Rise of the Stay-at-Home Phone Sex Operator

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The lifestyle and retro appeal of "copulatory vocalization"

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[nicholassmale/flickr]

"He wanted you to cover your body in -- what?"

"Slices of American cheese," deadpans Domino, a surprisingly soft-spoken 27-year-old phone sex operator and stay-at-home mother who agreed to tutor me in advance of my scheduled stint as a phone sex operator.

Why would I try professional dirty talk? The decision actually began with a bit of reflection on wellness derived from occupational choices. While reading a recent Forbes article, "The Rise of The 1099 Economy: More Americans Are Becoming Their Own Bosses," I thought about my transition from sweater set wearing corporate peg (I worked as a bond trader at an elite investment bank from 2003 to 2006) to freelance writer. I realized a while ago that the day-to-day flexibility afforded by freelancing is crucial to my mental health, even at the cost of a regular Wall Street paycheck. What I didn't know was that I'm part of a larger phenomenon. Data supplied by Economic Modeling Specialists International shows a 14 percent increase in the number of people working mostly on their own since 2001, and, according to Forbes, the trend is expected to gain momentum.

Are these other 1099 devotees choosing self-employment for the lifestyle benefits? And in what fields are they working, I wondered -- partly because a freelancer is always on the lookout for additional sources of income.

Curiosity led me to Christine Durst, the co-founder of a company that places people in home-based occupations called Rat Race Rebellion. Durst explained that she works across a vocational spectrum encompassing everything from healthcare to consulting to engineering and phone sex. Regarding the latter, she cited a stark increase in the number of mothers becoming phone sex operators because the flexible hours allow them to spend more time with their children.

"I may not be a mom, but I completely understand that choice," I said.

Durst soon introduced me to Domino, who worked in the Sales & Marketing division of a Fortune 500 company prior to becoming a phone sex operator in 2010. We bonded immediately over our shared distaste for conventions such as billable hours and face time. From what Domino then described, the act of engaging strangers in sex talk seemed intimidating, but it also seemed doable from the comfort of my home. Far be it from me to spurn any method of earning an extra buck that will let me maintain my lifestyle.

***

On the morning of my phone sex operator debut as "Pussy Willow," I sat at my desk wearing the navy blue cotton shorts I've owned since college and one of my boyfriend's white V-neck tees, staring over my shoulder at the cable box's digital clock. It was 10:55am. Big Rick, the first to answer my ad in the adult section of backpage.com, was scheduled to call at 11:00am. Thanks to Google Voice, I'd set up a fake number that forwards calls to my cell automatically.

The difference between saying "I feel..." and "You make me feel so... " is truly remarkable.

As I waited, I called to mind Domino's main advice: "Being a phone sex operator is like Russian roulette in that you never know what you're going to get. One client might want me to tell him to swallow his own semen because he's totally into humiliation, and an hour later I could be blowing up balloons for another guy." I've seen too much pornography and one too many episodes of National Geographic's Taboo to qualify as sheltered, but as I imagined the realm of possibilities, I grew more and more scared that I wouldn't be able to stop myself from cracking up.

I'd also backed myself up with a beginner-in-the-industry standard setup. I left a porno clip up on my computer screen so I could hit play and describe what I saw in case I ran out of ideas. To my left, my iPad displayed photos of a shirtless Brad Pitt to get me in the mood. Also within reach was my Naughty Quadrant -- an original reference chart scribbled on loose leaf -- including sections for Pet Names (Handsome, Stud, Sex God, Big Daddy, etc.), Dirty Adjectives (hard, pulsating, throbbing, wet, etc.), Dirty Verbs (lick, suck, spank, engulf, etc), and Body Parts (tits, balls, tongue, lips, etc.).

I looked from Brad to porn to cheat sheet, then practice my sexy voice, which, Domino instructed, should be softer and slower than usual. Remember to drawwww out your syllables, I told myself, because aside from a hilarious request, my greatest fear was that I'd tire of speaking so unnaturally.

When the phone finally rang, a whole new crop of concerns surfaced.

Was there a standard number of rings to allow before answering? How did I neglect to go over basic etiquette with Domino? And why am I dressed like this? It takes a special kind of idiot to wear a shirt she associates with her real-life lover while ushering a stranger toward climax.

At the dawn of ring four I swallowed my emergency shot of tequila, and, I hoped, most of the self-doubt.

"Tell me this is Big Rick," I said, trying my best to lather each word with sensuality.

"Yup," replied a gruff, borderline blasé voice.

Did I speak too quickly? Or sound too babyish? Too ridiculous?

"Well, well well," I say, buying myself a second to be offended before remembering that it was my job to draw him in. "Does Big Rick want to get naughty? Because Pussy Willow's getting naked."

