution itself, the rise of smartphones and social media sites gave women access to the ability to share themselves — that is, pictures and videos of their faces and bodies — with as few or as many men as they wanted, without having to go through intermediaries other than anonymous, faceless digital image clearinghouse sites which were 180- degrees different from strip club or peep show owners, never mind seedy pornographers. It didn’t take very long for a few women to agree to engage in certain “additional activities” for certain of their followers on Instagram, but the nature of these was mostly the subject of rumor and innuendo, because it was all taking place off-site, in the opaque world of private messages, texts and emails. This also made the practice mostly one that only the most brazen and adventurous of women engaged in.
That was, until the tech geeks, noticing an underserved market, came up with “an app for that”. Or rather, multiple apps, each one tailored to a specific part of the emergent amateur, “do-it-yourself” sex industry.
These apps, which include sites like OnlyFans (for Instagram women who want to “upsell” their followers to more revealing pictures and videos, for a price) and Seeking Arrangements (for women who want to become a quasi “kept woman”, a kind of paid dating service which involves sex for money but in the context of a simulated relationship rather than one-off transactional handoffs in hotel rooms), a woman no longer has to deal with the creepy sex industry as an intermediary, but can instead engage her paying followers directly and in a very sanitized, safe way.
A woman can be her own pornographer, either taking her own pictures and videos with her smartphone, or by using another Insta/OF girl to do so, or perhaps a female photographer who isn’t creepy but “empowering”, and placing these photos and videos on her own OnlyFans site in exchange for subscription fees and tips paid by her followers.
A woman can be her own strip club owner by performing strip teases on livestreams to her followers, who have all paid to view the material, while she collects real time tips — again, all without dealing with seedy real life customers in person, or having to share her tips with the staff, or dealing with coked-up coworker “dancers”.
A woman can run her own peep show as well on a cam site, which, again, is sanitized — a woman doesn’t have to deal with a peep show owner, duck seedy customers on her way to and from, or deal with the general indignity and mental trauma of a fundamentally tawdry and dehumanized environment — that is all replaced by a laptop on her own familiar bed, her lap or a small table nearby and a smartphone on a small tripod, while her customers appear merely as strings of letters in a chat stream.
In other words, the transfer to an online venue has “sanitized” the sex industry for women wholesale. While participation in the industry previously required the regular interface with the seedy underworld that ran the establishments that comprised the sex industry, as well as its seedy, in-person customers, the internet has done away with this unpleasantness, and replaced it with clean, anonymous, digital clearinghouses which are just about as inherently seedy as using Amazon is.
The digital disintermediation of the sex industry has made it possible for women to access this source of cash on their own terms rather than on the dictated terms of the seedier elements of the sex industry — the strip club owner, pimp, or pornographer — and with absolutely no risk of running afoul of the law.
As a result, the suddenly massive world of amateur pornography on OnlyFans (which essentially has become the X-rated wing of Instagram for all intents and purposes) , the continued growth of the “sugar baby” market, pay-per-view porn cams, and the proliferation of internet-sourced “escort” activity (which is a polite euphemism for highbrow, low profile prostitution), have all grown into a substantial, and in many respects essentially new, amateur sex industry.
This is important for at least two reasons.
The first is that it is new, which means it is having new impacts on both sexes, most of which are currently “flying under the radar” and going essentially unnoticed and therefore unexamined. More women are participating in these activities than did in the immediately prior era. Many more. More men are viewing pornography than at any time in history, and more men are having “kept women” as well, because prior to the rise of “sugar baby” websites a few years ago, this activity was extremely exceptional to say the least. Many more women are viewing Instagram attention as their fundamental right, and many of the ones who attract a lot of attention but not quite enough (or not the right kind) to rise to the level of paid influencers or social media celebrities feel some pressure to monetize their attention and popularity somehow, for which the sanitized online amateur sex industry beckons. And in that cycle, some men who never “paid for porn” during the rise of internet pornography nevertheless find themselves paying for customized content that is tailor-made to their specifications by women who market this service through their Instagram feed, which links to their OnlyFans site. These impacts are fast-developing and dynamically changing behaviors in real time, and the impacts are going largely overlooked, which makes them all the more impactful.
The second is that the newly emergent amateur sex industry, and its main “on ramp”, Instagram, is having a substantial impact on the overall relationship between men and women, even apart from the industry itself. This impact had already begun with the rise of Instagram, as it cheapened the value of male attention in socio-sexual terms by making it superabundant on an epic, heretofore unavailable scale while at the same time sanitizing it by making it virtual rather than in person and inconvenient or uncomfortable for women.
But the subsequent rise of the amateur sex industry has had the impact of making relations between men and women more transactional overall. While, unlike Instagram, most women still do not participate in this activity, despite its significant and ongoing growth, the awareness that it exists, and that it is a possibility, casts a more transactional frame to male/female relations overall, both when it comes to women’s expectations of men who are not in the “sport sex” category for them, as well as men’s expectations of women sexually, as a result of them having seen many otherwise “normal everyday” women on Instagram and OF engaged in various activities.
In addition the availability of the amateur sex industry as an income source, and the growing acceptability of its use as such given how sanitized it is in comparison to the prior version of the sex industry, has increased the vetting and relationship risks men run with women in the present period. Simply put, women have opportunities they simply did not have even 5 years ago, and a growing number are capitalizing on those, either before or after relationships or marriages to men (and, I would surmise, at times even during, with or without the man’s awareness or consent).
The landscape has simply changed, substantially and quickly, in ways that men in particular need to be aware of as part of their overall understanding of the situation between men and women in the emerging society, and the new risks presented to men by these developments. As Deti wrote regarding the key shift:
“And it has been taken totally private. What used to take place in public now takes place totally and completely out of the public eye. Men can gawk at photos and video of amateur pornstars, camgirls and OF girls in the privacy of their rooms. Women can prostitute themselves more openly and more privately at the same time. What used to be legitimate “charging” for dates (take me out for dinner and you pay, take me for a night out on your dime, take me out to the museum and you pay, let’s do a weekend away and you pay) is now shady “charging” for “prostitution lite” – subscriptions to premium porn sites, camgirl sites, OF rendezvous, sugar dating, all of which can, and do, include dates and sex.”
The Path Forward
Given the context of the modern SMP that young people are in, and what’s on the table today, it’s understandable why we see the landscape of behaviors continuing to evolve.
Even so, none of this is good for men. It goes without saying that no man should be visiting prostitutes of any sort, or sugar babies, or viewing internet porn, including OnlyFans or anything like that. To begin with, it’s obviously all very immoral and fundamentally soul corrupting to do so. And even leaving that aside, the online sex culture gives guys even less incentive to make the kinds of changes in their lives that can help with actual relationships with women outside the virtual space. However, even for men who abstain from participation in this problematic new area, the impact remains, due to the impact these developments are having on male-female relations overall.
Simply put, the impact of these social changes on the behaviors of young men and women, and the SMP in general, is taking place in real time, and no-one is really discussing it.
Over the next couple of weeks, this blog will feature a series of posts by Jack and me relating to aspects of these developments in the socio-sexual marketplace, including a detailed dive into a particularly spectacular example of the new risks being presented to men, and an assessment of potential takeaways for men facing this challenging new environment. So stay tuned — more is soon to come on this emerging new development in the seemingly ever-shifting landscape of male-female relations in the current era.
- Σ Frame: Yet another variety of Internet Whoring (2019 October 9)