A Tangled Web

More and more people are turning to Web cams to enhance their sex lives
National Post
Saturday, July 3, 2004
Page: TO1 / FRONT
Section: Toronto
Byline: Georgie Binks
Source: National Post

It’s Saturday night in the quiet Toronto suburb of Don Mills. Four women in their 30s and 40s are sitting in the basement of a grey-and-white two-storey house, curtains drawn, watching a computer screen expectantly as they sip on wine.

One of the women logs on to MSN Messenger and is soon exchanging messages with an attractive dark-haired 30-something schoolteacher who lives in Markham. His picture flashes on the screen, courtesy of his Web camera, and he asks the women if he might see them on their Web cam. When they inform him they don’t have one, he hesitates for a moment, but within minutes the women cajole him into removing his clothes. And there he stands, buck-naked, much to the delight of his female audience.

The teacher is just one of a rapidly growing number of men (and women) who are using the latest in modern technology to enhance their sex lives.

Just as the Polaroid camera was the accoutrement of the ’70s, and the cellphone the ’90s, the Web cam is a must-have for adults in the dating world of the ’00s. After all, who wants to rely on a dusty old photograph if you’re trying to hook up with a cute guy or girl? All the better if you can get a “really good” look at the person.

For years, the porn industry has been using Web cams on the Internet that allow visitors to type in commands to models who then perform the requests. More recently, women and men have set up Web cams in their homes to broadcast live “shows.” But now, it seems, explicitly “camming” someone online has become as common as a handshake.

“Women feel safer knowing you are a real person,” says Josh, 25, a trade-show consultant who lives in Toronto. (Names of Web-cammers have been changed throughout this article.) “I’ve used it to show women what I’m packing. I don’t know if my friends have. They joke about it, but they’ll never admit seriously that they do.”

For men who live at home with their parents, as so many do these days (according to Statistics Canada, 33% of unmarried men between the ages of 30 and 34 still lived at home in 2001), the Web cam is a perfect way to hook up intimately when you are unable to meet a woman in person. One woman recalls watching a young man with spiked hair undressing for her on a Web cam when his father walked in the room. “His dad had no idea what he was doing,” the woman says. “He really wasn’t even aware that the Web cam was there. His son acted like he was simply getting undressed and carried on a conversation with his father while I watched in horror.”

Web cams also allow those who are attached a way to cheat without having to leave home.

Ryan, 41, a married sales executive with two children, has owned a Web cam for two years. He recalls his first encounter: “I was chatting online with a woman when she offered to do a striptease for me, which she did. Then she wanted to see me and for me to pleasure myself, which I did.”

Ryan was in a hotel room at the time, but he has since cammed women from his home. “I worry my kids and wife will walk in,” he admits. “I’ve done it a couple of times at home when my wife is out of the house or asleep, but mostly I take my cam on the road with me.

“A lot more women have Web cams than I thought,” he adds. “If a woman has a Web cam, she’ll show everything. Some like to put on a show whether or not you are camming them back.”

There is certainly an array of Web cameras available, and sales are booming. Vale Lezada, a sales associate at Radio Shack at Yorkdale Shopping Centre, says the most popular models are a version by Telemax, which sells for $29.99, and another by Logitech, which sells for $69.99, both of which are plugged into a computer.

“Sales are up 40% this year,” Lezada says. “People don’t tell us what they use it for because frankly it isn’t our business. But they are not Web-camming their grandmothers.”

Web cams are popular with teens, but the younger set is a bit shyer. Brad, 15, a Toronto student, doesn’t have a Web cam but explains, “Mostly girls have Web cams. Only once has a girl stripped for me on Web cam. She was my age. I was surprised, especially because you don’t know who is on the other side. I could have been sitting here with all my friends.”

The sexual aspect of the Web cam has certainly not been lost on marketing experts. On April 7, Burger King launched a Web site, subservientchicken.com, to promote a new chicken sandwich. It featured an actor standing in a living room and wearing a chicken suit and a burgundy garter belt. Underneath the Web-cam shot of the chicken was the slogan: “Get chicken the way you like it. Type in your command here.” According to Burger King’s public-relations agency, Crispin, Porter + Bugosky, by April 18 the site had received 97 million hits.

The popular dating Web site Lavalife launched a Web-cam feature this winter. Paul Gallucci, Lavalife’s chief operating officer, says that, for safety reasons, women prefer to see a man on camera before they meet him. However, they may not have banked on how much of a man they might end up seeing. “Males are more physical, visually oriented,” Gallucci says, “while females need more of an emotional connection. I’ve heard that on the picture side, men like to reveal more of their physical selves, and women aren’t impressed.”

The latest innovation in the land of the Web cam launched this spring in the form of a dating messenger Web site called lemontonic.com. Says Mark Pavan, chief executive operating officer of Lemontonic Inc., in Toronto: “We have the enhanced functionality of streaming video and streaming audio, which is facilitated through a customized version of Microsoft Instant Messenger.” In other words, clients can log on and Web-cam and talk to each other live on the site.

Messenger services such as MSN Messenger and Yahoo also provide the technology that enables people to use Web cams. Lisa Daly, marketing manager of MSN.ca, says the company does not collect statistics on Web-cam use, but there are 11-million Canadian users a month on MSN Messenger. Yahoo also has a Web-cam feature, and in August, 2002, boasted six million Web-cam users.

So is intimate Web-camming a good or bad thing? Ottawa sex therapist Sue McGarvie has concerns about the trend. “It’s very addictive,” she says. “You’re able to get safe, inconsequential sex without much effort, which is really appealing to men. They never develop skills to meet a woman in person, nor do they have to work on a relationship. They don’t have to do anything. I have patients now who get an erection when they see their computer.”

But Vancouver lawyer John Ince, author of The Politics of Lust, says it’s not necessarily a bad thing. “It can be used in a very superficial erotic form, like masturbating to images of strangers taking off their clothes, where there is virtually no emotional intimacy, or it can be used to keep a sex life happening for a couple who might be separated by work for months at a time.” Either way, he says, it’s a step up from Playboy. “Both are equally low-end in the emotional scale, but the interactivity of a Web cam brings it up.”

These issues aside, some women are tired of men exposing themselves online. “I’m starting to feel that men would rather just have me watch them play with themselves than ever meet a woman in person,” moans Cheryl, a single Toronto woman who owns a Web cam. “And quite honestly, after you’ve seen one, they all look the same. They also keep asking me to take off my clothes, and I really don’t feel comfortable doing that.”

But Pavan says that’s easily fixed. “The beauty of a Web cam is that you are one click from turning it off.”

Reg, 26, a Richmond Hill electrician, doesn’t just use his Web cam for personal gratification. He likes to show off what he’s got, see what a woman has to offer, then take it from there.

“It gives me more confidence,” he says, “because pictures can be old, so if I see them on cam you get a good idea of what they look like. I’m not into the whole cybersex thing. It’s more of a flashing, ‘this is what you get,’ type of thing. Then we meet.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *