Mathilda is a financially independent part-time nurse. The 24-year old Portland resident works as a healthcare professional assisting private clients, but also supports herself by sucking on pacifiers and wearing diapers for an audience of over 10,000 followers on Instagram. "My online persona is my business," says Mathilda, who identifies as an ABDL (adult baby diaper lover). Mathilda’s social media stardom within the ABDL community gives her a platform to connect with fans who will then pay her to act out their deepest, darkest diaper-wearing fantasies – from a distance. Welcome to the DIY fetish economy, where a faction of sex workers have figured out a safe and self-reliant way to capitalize on their kinks.
The concept of fetish revolves around the sexualization of a non-sexual object or action, so the expectations of fetish-providers vary from kink to kink. While commercial sex dungeons are certainly an option for those seeking a good spank, one-on-one bondage appointments take commitment, social interactions and the awkward experience of walking inside. But interactions between sex workers and clients are changing, thanks to the ubiquity of live-streams and video messaging. Now, DIY fetish models like Mathilda can safely "play" with clients from anywhere they want by charging for access to adult content that they can make themselves.
"I think the 'real girl' factor really attracts people," explains Mathilda, whose straight-to-client sale of custom videos range from having her diaper changed to getting spanked and spitting up milk. "If I decided to really dive into fetish [full-time] and fulfill every fantasy and request made to me, I could buy my own private island."
The online fetish underground is a thriving, underground marketplace made up of fetish seekers and providers. No matter how niche your fetish – be it diapers, food, bondage, or even the popping of zits – you’re bound to find someone willing to "service" it. You just have to know where to look.
Kinksters will often find each other online through popular fetish networks like FetLife (which is essentially MySpace for people into kink) before going on to buy access to personal subscription-based websites run by the models themselves.
One model, Sarah Jane Woodall, claimed in an expose published on Thought Catalogue that, "Men (and they're pretty much always men) around the world have jerked off to videos of me sneezing, burping, eating donuts, holding my breath, washing my hair, popping balloons and digesting food." These are just a few vibrant examples of what she goes on to call the "colors of the fetish rainbow."
The average fetish model (also known as fetish workers or providers) typically connects with clients through kink-related social networks like FetLife before communicating individually about how to procure custom videos. According to Mathilda, whose thousands of subscribers on platforms like YouTube, Snapchat and Clips4Sale know her as Potty Cakes, "There is enough demand for my content that I have the option to look through my emails and direct messages and cherry pick requests that I think would be fun – and provide me with instant money."
Like any marketplace, fetish work runs off supply and demand. The difference in this case is that person-to-person video sharing effectively cuts out need for a middle man and gives fetish workers a unique opportunity to skirt third-party interference such as production companies or pay-per-view camming sites that take a percentage of their earnings. (Some fetish workers, however, prefer to use a third-party video-hosting sites as a way to protect their identities.)
Another advantage to fetish modeling as opposed to more traditional forms of sex work is that there is no need for physical contact, though some brave fetish workers occasionally meet their online clients for in-person sessions. "I got into fetish modeling because I'm too chickenshit to do real porn," confesses Woodall. "Most of the sites where I model don't even require nudity, let alone any overly erotic behavior."
The shady-yet-legal solicitation of DIY adult content and live streams is an ideal mode of delivery for fetish-seekers. Just as a person with fetish for diapers can pay to access Mathilda's personal trove of diaper-wearing content, a person with a foot fetish can pay to watch a live-stream of a complete stranger's feet without ever seeing their face.
"I have one guy who calls me on Skype, who frequently pays $200 to worship my feet for five minutes," explains Lexi, a full-time fetish model who says she brings in up to $3,000 a week from Skype "sessions." "I sit the camera by my feet and he just stares and drools."
The concept of submissives and dominants is an intricate part of the fetish world – an exchange of power is part of the supply and demand that keeps it afloat. The relationship between fetish seeker and fetish provider doesn't necessarily rely on a physical transaction of goods. Live-streams, videos, and Skype "sessions" allow fetish workers to commodify an experience into neatly packaged parcels.
Lexi is a "financial dominatrix" who sells "humiliation sessions" to men over Skype. Typically, clients find her through Twitter, where she calls herself "Princess Lexi, Professional Brat." Lexi's clients participate in an array of submissive and humiliating acts via Skype, all the while paying Lexi to boss them around and degrade them from the other end.
Unlike other forms of sexual domination, financial domination involves a person handing over their financial assets to an online dominatrix like Lexi, who mocks them and spends their money in return – an exchange also known as "rinsing."
"I will make fun of the fact that he has to pay me to speak to him, while demanding that he continue to pay more. I also have an 'ignore' line, where clients calls my separate phone line and I literally ignore them. They'll say things like, 'Princess, I know I don't deserve to hear your voice, but I just wanted to give you my money and listen to you breathe.'”
You may think, why would someone be into this? But Lexi can earn up to $5,000 a week taking calls and selling clips. "A large part of building my own brand as a fetish provider has been cultivating an audience," remarks a model and dominatrix we'll call Marcie Rose, who uses social media to market her online services to fetish clientele. "As I branched out to create websites, blogs, accounts on Tumblr, Twitter, and FetLife, I was able to fine tune how I advertised my services for the fetishes I most enjoyed." Rose has turned a taste for fine dining and bondage into a lucrative string of food fetish sessions popularly known as "sploshing," where she covers her naked body in messy foods so that they can be licked off. (Though she insists no food make contact with her genitals for safety reasons).
Sites like FetLife double as a hub for active fetish forums. "Being part of an online kink community does add credibility to your persona," Rose explains. "You're selling arousal, which is fleeting. You have to upload more and more content so your clients have something new stream and consume."
Fetish celebrities market themselves through social media similar to the way anyone becomes famous over the Internet: Branding. Followers, likes and hashtags work as both advertising and capital for fetish stars, whose businesses are founded on visibility and access. "I was able to inject more life into my persona," explains Rose.
Ultimately, fetish content is like any other online content. It is, as Rose puts it, a means of producing and consuming fantasy. Mathilda supposes that "with the quality of camera phones and the amount of free apps available, anyone can make fetish and amateur content for free. This is stark contrast to glitz and glamor of big production pornos most people think of when they hear the word 'shoot.'" For the DIY world, all you need to get started is a tripod, video camera and access to the wi-fi.
But the bright lights of porn aren't for everyone, and fetish models get a unique opportunity to flip the "fetish stigma" on its head. "Part of the kink sometimes is having a dirty little secret," claims Marcie Rose on the romance that she insists comes with the job. "Part of the pleasure and release comes from entering the fantasy space that I provide during my sessions, and being able to return fully to their vanilla lives."