Exxxotica, a large adult-themed expo that started in 2006, was held in Chicago last weekend. While the event is broad and claims to be a “love and sex” catch-all event (including seminars and presentations related to BDSM, swing lifestyle, sexual health, toys, etc.), it is largely focused on the adult industry. Indeed, since its inception Exxxotica has hosted large name porn stars like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy, and it promises to connect fans with their favorite stars.

In its 11th year, changes in the expo have reflected changes in the industry itself. Most notably, there has been a huge shift away from mainstream studio porn production to that of independent content creation. J. Handy, the director of Exxxotica, recalled that the first year that MyFreeCams  was present was in 2012 with a 10×30’ booth and 8-10 cam girls.in contrast, the same site exhibited with a 50×60’ booth and over 200 cam models in Chicago last weekend. In addition to MyFreeCams, other cam sites such as Chaturbate, Cam4, and LiveJasmine were present.  

The massive influx of webcam models at the event points to a shift in the industry; a shift from studios once concentrated in Los Angeles to private production in models’ own bedrooms. When asked on Twitter how much money is in the porn industry, mainstream porn actress turned webcam model Shawna Leneé (who attended) said:

Unlike the mainstream industry where centralized production companies have control over both production and distribution, cam models produce and distribute their own content on the above mentioned sites, which are more akin to social media platforms than they are to film studios. Being a webcam model, then, assumes a fluency in social media and digital technology that was not expected of previous generations of porn performers. Such savvy in the hands of models has the ability to radically change the conditions and culture of the industry, as the events of this weekend demonstrate.

The three day event began Friday. Hundreds of models representing all of the major platforms were there both live broadcasting and interfacing with fans. One of the most visible models, Vera Sky (XBIZ 2017 Cam Girl of the Year) kicked off a heated Twitter discussion on Friday (6/23/17) when she said that she would not return for the second day of the event because fans had assaulted her. In a tweet that was later deleted, she said that she had been groped and that someone pulled her top down and licked her breast. I, too, was at the event and saw that Vera was not alone. I saw numerous models groped by fans seeking pictures without interference from security. Frustrated by the behavior of fans, some models began to discuss whether enough was being done by the event managers, pointed out a lack of clear signage about consent and harassment, then uncovered shocking statements by the Exxxotica owner that seemed to implicitly encourage such behavior.

Response by Exxxotica owner to the revelation of offensive statements from years past

Another important conversation that developed on this Twitter conversation was the presence of Ron Jeremy at the event. Ginger Banks, a cam model, began a thread of women speaking publicly about Jeremy’s assaults against them at Exxxotica events and other events. For example:

As these stories piled up, a spirit of collective action and solidarity emerged. This particular thread was retweeted 198 times (as of this morning), pushing both the owner of Exxxotica and the industry as a whole to account for its treatment of the women who create content. In fact, many performers, including mainstream performers such as Jessica Drake, demanded a response to the concerns that models were expressing online:

J. Handy did, eventually, issue a lengthy statement in response. However,  myself and others found it to be weak. He claims to not be responsible for the actions of Ron Jeremy or anyone else. He says, “We are not the judge and jury. We are an impartial forum for conversation and discussion about love and sex.” (found on @gingerbanks1, 27 June 2017).

While established figures in the mainstream porn industry brushed off the complaints or dug their heels in, at least one site was quick to respond to models’ concerns: ManyVids, the leading website for clip sales by independent cam models, chimed in with the following: “We had no idea this was happening and we are not okay with this. We will not be working with [Ron Jeremy] going forward and appreciate everyone for coming forward.”

In other words, while the owner of Exxxotica failed to take the webcam models seriously, their protests motivated action by other leaders in the industry. Moreover, it is probably more than coincidence that platforms depending on contributions from independent models are more responsible than figures accustomed to a small group of men deciding what gets produced and distributed.

Today’s sex worker is not only skilled in erotic performance, but tech savvy as well. The use of social media as part of professional practice has merged with social media as a political tool. Tech savvy performers use the platform to very publically and instantaneously critique major industry forces and demand change. While rape culture and the conventional porn industry aren’t going to be dismantled overnight, sex workers (who have always been on the front lines of feminist causes) are using the tools of their trade to organize quicker, more collectively, and more effectively than before.

Jessie Sage @sapiotextual  is a current cam model and former academic. Her interests include female embodiment, intimacy, the politics of sex and sex work, and reproductive justice.

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