Twenty-five years ago I was living the merry life of a hippie poet and counterculture writer when my work life took an unexpected turn. I was a member of the independent arts community in Seattle and took office temp jobs to keep myself in typewriter ribbons and used books. I’d written and hosted a sex-and-drugs radio comedy show for a season (très risqué), I ran a poetry-erotica bookstore for several years, and was co-publishing an alternative magazine for edgy poets and artists . An opportunity to run a phone sex business arose in 1987 as the 976-TALK industry exploded. It sounded like sex radio to me. This was no-contact sex work, fantasy on both sides. The job offered me a good salary for office duties like payroll and expense tracking, with an additional profit motive for me to lead by example on the live line, acting as the Head Mama. I trained the staff and I set the tone. This was a 24×7 relay situation and job-skill #1 was being on the line ready to talk when scheduled.
My knack for writing erotica gave us an upper hand on the “ohh-baby-ohh-baby” simulations of our competition, and I first turned this skill on the operator-applicants. If they couldn’t talk to me on the phone, then they’d never make it live with a customer. Plain-spoken naughty talk, directed and specific, familiar and profane. Most people are surprised at the enthusiasm of disembodied arousal. Phone fantasy females don’t do all the talking, the callers had plenty to say. Operators worked from home part-time and were earning slightly more than generally skilled office workers with no commuting, no wardrobe expense, no fix-your-face time, and the fun of a weekly paycheck. We provided the headset and they were to provide a quiet environment, connecting to the per-minute-party line through a restricted non-billing number. Housewives and pregnant strippers and moonlighting waitresses agreed to do this because I convinced them that they would never ever meet the callers (who it turned out were just like the men they already knew). They didn’t hustle for call-backs, they didn’t upsell videos, and they didn’t have to take any crap beyond the usual crap associated with men in pursuit of excitement .
We named the business Sweet Talkers to set a civilized tone for a commercial interactive sex fantasy party-line paid for by-the-minute. It was just as bawdy and naughty as you’d expect. The men felt entitled to hot talk for their dollars, but they often stuttered and stumbled around the purpose of their call . Mostly it was average guys talking about their need to get some satisfaction. Nobody else seemed to understand their stalwart dick and its relentless need for relief. Venting some penile steam wasn’t a big deal to them, it was an almost daily indulgence. How much more fun with a disembodied female voice encouraging him to tell her what he wanted, what he really, really wanted.
That oddly intimate exposure to men’s actual fantasies continues to add authenticity to the sexy dialog and details of physique and technique in my erotic and sexotic books. Please understand that the callers weren’t making love to themselves, they were spanking that f’ing monkey. Consider these facts: Guys like sex. Guys like coaches and cheerleaders . Phone sex is orgasmic coaching and cheering. Accept the business is about masturbating, and it makes perfect sense that real voices intensified fantasy.
Conjure up the world pre-Internet. Back then, phone sex was the wildest thing a regular guy could do anonymously. He was alone at home on the phone doing something he was going to do anyway. VHS moved porn to the living room, explicit magazines flourished. Turns out that friendly phone at home could connect you to various voices yet set you free with the twitch of a switch. The freedom to make the call paled in significance to the opportunity to hang up… shut it down mid-sentence, dismissed !
Sweet Talkers was shuttered after a year. The industry was moving from an anonymous per-minute item on the monthly phone bill toward a credit-card system with fees and fraud flourishing. Phone sex is a touchy subject because we prefer not to consider that men are so sex-hungry they’ll pay to talk to a stranger. On the upside, they want to talk, they pay to talk. It’s anonymous but not impersonal.
I knew that there was a book lurking in those crazy exchanges. I wanted to capture the essence of phone sex so I opened my call diary and recreated faceless conversations: the racy ones, the silly ones, the mean ones and the duds. Then, to justify the accuracy of the re-creations, I added some of the diary pages. I incorporated training bulletins that I had written to deliver with the weekly pay envelopes. (The only quickest way to teach someone to describe a blow job is to describe a blow job.) I provided information on sex toys, girl-on-girl, dildo vs. vibrator, ritual domination, cross-dressing, and pee pee a deux so the operators had details to offer but they had not been handed a script. I linked up this background info on the business with commentary on the callers in the same freewheeling language that crackled on the line.
The result was a forthright first-person account, Sweet Talkers (Words from the Mouth of a Pay-to-Say Girl), which qualifies as pornographic nonfiction curiosa and is as one reader said, “Filthy. Positively filthy. Thank you.”
Against all odds the book got off the slush pile at a literary agent’s office and was sold a few years later to a small-house erotic publisher. It was received as a raw yet charming chronicle of life in a jack-off factory. It did well enough to go to paperback but then fell out of print when I backed off promoting it. I got diverted into Mommyhood and went underground as a wicked-wording writer in deference to the power of the PTA . It was the confidence I gained from Sweet Talkers, both on the line and in print, which fueled my production of high-end erotica. That book became a cult collectible, giving me hope that if I did it once, I could do it again. Living family style wasn’t a good time to promote my writing but it turned out to be the perfect time to write over a dozen books. I founded KathleenKBooks.com in 2011, after completing my front-line custodial kid care, to produce libertine literature for rowdier readers. Phone sex is still a “thing” but it isn’t what it was in 1987 any more than TV stayed the same. What hasn’t changed is the emotional commotion of voicing sex secrets out loud… or finding them written down in a book that straddles your imagination.
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