Gareth May | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 5 August 2015

So Chaturbate\\\\\\\'s Kind Of A Big Deal - But Who\\\\\\\'s Using It?

So Chaturbate's Kind Of A Big Deal - But Who's Using It?

The Debrief: Chaturbate is one of the most popular cam sites on the internet - but what is it and what's the secret behind its enduring appeal?

It’s a Sunday night at 22.05 and I’m sat at my desk overlooking the street outside. Above the town house on the other side of the road the moon peeks through skeletal trees. 

The streets are quiet and bare. Pools of amber light from the lampposts spill out on to the road and apart from the odd fox or nocturnal cyclist nothing’s doing. That end of the weekend vibe fills the air.

I turn my attention back to my browser where a wall of webcam stills eludes to endless entertainment: a middle aged man with the body of a pro wrestler stares down the camera as he inserts his middle finger into his partner’s anus; a girl with pink hair freeze-framed mid-wink; an ashen skinned teen, bare breasted, cut off at the neck, stands with a hand on one hip doing the teapot.

There are 12 screens on my browser, 78 more if I care to scroll down and hundreds on top of that, if you forgive the pun, should I wish to click through the pages… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…

I dance through the cam shows: The pro wrestler lookalike facefucking his partner; a girl tied to a door handle with a purple toy inside her vagina; a couple with Maori tattoos going at it on a love swing; a backyard, a battered car, a Terrier scratches itself in the dirt; a faceless, legless dark skinned man slowly strokes his penis; another girl, legs akimbo, orgasms and squirts in a perfect arc, leaving an ellipsis of come dotted to the camera. 

This is Chaturbate. And you have never seen so many sexual organs in all your life.

What is Chaturbate?

Chaturbate is a live broadcast and tech-savvy webcam site where the performers – male, female and trans – earn money through tips or tokens allocated by viewers. Since launching in 2011, Chaturbate has gone from strength to strength and it is currently considered one of the most popular cam sites on the net.

Shirley Lara is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Chaturbate. She tells me that the goal of Chaturbate is to provide the best platform for broadcasters and the best experience for members. 

'When we launched we were a combo of MSC and CAM4 [two other popular webcam sites]. We didn’t want to be token based but our original business plan wasn’t working so we added tipping. Now we’re growing every year.'

Part of that growth stems from the fact that any one can watch Chaturbate’s streams. Click on, check the ‘I agree to the below terms’ box and there you; more bums and willies, as my mum would say, than you can shake a mop at. It is quite literally free-for-all. But that’s one punter’s opinion. What does Lara think their success is down to?

'The type of girls we have are all independent cam girls. They’re not studio based and when you’re independent there’s a bit of hustle that comes with it,' she says. 'They’ve having fun exploring their own sexuality and being creative. They view their chat rooms as they’re own little TV show. That’s one reason for sure. But the number one reason is our apps.'

Chaturbate might not be the first sight to use tipping (strip clubs have been using that business model for donkey’s years) but it is the first camsite to offer apps. The 500 plus apps, which are very similar to apps on your smartphone and often user-created, control how tips are generated. 

For example, Tip Goal allows cammers to set a goal (‘boob flash’, ‘suck cock’ etc.) for users to tip towards and once the tip goal is met, the promise is kept; Token Keno is bingo for pervs where a specific tip value (i.e. 11 tokens) will result in a specific prize (i.e. ‘spread holes’… they don’t have that at Gala do they?); and OhMiBod-Me an app that cleverly links the pinging sound of a given token with the vibrations of the OhMiBod and essentially puts the power of orgasm in to the hands of the viewers and has to be one of the most ingenuous get-rich-quick schemes since Gillette invented the disposable razor.

The apps are only one part of Chaturbate’s appeal however. As Lara says the cam girls are independent and as such they’re empowered performers. They control who sees them and when and they can even block an entire country from accessing their feed should they so wish. An army of volunteer mods crawl the site looking for cammers breaking rules ('If something is considered obscene in your community, we ban it. Even if it’s an illusion of something that is prohibited, it’s not allowed' Lara says) or overzealous commentators (abuse does seem to be kept to a minimum although the Minions gifs and infantile synonyms for cunnilingus such as the popular ‘sushi time’ can detract from the action).

How do performers sign up to Chaturbate? 

Performers simply sign up and start shooting, there’s no cost incurred for registration. Once broadcasting performers earn cash in two ways: they get a buck for every free registration linked from their channel and the girls take 60% of their token earnings too. 

Chaturbate picks up the bill for everything from admin to employees to fraud. 'We just want to give them the best tools available and let them take care of business.' Lara says. 'We can have the most amazing platform but without our performers we are nothing.'

The site is also hugely representative. Performers include Females, Males, Couples and Transsexuals and it’s all upfront on the nav bar, cards on the table.

