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The Sex Workers Making Underground Porn on Snapchat

But sex is just part of the appeal on these so-called ‘VIP’ accounts

Cassidy, 26, is petite and ghostly pale, with a full bush that’s dyed the exact color of a green highlighter pen. She’s an escort, a pornographer and a dominatrix, who usually looks like she’s been up all night at some kind of alien rave. She’s also a mogul, a performance artist, a fetish expert and the owner of an LLC named Problematik Productions that makes lurid, confrontational, in-your-face fetish porn.

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She carries two smartphones with her wherever she goes, including visits to her private clients. The older iPhone, which has a seafoam green case designed to resemble a cannabis prescription bottle, isn’t tethered to any cell service, but can still pick up wifi. She uses it for music, storage and her “public” Snapchat. The other is a sturdy millenium pink. This is the one she uses to make nearly constant content on her “VIP” Snapchat. “On VIP, you see cum inside me,” Cassidy explains. “You see me sucking dick. You see me masturbating. You see my friends and me spanking each other or fucking each other. You see me doing my makeup naked.”

 

“VIP,” or “Premium,” isn’t an official service of Snapchat. It’s a shorthand used by sex workers of all kinds to describe and brand the strategies they use to charge for access to their private accounts. It’s also in direct violation of Snapchat’s terms of service, which reads: “You will not buy, sell, rent or lease access to your Snapchat account.” Not to mention: “We prohibit accounts that promote or distribute pornographic content.”

Yet flouting these rules with informal subscription services is a big enough business for the sex workers I interviewed that it accounts for about 20 percent of their monthly income — not an inconsequential sum in an era when finding steady revenue streams can be challenging. (To be clear, the only thing that makes a Snapchat account “VIP” is that it’s set to private; to get access, you send a user like Cassidy her monthly fee, and she simply adds you as a friend.)

 

Rules or no rules, since its launch in 2011, Snapchat has always offered the allure of impermanence. What you’re watching will soon disappear from view forever (there are notorious workarounds, but that’s the premise anyway). So snaps don’t need to be massaged or focus-grouped to death. In fact, it’s a platform that rewards the anarchic. All of which makes it an excellent tool for modern sex workers to connect with novelty-hungry consumers.

 

Cassidy, in particular, is a perfect match for Snapchat’s promise of reality and immediacy. And while her Twitter feed, her Instagram stories, her blog, her YouTube channel and her explicit website feel as though you’ve fallen into a candy-colored ball pit of her unrelenting id, her VIP Snapchat account somehow seems even more honest, serving as a brutally frank confessional for her past struggles with heroin addiction and childhood abuse. “It’s a huge release for me,” she says. “I need that space where I can be myself. I feel so censored on Instagram. I can’t show any pubic hair. I can’t show my nipples. I can’t talk about what my real life is like.”

In all, Cassidy makes anywhere from 10 to 140 snaps per day, each about 10 seconds in the length, for 400-plus VIP members. Some of them are the men who hire her — or wish they could hire her — for escort sessions. But surprisingly, about 80 percent of her members are young women who see her as an icon of fashion and sexual liberation. Whatever their gender, though, they all seem to appreciate the banality she mixes in with the strip teases and golden showers. For instance, one recent stream-of-consciousness monologue:

“Sorry about yesterday, I didn’t get home until 8 a.m. I ended up passing out for a bit and waking up at 12:30. The rest of the day I felt off and weird. I wanted to relax yesterday so I would feel better today, which I do. I’m on medical assistance so I get free access to the Y. I have to go renew my YMCA access. We’re supposed to get more snow tomorrow so I have to make sure we have water here. Then I have to go through all my emails. I have 50 DMs I have to go through. I have to repost my escort ad in Philly so I can get some bookings. Between emails and DMs, I have to hunker down and get through this computer stuff.

