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Cybersex as affective labor:

An exploratory study of cybersex

in the Philippines
Elinor May Cruz and Trina Joyce Sajo
Presentation outline

A. Key issues at a glance

B. Theoretical discussion
C. Methodology
D. Initial findings in 2 case studies
E. Initial concluding remarks

A. Key issues at a glance

 The business and economics of cybersex

 The cybersex worker at the heart of labor,
technology and the digital economy
 The stakeholders’ response

B. Theoretical discussion: Affective labor

PDS The Filipino as

2010- world-class
2016 service provider

Philippines as The role of
cybersex capital technology in
of the world sex work

Philippine Digital Strategy 2010-2016

English language proficiency, adaptability, educated,

a deep-seated value system that prizes serving
others, commitment and loyalty, cultural adaptability,
and familiarity with western business culture. . .
[poise Filipinos] to becoming members of the next-
generation of highly-valued and fully effective 21st
century workers and citizens.

Benigno Aquino III administration

Affective labor

Filipinos as

Hybrid of Philippines as
The role of
IT and cybersex
technology in
capital of the
non-IT sex work

Cybersex capital of the Philippines

 Cybersex operations couched under sexual

 A range of affective, care and/or “servile” labor
detailed to Filipinos in the neoliberal global labor

Affective labor

Filipinos as

Philippines as
worker Critical
The role of rethinking of the
technology in Internet as
capital of the
sex work revolutionary
world technology

The role of technology in sex work

 Critical rethinking of the Internet as revolutionary

▪ Online sex tourism and the Internet as advertising
medium for world sex
▪ eVAW
▪ The circulation of Filipinas “in ways reminiscent of
colonial and global histories”
 A political economy of the body as mediated by
technology to explain how affect and forms of
affective labor are conditioned by the digital
economy, where new forms of biopolitics and
regulation of populations emerge

Main premise

 Using the lens of affective labor, we posit that

in cybersex work, Filipino bodies and their
labors are surveilled, controlled, and
circulated on and beyond the Internet. At the
same time, through ICT use, cybersex
workers mobilize their affects as forms of
negotiation in the digital sexual economy.

C. Methodology
 Olongapo and Angeles Cities as case study sites, former R&R sites of US
bases and oft-cited locations of cybersex dens in mainstream media
 Partnership with WEDPRO and people's organizations based in
Olongapo and Angeles
 University of the Philippines College of Social Sciences and Philosophy
Institutional Ethics Review Board
 20 life history interviews with former and current cybersex workers
including cybersex operators
 13 key informant interviews with national and local government
representatives, law enforcement, NGOs, and the academe

D. Initial findings:
Profiles of Angeles participants

 3 adult transgenders, 4 women, 3 men

 former and current cybersex workers, former
 Ages 18-33
 Mostly highschool graduates
 Mostly locals but some came from Eastern
Visayas and Western Mindanao
 Previously employed in service-based work or
none at all
 Basic to no computer knowledge
The business & economics of
cybersex in Angeles City
 “It’s not about sex but about business” -
former operator
 Business hierarchy
 Website administrator(s)
 Boss or financer
 Operator
 Customers
 Cybersex workers

The business & economics of
cybersex in Angeles City
 The recruitment process
 Types of cybersex operations
 Studio type
 Bar chat and gift shop
 Home-based operations

The business & economics of
cybersex in Angeles City
 Studio type
 Red light on: show is ongoing
 Communicator and model setup
 Shift work, scheduled breaks, and 1 day off per
 Penalties for attendance issues

The business & economics of
cybersex in Angeles City
 Bar chat and gift shop
 Shift work
 Assigned rotation: dance floor, bar chat
 “Ring the bell”
 Two-piece bikini uniforms
 Booth operators for private chats

The business & economics of
cybersex in Angeles City
 Home-based operations
 Free laptops and imported costumes
 Online profiles linked to mobile phones for
remote supervision

Cybersex workers

 With just one click:

 Foreign capital props up the business, electronic
payment facilities and online remittances
 A circuitry of “servile” laborers
 The imposition of desire: Basta sumunod ka lang
sa gusto nila
 Big brother online
 Risk and fraud
 Seamlessness of abuse: when videos go viral,
when hitting the X button
Cybersex workers

