Written by Jessie Sage. Originally published in Pittsburgh City Paper.
Audio smut producer and phone sex operator April Would has a regular client who enjoys office-based fantasies. Last week when he called, something interesting happened: He changed the setting of their typical scene. “You are now in my home office,” he said to her. “But you’re still my secretary and the dress code applies, you will be dressed in a pencil skirt.”
This was one of the first instances where Would noticed how her clients’ fantasies were shifting in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The quarantines impact not only how one works, but also how one fantasizes about and survives one’s job. “He usually calls me at 3 a.m., so he is not actually in the office when he calls,” she says. “But in order for the fantasy to work, it still needed to feel possible.”
Lindsey Hawthorne, who also works full-time as a phone sex operator, is not just getting calls that reflect shifts in lifestyle, but also ones from clients who are actively trying to work through their anxiety and fears about the pandemic. She recounts that one of her clients wanted to act out a fantasy where they were both in hazmat suits and unable to touch each other. “He wanted to do a whole role play about being dominated, so I had him clean in a hazmat suit,” she says. “It was a ‘sissy’ call so I gave them a pink hazmat suit and a pink toothbrush to clean with.”
In fact, Hawthorne says that she has been getting a lot of calls from clients who want to roleplay coronavirus-related themes of quarantine and isolation. While taking quarantine head-on, Hawthorne also believes domination can be a form of escapism from isolation. “I think it is definitely a comfort thing. They think, ‘She will tell me what to do the entire time so I don’t have to think about what is going on.’”
In other cases, clients are seeking something more akin to counseling. Hawthorne has had two or three clients reach out to talk about the virus itself. “They want to talk about contracting it, getting it, having to be quarantined; they talk about the symptoms,” she says.
“Our fantasies are shaped by our day-to-day realities,” Would says. When our day-to-day realities shift so dramatically, it makes sense that our erotic imaginations would follow suit. It should be no surprise that both Hawthorne and Would are witnessing a shift in the sort of fantasies their clients bring to them.
Their clients are giving us a glimpse into what this may look like, but to what degree this will happen still remains to be seen. “Will there be grocery store fantasies? Business men eroticizing domesticity?” asks Would. “How about social distancing fantasies? Fantasies where we remain six feet apart and talk dirty to one another while masturbating?”
Phone sex operators are on the front lines of people’s erotic psyches, and can illuminate the emotional and psychological impact of coronavirus. We are all trying to process our fears around this pandemic; what these clients are showing us is that fantasy and eroticization are powerful tools for exerting some degree of control over something that we otherwise feel powerless in the face of.
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).