The dirty billion dollar Phone Sex business

The dirty billion dollar Phone Sex business

Tech Highlights:

  • 1-900 ads on late-night cable and in the back of weekly newspapers represented some of my earliest fascination with sexual pleasure. When I close my eyes, I can still hear the alluring purrs of the models, see their sweaty flesh busting out of bodacious lingerie. To a queer teen in a small town, these professional dirty talkers seemed like horniness unleashed. And they were potentially just a phone call away. Like most hormonal young people, I was drawn to anything to do with naked bodies; unlike my peers, I wanted even more than just intimate experience. I was obsessed with erotic performance and storytelling, art and culture, politics and activism.

  • When three award-winning filmmakers approached me in 2019 and asked me to host and co-write a podcast called Operator, which would investigate phone sex in the 1990s, I immediately said, “Yes! Yes! YES!” I was itching to fly down to Florida and interview everyone involved as soon as I discovered the basics about American Telnet, a corporation that generated billions off of adult pay-per-call lines. The more sex work changes, the more it stays the same, I discovered.

Those obsessions led me, when I became an adult, to pursue a career as a professional dominatrix and pornographer, and later a podcaster, reporter, and sci-fi writer covering topics like BDSM subcultures and adult entertainment labor rights. The Operator producers were smart enough to bring in the voice of someone with a background both in the sex industry and in covering that industry as a journalist. As the show’s host, I’m a 21st-century sex worker exploring the industry that changed my life in the era right before I became a part of it.

 

The people who built and ran American Telnet (or ATN), and their relationships with one another, have that stranger-than-fiction shine to them. A fast-talking, charismatic CEO who wielded impressive powers of persuasion and took enormous pleasure in his business. A young woman who became the smiling company mascot partying hard at porn conventions. A former Marine who managed the phone room like a den mother. The nerdy head of technology, who innovated the professional use of voice recognition and automated phone menus: his ambivalence about putting his talents to the use of satisfying “horny dads” and other phone-sex customers would have a catastrophic effect on the company. There’s family drama, self-loathing, drugs, backstabbing, police raids, and corporate power play.

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