While working as a stripper in Oregon, Kelpie Heart had long thought about taking her work online. Then the new coronavirus pandemic led to bar closures, and she found herself out of work.

So, for the last month, Ms. Heart has begun streaming performances from home, doing one live show a week.

As 16 million people in the United States have applied for unemployment benefits in the last three weeks, a rush of people like Ms. Heart have sought new work performing in sexually explicit live broadcasts. And, as nearly half the world is under some form of stay-at-home orders, people who do this work are also seeing a large growth in customers.

Ms. Heart is streaming on CamSoda, one of many webcam or “camming” sites that stream live online broadcasts. Generally called “cam models,” these people might strip or dance on camera while viewers message them. The performers work for tips, to accommodate laws that regulate sex work.

Daryn Parker, the vice president of CamSoda, said there had been a 37 percent increase in new model sign-ups this March, compared to last March. For the same period, Bella French, the co-founder and C.E.O. of ManyVids, another camming site, said that there was a 69 percent increase in new model sign-ups.

This growth is met by a recent influx of new viewers. At CamSoda, the number of new viewers to the site has doubled this year when compared to early 2019, according to the company.

But this growth isn’t always translating into more money for the models. Mileena Kane, 24, a popular cam model for CamSoda, said people think she’s making easy money right now. While she has noticed new viewers, her earnings are static. In Ms. Kane’s experience, new viewers aren’t tipping as much as they typically would. Each site makes money by taking some percentage of the tips.

“I’m meeting a whole bunch of people more frequently than I normally would, but there’s not much more money,” said Ms. Kane.

Before the new coronavirus pandemic, some models also partook in other forms of sex work, like stripping, pornography and escort services. Others worked at bars in the evening and cammed when they had the time; some held office jobs.

Now, many have one job. And for models who cam full-time, the work can be all consuming. Ms. Kane cams for 12 hours a day, almost every day of the year, she said, and only took two days off last year. Though this schedule is physically exhausting, she said it’s worth it.

“That’s just something that comes with being an entrepreneur,” Ms. Kane said. “I’m trying to work as hard as I can while I’m young so I don’t have to later.”

For Ms. Kane, who calls herself a “camholic,” falling in love with the job depended on making it her own. During her long streams, she prioritizes her comfort: She wears pajamas, eats snacks and dances.

Allie Awesome, a cam model, works around 60 hours a week, she said. Her workday begins right after waking up, when she looks through her social media notifications and checks in on her customers. (She declined to give her age, as did many of the subjects in this article, because doing so, they said, could lower their tips or jeopardize their safety. Many of these subjects are using their professional names.)

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Sex Work Comes Home by Gabrielle Drolet

April 10, 2020