Sex

Camming Is the New Porn: Clinton Cox Brings Playboy Live to Little Haiti

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The ambitious effort, led by a 42-year-old father of three, Clinton Cox, will make Miami the epicenter of a burgeoning adult industry. Though locals complain his business is a blight on the neighborhood, Cox points out that he's creating jobs. He has five full-time employees, and the renovation project will pump tens of thousands into Little Haiti. All this good, he says, while also helping lonely men in square-shaped states live out their fantasies.

"Say you're a doctor in Kansas," Cox explains. "How else would you ever get the opportunity to meet a [Playboy Live model]?"

Over the past decade, revenue for online porn has plummeted because of the easy availability of free content on so-called "tube sites" -- video-sharing websites that are similar to YouTube but feature porn clips. Experts estimate online subscriptions and sales have decreased from $10 billion to $12 billion in the mid-2000s to about $3 billion to $5 billion today.

But there's one sector of the adult entertainment industry that's growing: camming. Customers log into a chatroom to see their preferred model for free and then pay exorbitant rates for a live, two-way, one-on-one session that is sometimes vanilla but can involve hardcore sex.

Last year, several news outlets raised concerns about the safety of camming. For instance, a CNN journalist wrote about teens in the Philippines being forced to have sex with one another on camera. The New York Times raised concerns about cam girls being stalked. And New Times published a feature about a ­13-year-old girl in Miami who posted photos of herself on messageboards before the industry was regulated. She was groomed by pedophiles on Instant Messenger and stalked by fans through her 20s.

But Cox is an evangelist for the medium. He says he's helping to standardize and legitimize it. All around the warehouse are photos of models holding their driver's licenses and a copy of that day's newspaper. Cox even owns a machine that makes sure the IDs aren't fake.

Cox's business model is paradoxical. Although he has tried to get camgirls union memberships and health insurance, the entrepreneur also represents the old guard's attempt to colonize a female-driven industry and blur it with the exploitative business of days past.

So are the women whom Cox employs being taken advantage of? "The models make their decisions," says Cox, who has mesmerizing hazel eyes and the mannerisms of a manic Tom Cruise. "What I do is facilitate giving them a safe place to work."

Either way, he's become the Hugh Hefner of Miami, having licensed the Playboy Live name four years ago and helped the iconic magazine break into the new age of porn. Cox watches cam sessions and analyzes them. Although other camming sites include hardcore sex acts, Cox says Playboy Live has a strict rule of "no pink," meaning there is no "insertion" and no anatomical closeups.

"I've watched people order pepperoni pizzas together or watch each other sleep," Cox says of some of the site's more dedicated users. "People will literally click 'play' on a YouTube video at the same time and watch a whole movie together."

It's an expensive movie date. Though girls set their own prices for private chat, the least expensive Playboy Live model costs $3.99 per minute. Taking in an hour-and-a-half feature film together would cost $359.

So far, Cox's company is definitely not a heavy hitter in the cam world. The most popular site for web models, MyFreeCams.com, receives about ten times the traffic -- and rakes in much more cash. Last year, the New York Times reported that camming is a billion-dollar industry.

But before it was big business, camming was a personal form of expression, kind of like blogging. In 1996, 20-year-old Jennifer Ringley began broadcasting from her Pennsylvania dorm room. She wasn't putting on sex shows, but because she would film her room at all times, viewers would sometimes see her in intimate moments.

The practice was commercialized -- and sexualized -- in 2004. That's when MyFreeCams popped up. Users could log in, message with models in an open room, and then take them to an expensive one-on-one "chat" that was often overtly sexual. It essentially dynamited the porn world, and today it's the 344th most visited site on the internet.

Now, the traditional adult entertainment brands like Playboy are hurrying to catch up. Penthouse, for instance, purchased Various Inc. for $500 million in 2007. The print magazine paled in comparison to the company's other properties, such as AdultFriendFinder, a cam site and social network that has more than 50 million users.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.