Yllen takes out a pole and installs it in the living room of her home…
Yllen takes out a pole and installs it in the living room of her home to the west of Caracas. She turns on her laptop, connects the webcam, and waits for a client to call so she can start her show. She defines what she does as ‘soft porn’: an erotic performance without explicit images or penetration. ‘A lot of men just want to talk,’ she says, looking at the screen.
Not so long ago, the thought of taking her clothes off in front of a webcam would have made Yllen laugh, but now she considers it to be the perfect way to escape from the economic crisis that plagues Venezuela. ‘There are more and more of us doing this. I don’t know how many exactly, but in any crowd there will be several people who do this for a living. And not just women: men too.’
Online, Yllen calls herself ‘La Diva Erótica’ (The Erotic Diva). She is not a typical webcam model. She is 48: an unusual age to start in the business.
‘Believe it or not, a lot of men prefer women my age,’ she says.
She earns her money in dollars. Because of inflation and the devaluation of the bolivar, that makes all the difference
The crisis in Venezuela left Yllen unemployed. She was a TV producer and worked for many years in Venezuelan TV. She also performed Arab dance and ran 12 dance schools until the economic crisis hit.
From having over 400 students, she ended up with just four. She had to find another way of making a living, and soon discovered that erotic webcams offered her a lucrative alternative. She is content in her new job.
On her website she offers 10-minute Skype sessions for $8. This is the equivalent of around 130-240 bolivars.
The minimum wage in Venezuela is 250,531 bolivars, although citizens only receive 97,531 of this in cash – the rest is paid in food tickets. In other words, in just 10 minutes Yllen can make us much as someone on minimum wage in Venezuela.
‘Don’t think we’re earning a fortune. I make around $130 a month. It’s enough to buy food, pay expenses and little else. But it’s a lot more than what most people are making in this country,’ admits Yllen.
‘Of course you earn much more than you would working in a company in Venezuela,’ says Katherine Delgado, stage name of another Venezuelan woman who works in the world of adult online entertainment. ‘There are good days and bad days, but overall I’m doing pretty well,’ she says.
The fever for US dollars has spread across the nation. ‘Sadly, you can get shot here for just a few dollars,’ says Katherine.
The appeal of greenbacks is understandable. Just over a month ago, one US dollar was worth 8,493 bolivars. Now a dollar is worth 7,800 bolivars more.
As their currency depreciates, food prices go up. The International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation will reach 120% in Venezuela. Experts calculate that to feed a family of five for a month will soon cost almost six times the minimum wage.
‘Just to be clear: when I say I’m doing OK, that’s only because of the devaluation of the bolivar. If I had to live another country, this work wouldn’t even give me enough to eat,’ explains Katherine.
Five months ago she wasn’t aware that webcam performers existed. ‘A friend suggested it to me. At first I said no, because I’m not used to doing anything in front of the camera, let alone this sort of work. But the economic crisis meant that I wasn’t making ends meet, despite having several jobs. Having no money and a lot of debts leads you to this kind of work,’ says Katherine.
‘I’d never prostitute myself or do porn. I do this because they only see me through the camera. And not many people actually want to see you naked. Most men just want to spend some time with a pretty girl. There’s a lot of loneliness in developed countries,’ Katherine concludes.
Yllen agrees that one of the advantages of webcams is that they are safe. ‘Prostitutes are always at risk of being beaten or mistreated,’ she says. Nevertheless, prostitution has increased drastically in Venezuela as a result of the economic crisis.
The internet offers a safer working environment. The sex cam business is not the only way for Venezuelans to make money online and find a way out of the crisis. Bitcoin mining, writing online content or even selling in-game currency are all ways that Venezuelans have found to earn foreign currency online without needing to leave their homes.
Of course, the success of all these industries depends on having a good internet connection. Yllen has spent the past few days unable to work because her connection was down. Venezuelans consider their internet service to be ‘the worst in the world’.