Phone Sex Lines: Moms Want the Job, But Do Clients Still Want the Service?

What Women Really Think
Dec. 19 2011 3:48 PM

Phone Sex Lines: Moms Want the Job, But Do Clients Still Want the Service?

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More moms are becoming phone sex operators--but how popular is the service in 2011?

Stowman L Stines / Shutterstock.com

Good Morning America reported today that, during the current economic recession, stay-at-home moms looking for a little extra income are finding phone sex operation an increasingly attractive option. The piece profiles a number of pseudonymous mom-actresses who justify their side-hustle by pointing out that, with little effort, they can sometimes earn hundreds of dollars a day. While all of the women said that they were somewhat embarrassed by the work, the financial benefits and logistical flexibility of the gig (most phone sex is now done from home) more than made up for any moral discomfort. And these women are not outliers—according to a source cited in the report, the number of mothers of young children seeking out this kind of sex work has jumped 400 per cent in the past 18 months.

While I have no interest in judging what these ladies do to get by, this story did make me wonder how popular phone sex actually is these days. To my mind, the whole practice seems like a relic of the 1990s, something advertised with husky voices and blinking 1-900 numbers on public access channels late at night. Are people really still interested in the relatively analog stimulation provided by phone sex, especially considering the ever-growing glut of pornography on the internet?

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As it turns out, getting exact statistics on just about anything to do with the porn industry proves to be almost impossible; however, there are some decent estimates. For example, a 2005 report (PDF) by the lobbying group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found that “phone sex generates between $750 million and $1 billion in revenues each year with as much as 50 percent being retained by U.S. long distance carriers.” Other studies (depending on methodology), cite a similar number; all show that while phone sex is definitely less lucrative than videos and websites, it still occupies a significant, if declining, position in the porn marketplace.

What these numbers don’t show, however, is the way in which the phone sex business has changed alongside related developments in technology. Indeed, after having spent some time looking through operator recruitment materials, I can report that phone sex is no longer based on a model of call centers and those infamous 1-900-numbers. Instead, the current model is much more entrepreneurial: while most actresses work for companies that facilitate payment processing and the necessary telephonic infrastructure, the women themselves are responsible for maintaining websites, blogging, self-promotion and, in some cases, even “trolling” online chat rooms for potential clients. In that sense, phone sex in 2011 is basically just an extension of other sorts of semi-interactive online porn. It’s like a more anonymous webcam show, but with the added benefit of being able to fold laundry while you perform.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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