Aunt Pythia’s advice: the camgirls edition
Readers! Dear readers!
Today is such a wonderful day for lovers everywhere. We are celebrating love in all its forms. As part of the that celebration, Aunt Pythia has decided to knit up something appropriate:
Many apologies for missing last week’s column! Aunt Pythia was busy getting stung by mosquitos and dripped on by a soggy tent at the Clearwater Festival. Next time she’s definitely taking the Aunt Pythia tour bus:
Are you all ready?! Let’s do this thing! We’ve got some doozies this week, folks.
Oh, and before you leave,
ask Aunt Pythia any question at all at the bottom of the page!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
My kid is a math whiz, and we will soon be doing college tours. I would love to find a program that teaches him to use quantitative skills in an applied, team environment. Any suggestions?
Mom Asking Math Advice
First, who wants him to be applied? Who wants him to work as part of a team? Is this something you want, or he wants? I hesitate to give advice to parents about their child’s goals when their child is embarking on adulthood. And, being a mom myself, I completely understand that you want them to go to a college that suits them, but at the same time, let’s make sure they have agency as well.
OK, now I will assume that yes, your son wants very much to find such a place. In that case, I would suggest at least looking into Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I have a friend named Suzanne Weekes who is a professor there and also directs the Center for Industrial Mathematics and Statistics. Whenever talk to her about her job she mentions various team projects on applied subjects that she has her students working on. They sound great, and fascinating, and it makes me want to go back in time and go to WPI.
And even if that isn’t the right place for your son, take a look at the kinds of things that the CIMS does. And good luck to your son!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
After reading the article you referred to in your answer to PORN NOT SCORN, I am somewhat suspicious of the first item. It seems self-serving for big-name porn actresses to recommend sticking with the big labels such as those that they themselves work for. My own feelings about porn mirror yours: the vast majority of it turns me off even when I don’t think about how it was made. And I share your concern that sexuality as depicted in porn, as opposed to desire and pleasure, would drive expectations of inexperienced lovers. I have a question about a porn-related phenomenon you seem to have either missed or chosen not to comment on in your answer.
There is a huge and fast-growing “camgirl” segment of the industry, using the internet and webcams for real-time conversations and interaction between sex workers and their customers. The article you referred to actually mentions “camgirls” briefly, and some of the points about subscription websites are similar. There’s an older article in the New York Times taking an in-depth view at this phenomenon. There is also a response from the camgirl interviewed for that article and more recently an indie documentary interviewed lots of them.
As someone who strongly dislikes porn, I have been surprised that interacting with camgirls has become a significant part of my sex life. My wife and I both value how it alleviates stress in our relationship, caused by a discrepancy between how frequently she and I want sex, while avoiding some of the concerns we both have about open relationships. The interaction with these camgirls isn’t just about sex and money, though. Over time, I have gotten to know a few of them very well indeed. I could call it an extreme form of the advice about porn to “stick with performers you know”, but that misses how well they get to know me in return.
I am curious how you feel about the potential for developing a biased view of female sexuality resulting from that kind of interaction. The women choosing this work are not at all a representative sample of women, and there are strong incentives for them to try to please their customers. But they are real women, and in my experience many of them do really seem to love their jobs and to take seriously that they have an educational role in helping their customers explore female sexuality.
Curious About Masturbating Females’ Autoerotic Needs
Wow, lots of thoughts, and I don’t know where to start.
As for the camgirl industry, I read the first two things, but I don’t have time for a movie, so I’m going to have a pretty narrow perspective. That said, it’s interesting, and obviously complex. I also think the articles do a good job of pushing back against the assumptions that anyone doing stuff like this must be unhappy and desperate. Obviously not true.
As for your letter, I’ll take it on in no particular order.
First, it seems a tad arbitrary to me that you and your wife are comfortable with you getting to know camgirls but are uncomfortable with an open relationship. If I read your letter correctly, it’s the intimacy between you and the camgirls that makes it feel to you like it’s not yucky, but that intimacy is the very thing I’d expect your wife to be threatened by. Is it because you feel like, due to the payer-payee nature of the relationship, this could never become serious? Do you actually think it’s true? From my experience, actual physical sex is not the threat to marriage, intimacy and feelings are.
Next, let’s talk about the act of being a camgirl. From your sign-off, I’m interpreting most of these acts as being more or less shows where girls masturbate live on camera for a single man or a crowd of men. My reaction to that set-up is, wow, what if you don’t feel like masturbating? You still need to put on a show to earn the money. It’s your job. So right away I imagine that sometimes, even in the ideal situation where a camgirl likes her job, she’s not always authentically horny, because that would be just very unlikely. That makes me unattracted to the whole business as far as the female sexuality that it exhibits.
Finally, to your question of whether it creates a biased view of female sexuality, I think I’ve kind of answered that. Imagine if a camgirl got on camera and said,
Hey guys I’m actually not horny right now, and even though I often really enjoy being an exhibitionist, and it really turns me on, tonight I’m just not in the mood. OK if we just make popcorn and watch a movie?
