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Inside the shady billion dollar phone sex industry

In 2019, when I was asked by three award-winning filmmakers to host and co-write a podcast called Operator, which was going to explore phone sex in the 1990s, I of course replied, “Yes! Correct! RIGHT!” As soon as I learned the basics of American Telnet, a company that has made billions of dollars off adult pay-per-call lines, I had a hard time flying in. Florida to interview everyone involved.What I’ve found is that the more prostitution changes, the more it doesn’t.

1-900 ads on late-night cable and on the backs of weekly newspapers represent some of my earliest fascination with sexual pleasure. When I close my eyes, I can still hear the models’ seductive moans, see their sweaty flesh exposed outside of their seductive lingerie. To a quirky teen in a small town, these professional dirty talkers seemed unleashed a terror. And they are likely just a phone call away. Like most hormonal young people, I am intrigued by anything to do with the naked body; unlike my colleagues, I wanted even more than just an intimate experience. I am obsessed with erotic performance and storytelling, art and culture, politics and activism.

Those obsessions led me, as I grew up, to pursue a career a professional ruler and porn scientist, and later a podcaster, reporter, and science fiction writer on topics like BDSM subcultures and adult recreational employment rights. NS Operator the producers were smart enough to put in the voice of someone with knowledge of both the sex industry and covering that industry as a journalist. As a presenter, I am a 21st-century sex worker exploring the industry that changed my life in the era just before I became a part of it.

The people who built and run American Telnet (or ATN), and their relationships with each other, shined with them. A fast-talking, charismatic executive who has impressive persuasion and takes great pleasure in his business. A young woman who became a smiling company mascot partying hard at porn conventions. A former Marine manages the phone room like a good mother. The head of technology who innovated the professional use of voice recognition and automated phone menus: his contradictions about using his talents to please “dads” passion” and other phone sex customers would have a catastrophic effect on the company. There’s family drama, self-loathing, drugs, backstabbing, police raids, and corporate power games.

Beneath all that excitement and emotion are the basic elements that have made ATN so successful. What ATN has never done before is bring all the elements of phone sex — advertising, computer programming, finance, advertising — under the roof of a serviced office. If that sounds boring, imagine a time when you couldn’t interact with strangers through technology all day and all day. Now, imagine you dial 1-900 and your call is directed to a menu where you can choose your personal fantasy—press one to co-edit, press two to play three-player, press three to play by gender, many of the same words you see in online porn tabs to this day. From there, your call is routed to a real girl who knows exactly what you want to hear. To you, it seems like a magic. But behind the scenes, a complex telecommunications system is operating in parallel with many departments and hundreds of employees.

And then there are the actual phone operators. We found a few executives, but for the most part, we got to honor their work by writing about the nature of their absence.

“The room where dirty talk happens is either stared at like a freak show or avoided like the plague. The people who got rich by what the workers provided in that room saw the work and the people who did it below them.”

In a way, the ATN offered sex workers something extremely rare in the industry, then and now: They had reliable hours and wages, commissions based on work. caller retention, complete anonymity and no physical contact with the customer, and Health Insurance. Unlike most modern cams, they didn’t have to promote themselves in a cult market based on personality. Given their employment status and benefits, they go to the call center in shifts, sit in their own cubicle, and answer the phone. If a caller abuses or uses language prohibited by the FCC, they simply hang up. If there was such a job now, I would apply in a heartbeat.

However, the turnover is still high, which is part of the reason why it is so difficult to find an operator to interview. ATN didn’t define their lives the way it did for so many other executives and employees. And everyone from ATN we interviewed confirmed that the operators were treated like second-class citizens by the company. Once the company really started to grow, the phone room was even moved to a different building from the other departments. The room where obscene talk takes place is either stared at like a freak show or avoided like the plague. The people who got rich on what those workers provided in that room saw the work and the people doing it as underneath them. The stigma about sex work is still as strong today as it is today, and it contributes to criminalization, alienation and violence, as well as housing and banking discrimination.

Based on interviews we’ve done with a number of execs we’ve been able to follow, and based on training manuals the founders have held, I have a clear understanding of the change. typical in that room would be like. More than anything else, that’s what struck me: human desire has some constant regardless of technology or era. The simple need for someone to talk, fantasies of domination and submission, bad customers who used the phone’s anonymity feature to squander all the fun they could have had. abusive way.

Online interactive content platforms like OnlyFans, Niteflirt and MyFreeCams are the technological developments of phone sex that ATN has facilitated. In a way, this development has placed more control in the hands of sex workers: cam models and custom fetish porn producers and experience experts. Girls are modern day executives.

Today’s sex workers must be businessmen. This means more freedom to control our image and get rid of managers, but it also means we can’t just show up and sit down and do our thing. We are our own serviced office. And when we ran into the exact same problems that ATN faced — such as arbitrary regulations from governments, corporations and those against the crusaders religion anti-porn—We have to manage it all ourselves. My hope is thirty years from now, when someone makes a documentary about this In the age of adult entertainment technology, there will be plenty of sex workers willing to tell our stories our way.

The first episodes of the new Wonder podcast Operator available here.

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