Of all the conveniences the Web has bestowed upon us, perhaps none is more stupefying than the miracle of global exhibitionism, which in turn has spawned a revolution of DIY sex stardom. While there's no question that amateur show-offs and fornicators have been on menu since companies like Homegrown only trafficked in VHS, it's the Web – and especially the webcam – that really opened the floodgates for everyone with an unfulfilled penchant to parade their privates in public. This same technology has also muddied the waters when it comes to distinguishing a true amateur from a bona fide pro.
As noted in a sidebar to this issue's feature article on single-girl sites, an amateur is someone who's in it strictly for the love of the game. Or as Webster's puts it, "one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession." Traditionally, one is not paid for pursuing a pastime, even one so noble as masturbating in front of strangers. Not true for our industry. To stretch a homespun analogy, imagine Dad out in the garage building a replica of the Andrea Doria from balsa wood—and charging the neighbors to watch.
So it's understandable when amateur purists find themselves both confused and disconcerted by the plethora of so-called "amateur sites" so eager to take their credit card numbers. Yes, TGPs abound, but it's not quite the same thing. One can Google until the Second Coming and be hard- pressed to find a philanthropic tart out there splaying her beaver on her own website, purely from the kindness of her heart. Everyone's in it for a buck.
It wasn't always that way.
By the late-’90s, affordable webcams, coupled with CU-SeeMe technology, gave birth to the popularity of reflector sites. They were the destination of choice for discriminating chataholics who preferred visual proof that the "hot babe" egging them on wasn't in fact a fat, middle-aged tire salesman. Instead, many men found it much more comforting to actually see that the "hot babe" they were cyber-screwing was even less attractive than a fat, middle-aged tire salesman. No wonder AOL's chatrooms never emptied out.
Still, reflectors offered an opportunity for swingers, sluts, and jack-off artists to pursue their pastimes and share their prurient interests with like-minded folk around the world, eyeball-to-eyeball, sans credit cards. Oversexed geeks rejoiced. Suddenly the new Jenna Jameson video at the local video store had less appeal than the prospect of enduring four hours of witless chat with a frumpy hausfrau in Wisconsin (screen name: 1HotMama) before she'd finally flash her pallid pancakes. Now, that's entertainment.
Soon thereafter, "amateur" cam sites like iFriends came up with a brilliant way to cash in on the craze. For a modest fee, these sites would connect you to hundreds of ego-preening webcam babes trying to earn some pocket money while rubbing one out. While many of these girls probably considered themselves amateurs, the fact that they were getting paid to perform sex acts for the pleasure of others elicited a different job classification from both the IRS and Iceberg Slim.
And so it came to pass that the untainted virtue of online amateurism began to sully—and a new kind of "amateur" was born—the professional kind.
While such sites seemed like safe havens for sluts not quite willing to tarnish their reputations by appearing on the video box cover of "Ass Wreckers #17," that illusion was short-lived. Lustful impetuousness soon gave way to the realization that once you've displayed your naked ass on the Web, it's for all intents and purposes there – or on someone's hard drive – forever. Or at least long enough for your grandkids to enjoy. It is exactly this moment of truth that would come to separate the professional wheat from the amateur chaff. On the flipside of the coin from the anonymous cam girl who only wanted lunch money were the up-and-cummers who craved even more exposure, traffic, and income than a site like iFriends could provide. They were not afraid of fame, or rather, infamy, on a massive scale, nor of occupying their own domain names. The amateur cam sites were a veritable petri dish for this new breed of porn star, a place for them to cut their teeth before going balls-out pro with their own pay sites.
In the final analysis, it may seem to some that it's merely splitting pubic hairs to point out that today's "amateurs" aren't really amateurs in the true sense of the word. But for those of us who still shudder at the thought of those heady salad days of CU-SeeMe, the discrepancy may, upon reflection, be a blessing in disguise.