Why you should care
Because sex sells, and this is its latest incarnation.
Growing up in his grandmother’s staunchly Catholic home in Cali, Colombia, Anthony Rivera never dreamed he’d become king of the Latin American nudie business. Soft-spoken and timid, Rivera was more comfortable working on computer science assignments than approaching girls. “I’d get stressed about meeting women,” he recounts from his 12th-floor apartment in Medellín’s posh El Poblado neighborhood. Even today, his role running a major adult webcam company seems incongruous with his diffidence — but that might also be the key ingredient to his success.
Rivera, born and partially raised in New York, has been instrumental in taking Colombia’s webcam industry from the shadows to the second-largest webcam model market in the world, after Romania. The models on his platform, AJ Studios, perform sexual shows and chat flirtatiously with online followers; many, the 29-year-old says, are students or single mothers. They may earn between a few hundred and a thousand-plus dollars a week. “They’ve professionalized everything,” says Colombian digital marketing manager César Pérez. “Before, people thought the industry was something obscene, dark and illegal. They’ve changed that perception.”
In August, Rivera, who co-founded AJ with his 50-year-old father, Juan Carlos, in 2008, will set another industry milestone: He’s launching Latin America’s first virtual reality webcam rooms. Adult entertainment has been gravitating toward more up-close interactions for years, “and VR is the next evolution,” explains Daron Lundeen, president of the site CamSoda. Take CamSoda’s own virtual reality cam house, or interactive sex toys for virtual exchanges, some of the evolution’s newest developments. Along with AJ, Magic Leap, a secretive Florida startup (which is not currently participating in media interviews), is also pioneering augmented-reality technology. Lundeen predicts the sea change will arrive in four or five years, “but human sexuality will change because of this.” And it won’t be restricted to those paying for sexy time. Since the 1990s, artificial intelligence pioneer and futurist Ray Kurzweil has been planning for the day we can all have virtual sex with both people and robots in the cloud, even while in the middle of a boring meeting.
She first struggled with “the moral part” of the job but eventually came to “enjoy it.”
“Users want a closer connection to their cam girls,” adds cam site AliceX founder Fabian Grey, who is partnering with Rivera on his virtual expansion. “Many see these models as their girlfriends. Now they can feel like they’re in the same room with them.” But what of the women themselves? We asked Maria Santos, one of AJ Studios’ most popular models. The 28-year-old former interior designer, a mother of one, turned to cams to pay for her son’s schooling “and to give him a good future,” she says. Sitting on her plush apartment couch in a loose sweater and short shorts, she says she first struggled with “the moral part” of the job but eventually came to “enjoy it.” On a good week, she says, she earns $2,000, nearly 10 times Colombia’s minimum wage. “I now have relationships with people all over the world,” she adds. “I’m taking advantage of the moment.”
The question of agency in nudity- and sex-related industries is age-old: Should we demonize pornography, prostitution or nude modeling? If the lady herself is down, should others refrain from judgment? Or is a woman’s “choice” to enter such work more a reflection on the dearth of opportunities in the outside world? Rivera’s answer is simple: He had initial misgivings, but insists he’s playing a constructive role, offering alternatives to prostitution. Being on webcam, he adds, keeps women free from physical contact, and the model, he says, is in “total control.”
Rivera’s taking advantage of his industry’s moment, attending adult expos and organizing the continent’s biggest adult event, LALEXPO, in Colombia. He’s certainly public about his work, but says there was a time when it was easier to tell a date or a respected acquaintance that he worked in something more blasé … like web outsourcing. He’s done his best to play his “good Catholic boy” part, even inviting Colombia’s version of the FBI to inspect his offices. And he’s also proved a true daddy’s boy, working with Pops since eighth grade, when Juan Carlos opened an Internet cafe to employ his son. “At the time nobody else would give me a job because I was too young,” recounts Rivera. Years later he helped his father open an upscale bed-and-breakfast, complete with an interpreter, a chauffeur and private investigator services; in 2005 they opened a marriage agency that organized international single tours — which, no, did not involve escort services, he said, when we asked.
A tour client first suggested opening a live cam studio. Rivera was completing his university business degree and claims he was a virgin to the webcam industry. But the Riveras agreed to open a six-room studio. Within a few months, they discovered their partner didn’t have the contacts he had promised, and Colombian banks didn’t want their business. “They saw us as dirty,” says Rivera. “We were not a wanted customer.”
Rivera still struggles to find local banks, newspapers and venues who’ll accept his business. Even Hooters denied his request to hold his expo’s happy hour in its restaurant. But on the international stage, AJ Studios’ presence has been most welcome. In 2015, Adult Video News recognized AJ Studios as the best cam studio, and this year the Adult Webcam Awards voted it best adult webcam agent. “Anthony gets the eyes of the world on Colombia’s webcam industry,” says Pérez, and by that he means leering gazes from both the titillated and the business-minded.