“Also, OMG so, I have this YouTube video from a few years ago where I talk about how I don’t like sugar daddies. That’s because I had a really psycho sugar daddy who went insane and tried to call the cops on me. He sent my escort ad to my parents, even though my parents already knew about it. This was five or six years ago. So he text-messaged me today and said, ‘Hey I’d really like to start over with you.’ And I was like WHAT?!”

Cassidy’s explicit reality-TV-style streaming is fast becoming the standard of adult entertainment. The pirated content of tube sites has made most hardcore porn accessible to anyone with an internet connection, so the fertile financial terrain for performers is now directly engaging with fans. If nothing else, it’s a chance to generate additional income for living (and livestreaming) their lives. And needless to say, snapping for money can be incorporated into an entertainer’s schedule more efficiently than, say, a shift at a strip club or a restaurant.

“I love being an exhibitionist in my own world,” says Bitsy La Bourbon, a 30-year-old who identifies as a “sexual performance activist.” “Being able to make coffee in the morning and pour half and half on my boobs over the sink for a fun snap is my kind of work.” In addition to erotic cups of joe, La Bourbon’s VIP account also features sex-toy shows and naked movie reviews. “I get a lot of followers who say they want to be as open about sex and their body as I am,” she explains.

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La Bourbon and others say this goofy imperfection — maybe even more so than than the sex — is the key to a popular feed. “I’ve probably posted an equal number of unflattering snaps as I have sexy ones,” admits Sammy Shayne, the 28-year-old community manager for the adult livestream site CAM4. She says she’s become close friends with many of her subscribers, partially because she’s not preoccupied with portraying an idealized image of herself. “They see me when I’m happy, when I’m sad and when I’m feeling sexy or silly,” Sammy explains. “The only thing they know for sure is there won’t be much clothing involved no matter what I’m doing!”

Hunny Daniels, who is 25, puts it bluntly: “There aren’t many platforms that I can be a naked slut and share my day-to-day life, so Snapchat gets it all. You’ll see me deepthroat a dildo, and you’ll see in bed depressed for three days straight,” she says, adding that she receives constant messages that her members relate to her very human struggles.

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This all, of course, begs the question: When everything about your life is potential fodder for your feed — from the intimate moments that give members a thrill of the forbidden, to the mundane stretches that lend a human dimension to your brand — how do you define your personal boundaries? “Sometimes I’ll be trying to have some time to myself, and then I’ll be like, ‘Damn that’d be perfect for my snaps!’” La Bourbon sighs. “It’s almost like I’m my own paparazzo!”

Almost universally, though, they cite family, friends and intimate partners as parts of their lives that are off-limits in the realm of content-creation. “I’m such a visible and open person that I have very little I keep for just me,” says Daniels, who has decided not to reveal anything about her partners or family on any platform. “If someone was ever not accepting that I don’t share those aspects, they’d be quickly removed. My necessary boundaries are pretty loud in my head. So I just maintain a zero-tolerance policy for anyone trying to push them.”

Still, it’s almost impossible for Snapchat not to cut very close to those boundaries. Cassidy, for one, has resigned herself to that fact. She even demonstrates to me how she’s altered her masturbation routine to accommodate the mechanics of snapping, holding the phone with one hand while touching herself with the other. After a minute of filming, she has to pause her pleasure and manually post the snap. “When I’m about to orgasm, I have to put the phone down and have it ready to go,” she says. “I get really close. Then I grab the phone and record the orgasm. If I’m continuously snapping, I could miss the orgasm. That’s the whole point! So I have to time it.”

But for her, somehow it all works. Because it’s so unfiltered and seemingly without limits, her streaming life both arouses and affirms in its vulnerability. One moment she’ll be in a hotel bathroom washing a client’s cum off her breasts. The next she’ll be depressed and weeping, experiencing PTSD. After that, she’ll be giving a fun makeup tutorial. Like any 21st century celebrity, she narrates both her outer and inner life, as well as the ongoing thought process behind the very content she is making.

Social media has made me the person I am today, because I was just so lost in my own head,” she says. “Getting support and response from an online community has really helped me to feel proud of who I am.”

 

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