From Barbie Ferreira’s controversial under-age camming character on Euphoria to JLo’s Golden Globe-nominated role in Hustlers, we’re seeing a new conversation emerge in pop culture around sex work, with the goal to normalize gaining force. When it comes to marginalized industries, I hold the opinion that women have long existed in a world that structurally offers them less. I believe women should be able to choose any work to protect, sustain and support themselves and their families, as long as it is with safety, consent, and respect for their decisions. Activists have been working to decriminalize sex work for years, and Instagram’s accessible nature allows continued rallying to destigmatize and create safer environments for sex workers. But what does this newfound platform look like for the private lives of these public figures once they log off? More specifically, how does a career in sex work affect their own sex lives, the ones far away from the professional exchange?
These questions surface on a particularly golden morning in L.A., the kind that swathes everything in optimism. I’m deep in my ritualistic act of scrolling through my social media apps when the profile of an acquaintance pops up in the seemingly endless sequence of Instagram Stories. Danika Maia is a bubbly girl I met at college in Northern California, who moved to Los Angeles just over a year ago. On paper, Danika and I are almost interchangeable: we’re both 29-year-old creatives who choose to live a life driven by our passions, with a sturdy belief system as our GPS.
Though I rarely see her in real life, I know that she’s taken up camming and pole dancing, because well… Instagram. She’s used her account to vocalize her experiences and shed light on her career path of choice. I bridge the virtual voyeurism of IG to see if I can ask her a few questions about her experiences in the industry for this story, specifically how it’s affected her romantic life. “It hasn’t really changed, to be honest,” she responds matter-of-factly.
Her IG feed mixes professionally shot boudoir photos with candid iPhone videos of her pole dancing routines. It’s all so approachable and within reach to her followers that it’s as if modern sex work has stepped into the daylight. The worker herself has transformed from the stage-named character shrouded in secrecy into a tangibly empowered woman who shares shots from her every day life sandwiched between butt selfies. Danika wants to make it clear: it’s still a performance. When she is camming and dancing she’s playing a role, no different than on the stage of her acting classes. “It’s entertainment and services provided,” she says. Do people ever mistake performance for reality? “I don’t think so,” she says, “I think my personality is pretty clear.”
“If we met in real life, God help us, then they’re going to see it online soon anyway.”
A former member of a creative team at VICE, Danika quit her corporate job to seek work that both satiated her spirit and made ends meet. During her soul search, she signed up for a pole dancing class. After getting a crash course in camming from another dancer, she realized that not only were dancing and camming both lucrative outlets but that she had a real knack for them. I believe it. Danika has an uninhibited way about her, like the girl-next-door whose body naturally produces a love drug. She’s warm and sweet and can chat for hours.
I ask Danika if there was anything that surprised her when she started camming. “How much money you can make, she says, “It’s a lot.” My follow-up: has she felt stigmatized by men? “I had a few male friends and family members advise against it…concern is one thing, judgment I don’t accept,” she says. To counter judgment, she simply deletes them naysayers from her life. Other than that, she can tell men are usually surprised by her line of work, but save themselves with a “cool!”
In a time when creatives are often offered trade instead of hard cash, being appreciated for your talents and compensated as such is almost unheard of. You can tell her work energizes her. “It’s exhilarating to dance or perform in front of a webcam and have literal or virtual money thrown at you,” she says. “To get compliments and cheers and show people a good time is an amazing feeling.”
So, what about her sex life? Danika says she tells potential dates as soon as possible about her line of work. “If we met in real life, God help us, then they’re going to see it online soon anyway,” she says. The empowering self-expression of sex work has only strengthened her confidence between the sheets. The one thing she thinks is “tacky and lame” is when men who ask her out via social media resort to over-sexualizing her before they’ve even met in person.
Though currently single, she’s confident that the right relationship will come her way, “I would need a partner that’s emotionally intelligent and willing to put the work in as well,” she says. “But I’m not stressed about it, I think that’s totally possible. I still have faith in people, for some reason.”