'Some sites don’t allow males. We do. If you want to see guy/guy, girl/guy, solo guy, that’s fine too,' Lara says. 'We opened the platform for everyone because there is someone for everyone at the end of the day.'

For any other camsite such a romantic suggestion might seem incongruous. Chaturbate on the other hand isn’t your average camsite. Although the vast majority of traffic to the sight will be seeking out a cheeky wank the users that comeback don’t stick around just for the sex (which at its raw and honest best can literally swallow up your attention for hours).

Spend an afternoon flicking through the channels and you’ll find just as many girls and boys fully clothed, chatting with mods and generally hanging out as you will playing hide the dildo. Last year, the site even broadcast its first proposal.

I asked Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, sociologist and author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society and Adult Entertainment about the people on Chaturbate that aren’t always seeking or broadcasting sexual content. She said that although people interacting within a model’s chatroom may have nothing in common, there is a lot to be gained from web-cam sites’ chat spaces.

'Folks congregating on web-cam sites are obviously looking for human interaction, both social and sexual. Talking with others who are in the same space is a good way to get some open human social interaction without shame and people may feel more secure about not being judged on their sexual proclivities,' Dr. Tibbals says. '[Therefore] using web cam sites as a mode for sexual expression is certainly on the rise.'

Such sexual expression isn’t always physically conveyed. As Dr. Tibbals says simply talking with others in a non-judgmental environment can have huge value. There doesn’t need to be an orgasm at the end of a webcam interaction to justify the nudity or the silicon toys glistening on the bed stand. Sexuality isn’t synonymous with the act of sex.

How much sex do people have on Chaturbate? 

'Sometimes the performers will have lots of sex, sometimes they won’t. One broadcaster called o0pepper0o likes to cook. A lot of times she ’ll be wearing a sexy outfit and an apron and she’ll just be baking bread. Another called chroniclove loves to hula-hoop and people will pay just to watch her do that,' Lara says. 'When you interact with your chatroom that’s kind of the starting base of a developing relationship [that] goes beyond sexuality to an online friendship. We’ve really seen that blossom and we’re one of the only sites with that sense of community.' 

25-year-old DIY pornographer and cam girl Vex Ashley is a member of this growing community. She has nearly 50 thousand followers on social media, her alt-porn Four Chambered Heart productions shoots some of the industry’s leading lights (most recently Stoya) and earlier this year she was profiled by Elle.

She says that sites like tumbler and Chaturbate show that all kinds of people from outside of traditional porn making and watching demographic want to 'share and document their sexual lives as part of a growing community of openness about sex.' The value and importance of this, she says, shouldn’t be ignored.

'We exist in a society that views sex, seeing sex and being exposed to sex as damaging, I think that’s inherently wrong. I believe that open and honest conversations about sex and porn and consent are really important,' Ashley says. 'Sharing sex can be part of artistic, personal, political expression and can be an important tool in learning. We need to work on placing porn and performative sex in proper context with day to day sexual expectations, on diversifying the porn we can easily see (in terms of acts on screen, performers and directors) and on opening up a healthier conversation about sex.'

Chaturbate is clearly a part of this wider conversation – and a sanctuary for so many young people that wish to express themselves sexually. 

For someone who learned a lot about his sexuality on chatrooms and msn messenger in the late 90s I find the concept of a growing online community of sexual expression incredibly uplifting; even if its brazen openness is a far cry from the days of surreptitiously logging on for a cybersex session with the door closed and the curtains drawn. I get the feeling in 2015, when it comes to your peers if less so your parents, things don’t need to be so secretive. 

And perhaps the reason for this is because the sense of shame so many of us feel in our youth regarding sexuality is a dwindling star, fading on the digital horizon. Chaturbate, Tumblr, even YouTube offer online havens that weren’t around, or at least as accessible, 10 or 15 years a go. And sexual creatures gravitate towards these refuges of sexual expression with a fire, which was once denied such fuel. On sites like Chaturbate we don’t just find a place to express ourselves sexually. We find a place where we belong.

By the time I finish my research it’s 2am and the moon is now out of view, probably wrapped in clouds outside of somebody else’s window. The streets are even deader than before. The lampposts have shut down. The cyclists curled up in bed. 

I click on a thumbnail marked squirtbetty. Two bronzed and sweaty girls sit on a cream coloured towel in the middle of the floor. They look tired, exhausted even. They’re both holding shots of a milky drink. They offer a cheers to their viewers, down it, grimace and then: 'All right, love you so much guys, thank you again.'

They blow kisses with their multicoloured nail varnish and reach for the off switch... and then they pause, look at each other and shrug. Seconds later and they’re rubbing cream on each other’s breasts. Whatever they have in their offline lives can wait. This is where the real action is.

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Follow Gareth on Twitter @garethmay