Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/2/2012 (2922 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's not every day a woman finds her true calling... literally.
Rhiannon makes her living using her voice. You won't hear her singing on the radio, or doing voiceover in the latest animated feature from Hollywood. In fact, unless you're the CEO of a company who has his own office, or the captain of a fishing vessel off on a long, lonely voyage, you've probably never heard her money-maker.
Rhiannon, a kittenish woman with large eyes, is a Winnipeg-based phone-sex operator, on a break after three years in the business. Since she's not associated with a company at the moment, she agreed to answer my questions.
"I started by going on a chat line for singles, and nine out of 10 men who talked to me wanted to talk sexual," says the 40-ish woman, who has a breathy, Marilyn Monroe-esque voice. "I found I really enjoyed it.
"I had a job already, but I thought, 'I could do this part-time and get paid for it!'"
In an industry that's cloaked in innuendo, finding her way to a company that would employ her was difficult. Finally, she saw a classified ad from a Canadian company that asked outright for phone-sex operators. After two long telephone interviews, she found herself employed with a minimum of four hours per week required, at 40 cents a minute. Piece of cake!
She says she was soon far past the minimum, with a following of regulars aged 18 to 70, with the majority about 28 to 45 years old.
"I developed a regular group of callers who would ask me when I would be on next so they could call at the right time. I liked to hear them say, 'Because nobody does it like you!'"
Sorry to burst your bubble, gentlemen, but she's just not that into you. Rhiannon says the oft-portrayed image of bored phone-sex operators doing the ironing when they're on a call is absolutely accurate.
"I would play games on the computer with the sound off, do my laundry, cook myself a meal, watch TV," she says with a laugh. "You couldn't have the sound up so it could be heard, and no voices of children in the background."
She may have been going through the motions, but you'd never know it to listen to her, especially since the seduction began with the first sound of her voice.
Callers would have the chance to listen to many women's messages, including Rhiannon's. They could choose who they wanted to get to know better, so first impressions were important.
To demonstrate, she goes into her phone voice: "Hell-ooo! My name is Rhiannon and I like to take bubble baths, walk in the park, blah, blah, blah..."
The next few minutes of chatting were free. "They could say anything they wanted, no matter how sexual, but you couldn't use any sexual words back (to them) — only silly words for sexual terms, like rooster and pogo stick," Rhiannon explains.
Teasing the caller was the idea, not really engaging. The customer quickly found out he had to pay for real sex talk — and phone-sex operators don't take cheques, just cold, hard credit cards.
"Just as the free minutes would run out, I'd say, 'I hope you're going to call back so we can continue talking,' and usually they would."
These get-to-know-you sessions were what's known as "soft calls." When the company informed her straight off it was a "hard call," that meant the guy was of legal age, had slapped down his Visa, and was ready to go for a certain number of minutes.
"Just as his time was running out, that customer would get a beep-beep in his ear like a call-waiting sound, and he'd have to renegotiate more money and come back," she says. Customers soon learned to pay for as much time upfront as they could possibly want or need.
Nowhere is the adage "time is money" more true than in the phone-sex industry. Talk isn't cheap — customers paid between $3.99 and $5.99 a minute, depending on the kind of talk they wanted — but if the caller was a newbie and stuck for words, Rhiannon would happily get the ball rolling.
"I'd ask if they had a fantasy, and ask them to share it. Then I'd ask if they ever lived it out, and get them to tell me about that. If they still hesitated, I'd say, 'Would you like to make this fantasy come true?' And if that didn't work, I'd say, 'Let me tell you about one of my fantasies.'
But most customers were quite willing to pay and play. "Usually they'd do whatever I wanted at that point; they were not thinking about the money anymore."
Interestingly, only 75 per cent of the callers actually wanted to have phone sex; 10 per cent were just chatters.
"They were lonely people who only wanted to talk to a woman, no sex," says Rhiannon. "I had this guy I called my Goofy Newfie. He was a fisherman and he'd get lonely on his boat. Then he'd call, and tell me joke after joke. Finally he'd say, 'OK, Rhiannon. Now I can get back to work.'"
The remaining 15 per cent were people with disabilities. "I had a regular who was a quadriplegic and he would call every day for two to three hours. He mostly just wanted to talk, and it was often very sad and depressing."
Acting as a shoulder to cry on is part of the phone-sex operator's lot — it's not all titillation and release — and people might be surprised to learn that the relationship goes both ways.
"One of the nice parts of the job was I got to know a lot of my regulars as phone friends. I knew all about their lives and they cared about me," Rhiannon says. "If I wasn't around, they'd be worried, asking 'Are you OK? Were you feeling sick?'"
And there's some pleasure in it for the operator, too. Not surprisingly, Rhiannon developed favourite situations. "I used to love getting calls from guys in their offices at work. I'd say, 'Is your door closed? