On the day we have this interview, 28-year-old Nancy shares that she had an interesting morning mashing food with her feet before a camera.
“I don’t have pretty feet like the girls who sell pretty pictures of their feet. But I have a bunch of regulars willing to watch me do this with my feet,” she says, wiggling her toes. She’s wearing some fresh, baby-blue nail polish.
Nancy, a mother of one, is a webcam performer. She has an account on OnlyFans and another adult content site that she refuses to name.
This means that almost every day, she performs on camera often sexually provocative acts to an audience from all around the world. Where some customers just want some pillow talk, others will pay to watch her get down and dirty. She’s been doing this for almost a year.
“If you had told me three years ago that I’d be talking intimate things with strangers online or even stripping for them, I would have told you that you’re crazy,” she says.
Webcam modelling is a big part of an online pornography explosion. Covid-19 and the lockdowns it brought seemed to have hastened the popularity of this content.
Launched in 2016, OnlyFans is the latest adult content social network allowing creators to monetise their photographs and videos through subscriptions. Last year, the popular adult entertainment site reported a 75 percent increase in total sign-ups, gaining about 150,000 users every 24 hours. There are no hard statistics but watchers of the platform say African women are making millions of dollars on the site.
Three years ago, Nancy was working as a teller in a local bank. She was keen on climbing the ladder. Then fraudsters tricked her when she was working at the till and made away with Sh800,000 from the bank. She lost her job and was charged with fraud, a case that is still ongoing. Now, no employer, certainly not a financial institution, can touch her.
“I’d just had my son. We went through my savings in just a few months. Covid had hit at this point and, like everyone else was doing, I tried a small online business, selling panties and bras. It failed,” she recalls.
Hapless, she had her first brush with the local sex industry.
“This was a really low point of my life. I set up a fake Facebook account from where I lured men to my WhatsApp to buy sexy photos and videos of me,” she says.
There were people on her WhatsApp all day but most were just creeps looking for free action. Few were willing to pay for her service. Then a friend introduced her to camming —the art of performing before a camera for pay.
“I started by first watching cam sessions of other African women to see how they were doing it: the kinds of set-ups they had, how they worked their bodies and the kind of clothes they wore. I copied and modified,” she says.
A day in the life
Perhaps trained from the six years she worked in the corporate world, Nancy works between 9am and 5pm. Once she has taken her four-year-old son to school, she spends most of the day on her set, performing for customers until it’s time to pick him up from the bus stop.
“I have a content calendar. Most days begin with updating my profiles on my two sites and responding to messages and then I will do my hair and makeup,” she says.
All she needs to do her job is an account on a popular site, a reliable internet connection and, of course, a good quality laptop. She conceptualises her own shoots, produces them and brings her idea to life.
On a good month, she makes anything between Sh50,000 and Sh100,000. The two sites she works from have subscriptions and per-view-pay. But most of the money comes from tips.
“Tips are where viewers ask for specific requests. These pay better but it’s where you get to interact with people’s fetishes. There are just things I will not do, like things involving urine or excrement,” she says.
There are free pre-recorded sex videos all over the internet. Nancy likes to think that she is offering something more personal, something better than sexual intimacy.
Intimacy outside the confines of marriage
That sex sells is old news. What is interesting is how society frowns at women doing sex work but allows men to benefit from women’s sexuality.
Because of how people feel about sex without the context of marriage, Melanin Goddess (not her real name) reckons that a lot of people will try to discredit the amount of work it takes to create adult content online.
Melanin, a 24-year-old living in Roysambu, Nairobi, runs a raunchy Twitter account dedicated to selling nudes and clips of one-woman sex shows.
“I’m in between jobs right now; so I do this. It pays my rent and my bills but there isn’t much left to go around after,” she says.
She is well aware of the judgment that lies on the other side of things so she tells everyone that she is an online writer working from home.
“I tried online writing, by the way. I was working about 14 hours a day and the pay was so poor I couldn’t pay my bills. So, I tried this and it’s a little better,” she says.
From her experience, she says that creating this kind of content is hard work.
“I don’t feel dirty or sleazy when I do it. It’s a job. But there are days that I just don’t feel sexy but I still have bills to pay so I dress up and show up,” confesses Melanin.
A different set of challenges
If you are on the outside looking in, cam modelling comes off as a way of making easy money. It’s easy to ignore the effects of the growing population against the dwindling economy on the life of the Kenyan woman.
Lilly, 31, says that webcam modelling was what she picked up when nothing else was working.
Lilly disagrees on webcam modelling being termed as safe. While she is grateful over the fact that she has no pimp and the fact that she gets to work from the comfort of her home, she talks about being exposed to countless anonymous potential enemies.
“Emotional attack can be just as damaging as physical attack. I’ve had people send direct messages on the site threatening me or saying really degrading things and the only thing I can do is block them,” she says.
Then there is always the fear that someone out there will maliciously use the content she posts to blackmail her in future. Or that her content will make its way back to the people in her life who have no clue what she does for a living.
“The internet never forgets, you know,” she says.
Webcam modelling was not Lilly’s initial career goal. After an unsuccessful launch into a career as a marketer, she decided to become an influencer. So she invested in a good phone, set up a station in her apartment and began shooting content. And she got up to 15,000 followers on Instagram and then stalled.
“Instagram works if an influencer is able to monetise their following. The bigger the numbers, the bigger the companies wanting to work with you and thus the bigger the pay. I was a micro-influencer getting only small jobs and free stuff. It was too much effort for pay that couldn’t even sustain me,” she recalls.
She wanted to post revealing photographs like the influencers she was looking up to but she had friends and relatives on the platform.
Then she saw that a lot of other creators and celebrities she was following were moving to OnlyFans and so she gave it a shot.
“OnlyFans is not too raunchy. So, I post there regularly for those who have subscribed to my account. But I do webcam modelling full-time. I’ve seen women bragging online about the hundreds of thousands they were making on OnlyFans but this just hasn’t been the case for me,” she says.
Her studio is her spare bedroom in her two-bedroomed apartment in Ruaka which she allows us to visit. On one side is a clothes rack with a collection of colourful, revealing clothing. There is a box of sex toys, a neatly made bed and a ring light. She shoots videos here five days a week for about six hours a time.
“People pay real-time. So, you can set yourself a target and close for the day when you reach your target,” she says.
In the beginning, camming was just a way for her to earn money but it has also become a way for her to express herself.
“I was way too self-conscious when I began. Now I am so much more confident. There are people obsessing over all those things I used to dislike about myself, like my belly. I have a few regulars who want private shows to watch me play with my belly. Imagine!” she chuckles.
Lilly is a freelancing artist and she’s aware that this isn’t something she can do indefinitely. She is planning for retirement.
“I’ll go into real estate. Maybe become a landlord,” she says.
Even as the social debate on whether or not sex work should be legalised continues, Kenyan sex workers continue to re-invent themselves.
On whether or not the recent wave of web camming is here to stay, only time will tell.
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