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Phone sex is a conversation between two or more people on the phone where one or more of the individuals are describing the act of sex. Phone sex takes imagination on both parties' part because virtual sex is difficult if the operator doesn't put the images in the head of the caller and the caller must be open to the pleasure as well. The sexually explicit conversation takes place between two or more persons via telephone, especially when at least one of the participants masturbates or engages in sexual fantasy. Phone porn 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.
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.
A key advantage of phone sex, compared with physical intimacy, is that it cannot transmit a sexual infection.
The editor of High Society magazine, Gloria Leonard, is credited with being one of first people to use "900 numbers" for promotional purposes and as a revenue stream in the adult industry. Initially Leonard recorded her own voice informing callers of the contents of the next issue of High Society magazine before its publication. Later she recorded others such as Annie Sprinkle "talking sexy". Leonard convinced magazine owner Carl Ruderman to purchase more of these numbers and the business began to be successful using the magazine to promote the service.
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 in the United States 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.
Independent phone sex operators 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.
The legality of phone sex businesses was challenged by the Federal government in July 1988 with the passage of the Telephone Decency Act, which made it a crime to use a "telephone ... directly or by recording device" to make "any obscene or indecent communication for commercial purposes to any person," punishable by a $50,000 fine or six months in prison." At the time the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was responsible for policing 900 numbers for obscenity and indecency.
Sable Communications of California filed suit against the FCC in federal court to overturn the Telephone Decency Act. On July 19, 1988, U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled that "the prohibition against 'indecent speech' on 900-number recordings was unconstitutional, though its ban on 'obscene speech' could stand."
On June 23, 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that obscene speech, even in commercial telephone calls, was not protected, though indecent speech was. Justice Byron White wrote for the high court's majority, "There is no constitutional barrier under Miller to prohibiting communications that are obscene in some communities under local standards even though they are not obscene in others." "Sable, which has the burden of complying with the prohibition, is free to tailor its messages, on a selective basis, to the communities it chooses to serve."
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.
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.
Certainly one of the reasons that long-distance relationships are so difficult to maintain is due to the physical separation that no advance in communication technologies has yet been able to reconcile. Playfully drawing our attention to this fact, Cindy Hinant's telephone sculptures tease out the sexually suggestive language of telephone services that insist on denying the separation of the speakers. Graduate of the Herron School of Art and Design, Hinant's bright, pastel-colored telephones-which look more fisher-price than functional-cuddle and embrace as if inspired by the terminology of Three-way calling, *69, and the Phono Erotica of 1-900 chat lines (see image previous page; all are titles of 2009 works). Here the objects of communication-the now outdated landline telephones-take on the physicality of human relationships, not against technology's domination but by and through it.
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