Fantasy lines: The private lives of phone-sex operators

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

When I see the late-night ads for premium-rate phone sex lines featuring nubile, tanned young women, I get curious about who is actually on the other end of the phone. Like many people, I sometimes imagine that she's a bored housewife, moaning and calling herself a "naughty girl" while smoking a fag and doing the ironing.

But whether they are working in a packed call centre wearing headsets or from home wearing lingerie, phone-sex operators (or PSOs) are as diverse as the callers. I can definitely see the appeal of wanting to make money from talking dirty, like the Americans pictured here in Phillip Toledano's compelling portraits. But these women (and men, some very successful PSOs have been boys with high-pitched voices!) have to do so much more: they have to morph into a role that is part therapist, part sexual surrogate. They also have to improvise and create multiple personae in order to play the submissive secretary, the naughty nurse, the adult baby, the porn star or the barely legal teen girl.

In fact, a quick skim of UK websites reveals that any scenario not involving children or animals seems to be up for grabs. There are some who believe that, in an era of YouPorn and free internet chatrooms, phone sex lines may soon become an anachronism. Although callers often pay more than £1 per minute to 0909 numbers, and the industry still rakes in billions, the salaries advertised for operators are from £10 to £24 per hour – and that, presumably, is if the phone rings constantly.

There is a darker side to phone sex. I once had a boyfriend who ran up £2,000 in charges in six weeks and lied about it, which seemed insane when he had a girl who was perfectly willing to engage in filthy banter for free. Experts say that women are more likely to view porn use of any kind as a betrayal, so men should tread carefully before letting their fingers do the walking.

But in moderation, I think that the allure of phone sex is the same as Erica Jong's "zipless fuck". It's absolute anonymity on to which we can project our fantasies. Who cares if the sexy-sounding woman on the other end of the line is actually a 20-stone mum of four? In the caller's mind, she's "Cassandra", a horny 18-year-old university student.

I just hope that the in-your-face nature of adult webcams doesn't kill phone sex for ever. It's good to have a bit of mystery; and after all, as Truman Capote once said about masturbation, "The good thing is that you don't have to dress up for it."

The mature operator

"I'm 60 years old, have a BA in cultural anthropology from Columbia University, and I've been married for 25 years. I have a son in his last year of college who lives at home. He's a double major in English Literature and Religion. Men call me for an infinity of reasons – but mostly for what I call 'Executive Stress Relief'. It's not sex; it's a cocktail of testosterone, fuelled by addiction to pornography, loneliness, and the need to hear a woman's voice. I make twice the money I made in the corporate world. I work from home, the money transfers into my bank account daily. I'm Scheherazade: if I don't tell stories that fascinate the Pasha, he will kill me in the morning."

The natural

"When I first started I was nervous. But after a while, I guess you could say the kinkier the sex talk, the more I was like: Wow! The phone is like my new toy. Let's just say I have found myself and my sexuality through this. I find myself attracted to females just like I'm attracted to males, so yeah, you can say I play for both teams. I really enjoy being a phone-sex operator!"

The working mum

"I've only been a phone-sex operator for a few months now to help with extra income – I'm a single mother of two young boys so money is very important to me. I'm in a loving relationship with a wonderful man who loves my kids and treats me very well. He understands that I'm only doing this part-time, to help save for my children's college fund."

The philosopher

"Tuning into men's voices, instead of getting caught up on their looks, was the same as a person suddenly going blind, only to find their other senses enhanced. I learnt to listen to men in a deeper way. My job behoved me to reach beyond the little mind games; I think if all women did phone sex before they lost their virginity, they would make much better choices."

The giggler

"The most amusing part about the job was when my partner was in the room with me, reading while I worked. I'd try to avoid eye contact with her, because I'd see her stifle a smirk or make a gagging gesture or look at me pantomiming utter shock, and I'd start laughing uncontrollably."

The voice

"I never thought I'd work in phone sex. All those years doing customer service, people would comment on my sexy voice: I thought I was being professional, not sexy. Now customers leave with more than a smile." 'Phonesex' by Phillip Toledano is published by Twin Palms this autumn

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?