 Precarious labor dynamics and conditions,

online and offline
 Kayod ka sa drinks, kayod ka sa minits
 “Hindi porket humarap ka sa kamera kikita ka na,
dapat marunong ka makipagusap, magbuladas”
 “Madali lang magkapera kung marunong kang
makipagusap”: “Oh, shit. I’m coming!”
 To please/be in the good graces of operators not
just customers
 December raids, hulidap
Cybersex workers

 Paulit-ulit na lang, araw-araw na lang, nakatutok ka

sa computer….Masakit na sa mata, sa likod tapos
pagod ka ba sa pinapagawa ng customer….Minsan
wala ka ng ibubuga tapos may magpa-private pa
sa’yo….pagod na pagod ka na…isipin mo, gusto nung
iba, maya’t maya gusto na labasan ka – former

 Working to stop from working (in cybersex)

Cybersex workers

 Ice cream, lotion, and Fudgee Bar:

Negotiating with reality
 Operators and co-workers as family and friends
 Kesa wala akong ginagawa, at least kumikita ako
 The gaze reversed, positioning the gaze
 Deception and multiplicity
 Prostitution to a lesser degree, victims of poverty
 A sense of possibilities

Initial findings: Olongapo case

Olongapo City’s anti-cybersex
 Marries competing discourses of
commercialization and feminist activism
 Strong multi-sectoral support
 To what extent the community’s
assumptions, beliefs and views about
cybersex as a commercial practice
correspond to the lived experiences of
cybersex participants?
Profiles of Olongapo participants

 10 adult women, former cybersex performers

 Ages 18-45
 Reached highschool/a few years in college
 Reside in nearby cities/towns
 Majority have been previously employed in
bars, strip clubs, and worked the streets
selling sexual favors; also service-based work
such as housekeeping
Varieties of cybersex
(organizational arrangements)
a. Quasi-businesses (including cybersex dens),
b. Peer group
c. Independent arrangements
Money, technology,
surveillance and affective labor
 How cybersex is organized shapes the
economics and the reproductive exchanges in
 Money, technology, surveillance control,
manage, mediate the conditions and
affective states of the cybersex performer
Stakeholders’ response

 Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 – a

criminal not welfare statute
 No ICT and gender program or unit to date:
All in the same boat
 “Di mo ba naiisip kung ilang libong tao ang
nakakakita ng pekpek mo, ng suso mo?” - “Eh
hindi naman po nakita ang mukha ko.”
 Values reorientation/reshaping minds versus
limited understanding of how technology
abets cybercrimes
Stakeholders’ response

 In spite of significant constraints or

impediments, concerted efforts to eliminate
cybersex are clearly well established in
Olongapo City. These efforts are integrated
in the overarching campaign to eliminate
forms of sexual exploitation and abuse in the
community; namely, prostitution and child

Stakeholders’ response

 Stakeholders’ responses to cybersex can be

considered a form of surveillance that rests on bio-
power. The elimination of cybersex is done through
control and monitoring of Internet-related
behaviors of citizens.
 Deterrents like corruption makes law enforcement,
the bureaucracy, and the courts relatively weak to
enforce laws and punish cybersex den operators.
 Such weak structure is compensated for by the
citizens’ vigilance, particularly legitimate businesses
and anti-pornography and prostitution advocates
that desire to have cybersex eliminated.
F. Concluding remarks

 Affective control: Subsumption of affective

capacities for autonomy thru ICT in cybersex
 Reliance on foreign capital
 Limited understanding of ICT potential
 Assymetric power relations, worker pushes the
limits of the body prone to breach in privacy only
to get a small fraction of actual earnings
 Online and offline layers of surveillance
 Vicious cycle of cybersex work
F. Concluding remarks

 Counter-tendencies against affective control:

Grassroots resistance and negotiation of cybersex
 Short-term economic gain: Ruptures of resistance against
precarious present
 A sense of possibilities for a better life but is nevertheless
a provisional means to an end
 The affective control can be turned on its head by arguing
for cyber rights including internet literacy
 A morally upright economic environment versus
cybersex that destroys the moral fiber of society: A
priori exclusion of cybersex workers