"Hmph," utters the man of few words.

Sure, it's a phone sex operator's job to drive conversation, but how does one work with a mute? I considered my options. I could improvise a monologue about yearning for him on a remote beach, the ocean water splashing as my back arched northward with each tickle of orgasmic pleasure. Alternatively, I could play dominatrix. Or take my chance on a Russian accent. I could even hang up, but the freelancer in me didn't want to turn down the possibility of work.

That's when it hit me that there was only one person who knew what I should do.

In my most ingratiating, temptress-like tone, I asked "What is it that Big Rick wants?"

That's how I learned that Big Rick wasn't into feet, restraints, accents, or adult diapering. His wish was to jerk off while I narrated our session, beginning with "a raunchy lap dance" and culminating in "a doggy style hump fest."

When Big Rick climaxed around 11:18am, I was satisfied by my accomplishment. I was also a bit turned on.

***

Surprised that a mostly one-sided dialogue with a person I resented might get me going, I ring Dr. Justin R. Garcia, an Evolutionary Biologist with the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Garcia slapped a technical term on the phenomenon: copulatory vocalization. "We know that sound is really important during sex," he said. Indeed, a quick online search unveiled a study by James M Dabbs of Georgia State University showing that the pupils of both males and females dilate more in response to sexual auditory stimuli than to other kinds. Garcia explained that we use sound to direct sexual energy and to communicate a sense of pleasure. "A big part of this is performance-based, and that's not a bad thing -- that's just a reality of sex," he says.

The prevalence of online pornography and the ease with which any smart phone owner can snap a sexy photo lead some to oversaturate themselves with visual stimuli.

The advantages to phone sex might just amount to more than lifestyle perks.

***

For my next call, I changed into fitted black pants, a leopard print top, and four-inch patent leather pumps. I also set aside all framed photographs of my parents and boyfriend.

Throughout the day, I became more daring and resourceful. A spare leather shoelace transformed into a miniature whip, a rubber band let me actualize the spanking of flesh, and a lollipop doubled as a delicious instrument for imitating fellatio. When a request to smother my breasts in honey caught me off guard, I remind myself that the caller can't see me and run to the cupboard to pop the cap off a condiment I actually stock (ketchup) before returning to my desk to kick off a sticky, groan-enhanced fantasy.

I managed not to break into laughter all day, until "John" greeted me shortly before another voice chirped in to introduce herself as "Yoko." In a way, the silly Beatles reference distracted me from the fact that a couple called, allowing me to adjust to the unexpected more smoothly.

By evening I'd mastered the straightforward start, and I'd learned a few other things. Such as, dirty words are far less impactful than basic affirmations such as "Yes!" "Yeah, baby!" "Like that!" and "Give it to me!" It's also helpful to frame a comment in the context of a caller's prowess. I suppose people like to receive credit, because the difference between saying "I feel..." and "You make me feel so...." is truly remarkable. Lastly, I'm more certain than ever that it's impossible to avoid getting turned on while speaking at length and in detail about sex, which makes me hesitant to pursue a phone sex operator side gig, at least while I'm in a serious relationship.

***

The following day, I called Dr. Garcia again, convinced that we're all underestimating the capacity of our auditory sense. Garcia emphasizes that sexual response, or arousal, relies on every sense: visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, and tactile. When it comes to which aspect of our sensory system is most important during sex, he offers a hypothetical: "Consider a silent sensual massage versus clumsy petting accompanied by sexy talk. The two are hard to compare for obvious reasons." Since the quality of stimuli and individual preferences can vary so widely, it's impossible to make blanket statements.

That said, Garcia explains that the prevalence of online pornography and the ease with which any smart phone owner can snap a sexy photo lead some to oversaturate themselves with visual stimuli. He concedes that people today might very well overlook the capacity of their auditory sense as a result. Whether or not that is the case, he adds, "finding new ways to communicate sexually speaks to our evolved human animal." 

Phone sex operator might not be an ideal gig for everyone, but for a porn-saturated generation, going vocal might be worth the change in pace. Especially in the context of the last several years, during which time the perils of creating and exchanging sexually explicit visual content have become evident, this makes sense. Countless high-powered individuals -- Scarlett Johansson, Lily Allen, Rihanna, and Anthony Weiner, to name a few -- have been embarrassed by sexting fiascos. There's even a host of regular teens who have been slapped with felony counts for disseminating graphic photos and videos. Why not embrace phone sex as a retro method of incorporating technology into our sex lives that's far less likely to lead to humiliation or jail time?

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Presented by

Melanie Berliet

Mélanie Berliet is a writer/producer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York, Vanity FairElle, CosmopolitanSelf, Esquire, and McSweeney’s. She worked as a consulting producer on MTV's The Buried Life.

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