That’s not going to happen, because what you’re seeing isn’t reality, it’s a performance. These women don’t want to ruin their brands by admitting they aren’t horny, and why would they. It’s not a criticism of camgirls, it’s a statement of fact. But the other side of that coin is, if the men (and I assume, some women) who watch camgirls think they are interacting with the camgirls in an authentic way, they will of course have very biased views of what women and their sexualities are actually like.
Having said all that, let’s assume that you understand that not only is there a selection bias for the kinds of girls that do cam, but also that even a girl who does cam is sometimes just performing and isn’t actually genuinely turned on. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn something about what women actually like sexually. That of course will depend on how much a given camgirl explains to her audience, and of course such information might be quite biased as well, depending on what brings in more tips. After all, it’s a business!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
Just curious about your thoughts on the Columbia sexual assault story involving the student carrying around the mattress (I’m not involved in it, I’m not even at Columbia). If you were Columbia (or Lee Bollinger, in particular), what would you do? Would you allow her to carry the mattress around, or at graduation? Do you think it is creating a hostile environment, especially for the accused guy? Your thoughts on the guy’s lawsuit?
And what about Kirsten Gillibrand bringing the mattress lady to the state of the union address…do you think that was a mistake on Kirsten’s part?
Lee (not really)
I haven’t followed the story closely enough to have a very nuanced opinion, but I’ll say a few related things.
- It’s absolutely true that campuses, at least historically, have tried to put the hush-hush on sexual assault. I know this from being at Harvard in the late 1990’s. The problem is that there’s an obvious conflict of interest for campuses. They want to preserve their image, and seen that way it seems dumb that they are in control of such issues at all.
- The reason they are in control is multi-faceted but includes the fact that towns often don’t want to pay for policing of campuses, and because campuses often don’t think town do a good enough job so they take over. Let’s focus on the second point, although the first point is sometimes important.
- So, instead of focusing on how college students are treated after they are sexually assaulted, and how the accused is treated, I want to raise the issue of how we deal with rape and sexual assault as a society. What are the standards of proof and evidence for sexual assault and rape for the police? Why are so few rapes reported? How do we spot sexual assault? How do we protect children? How do we make this a priority for the nation? RIght now the general statistics are terrible.
- I guess another way of saying that is when the police are good at this outside of college campuses, then we won’t need to rely on college administrators to do this. We’ve got a long way to go.
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I’ll be attending a math conference this summer in Utah. According to a blurb they sent out, it says:
“Participants who request residence hall accommodations will be housed in dormitories on the University of Utah campus. The rooms are suite-style rooms where a bedroom and a bathroom will be shared. Each person is reserving one bed for one person, and will be paired with roommates within his or her gender.”
I feel this is so old-fashioned. Why do roommates have to be of the same gender? I think everyone should have their own room and have some privacy. A part of me also wants to stick up for transgendered people and make a point that there are not just two distinct genders, but that there is a continuum. What should transgendered people register as? I am biologically male, but have feminine traits both emotionally and physically (although the plumbing is male) (and btw I’m attracted to females) and much rather prefer hanging around women than men although I can’t figure out whether it’s because I’m attracted to women or because I can relate better to them on an emotional level. Since gender is a social construct, I want to register as a woman. If anyone asks or objects, I’ll say I’m confused about my gender, consider my brain to be feminine, and I am transgendered. This is going to be super awkward, but that will stir up controversy and discussion. What do you think of this?
And what about all these conferences or clubs for women (like the Harvard Women in Computer Science)? I love women, and think of myself as a woman, but am biologically unquestionably male. Are transgendered people allowed to go to these conferences/events if they self-identify as feminine? If I’m a male and show up, what are they going to do? Arrest me? Check my plumbing and then disqualify me? And if I claim my brain is feminine (which I actually kind of believe) how are they going to check that?
My main point is that for administrative purposes people introduce categories like race and gender, as if these are well-defined categories, but they are not (this idea I think is pretty well known).
(Algebro) Geometric Isomers
Hey, great questions! I’ll take them in order.
First, I think you totally should tell them that you identify as a woman and want to share a room with a woman, even though biologically speaking you’re male. I know that when I was attending math conferences I would have preferred to share a suite with you than with some random person: you sound interesting! And yes, the math community should be shaken up a bit, it’s old-fashioned for sure.
Second, about the women’s groups. I think it depends. For example, Barnard College recently announced it would accept transgender women. That’s cool!
On the other hand, a given STEM group for women might – at times – be discussing the exact issues that you wouldn’t relate to directly, since you present as male. Such as being told you got into grad school because you’re a girl and standards are lower for girls, to name one. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be able to relate to such issues at all, nor does it imply that such groups wouldn’t want you, but I think you should understand that it’s a tricky issue, because they want a community that understands such issues and has a safe place to discuss it and create strategies.
Anyhoo, the world is changing quickly, and these issues are being discussed quite deeply right now, and I’m looking forward to all of us sorting through them. And I’m very much hoping that you will be one person who helps drag the math community into this new era. Good luck!
People, people! Aunt Pythia loves you so much. And she knows that you love her. She feels the love. She really really does.
Well, here’s your chance to spread your Aunt Pythia love to the world! Please ask her a question. She will take it seriously and answer it if she can.
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