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Phone sex is a type of virtual sex that refers to sexually explicit conversation between one or more persons via telephone, especially when at least one of the participants masturbates or engages in sexual fantasy. Phone sex conversation may take many forms, including (but not limited to): guided, sexual sounds, narrated, and enacted suggestions; sexual anecdotes and confessions; candid expression of sexual feelings or love and or discussion of very personal and sensitive sexual topics.
Phone sex exists both in the context of intimate relationships (e.g., among distanced lovers), and as a commercial transaction between a paying customer and a paid professional.
A phone sex worker is a type of sex worker and pornographic actor, sometimes referred to as "phone actor," "fantasy artist," "adult phone entertainer," "audio erotic performer," or any one of other monikers. The most valued attributes of a phone sex professional are his or her voice, acting and/or sexual roleplay skills, along with the experienced ability to discern and respond appropriately to a broad spectrum of customer requests.
What phone sex workers often do involve taboo topics that paying customers cannot engage in during real life sexual encounters due to moral and legal ramifications, psychological inhibition, lack of physical ability, unwillingness of a committed partner or the fear of social stigma. Phone sex operators or companies may, by policy or discretion, refuse to entertain certain requests. Many other services accommodate the extreme taboo market by using signifying phrases in their advertising such as “no taboos” or “no restrictions.”
Phone sex services primarily market to men or women of a particular sexual orientation, and focus on mainstream sexual experiences. Specialized companies also cater to clients who have a certain sexual predilection (e.g., zoophilia, coprophilia, domination/submission, humiliation) or an erotic interest in a specific group (nurses, doctors, firemen, college students, older/younger figures, ethnic minorities, etc.) It is not at all unusual for a phone sex service to employ a staff of phone sex performers to meet both mainstream and exotic customer requests.
Most of the best phone sex services are a managed network of dispatchers (live or automated) and erotic performers who process payment information, verify the legal age of their clients, and perform calls in their own homes on their own telephone lines. Many phone sex operators use service bureaus and phone sex directories to advertise their services. Another type of service is the live callback, where the customer contacts a receptionist who tries to find a suitable woman to call him/her back.
The vast majority of modern services use toll-free numbers whereby clients can dial up to request a call with a particular performer using credit cards, Automated Clearing House systems, and a variety of other billing methods. There are still some services that rely upon premium-rate telephone numbers (e.g. 976 and 900 numbers) for billing purposes, although this practice has been largely abandoned due to the high rate of fraud associated with these lines and the inability to dial 900 and 976 lines from cellular phones. As a direct result, most telephone companies allow their customers to block outgoing calls to premium-rate telephone numbers. In 1996, the FCC changed regulations on 900 numbers to address abuse of these services by minors and fraud concerns.
There is independent phone sex operators who engage in self-promotion. This self-promotion can involve a personalized website where the phone sex performer lists their specialties and services, various methods of advertising (via the traditional methods listed below, or on organized third-party network sites that provide a basic level of privacy for performer and client alike) and/or surfing of sexually themed chat rooms for interested clients.
Phone sex service providers typically advertise their services in men's magazines, in pornographic magazines and videos, on late-night cable television, and online. Some phone sex services use state-of-the-art customer acquisition techniques such as active database marketing to reach potential clients. These advertising methods almost invariably target men, the primary consumers of phone sex services.
Several online companies provide Internet-based phone sex lines. These services enable callers to post profiles of themselves and then engage in VOIP-based and other types of online sex.
By the end of the 1980s, nearly all of the major local phone companies, plus the major long distance carriers were actively involved in the adult chat line business. The telephone companies would provide billing services for chat line companies. Typically the telephone companies would bill callers to chat lines and then remit 45% of the money collected to chat line operators. The telephone companies placed the chat line charges on a customers local phone bill. If a customer disputed a charge, the telephone company would usually “forgive” the charge but block the caller from calling any other chat lines.
By 2007 only Verizon, Sprint and AT&T remained in the chat line business. By 2007 Verizon and MCI had merged Verizon MCI Merger. Verizon provided billing services to calls made in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. AT&T and MCI offered nationwide collection services, with a cap of $50 per call.
By 2007, only a few chat line companies remained active.
The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington estimates that phone sex earns telephone companies close to $500 million per year.
Phone sex does not involve physical contact between those participating in it. Couples may choose to engage in phone sex when the inconvenience of distance makes physical intimacy inopportune.
Due to the potential for emotional intimacy between those who have engaged in phone sex, it is a matter of some debate whether phone sex is to be considered infidelity when involving a person outside of a committed personal relationship. Nevertheless, phone sex should not be confused with prostitution wherein money is exchanged for real life sexual services or physical interactions.
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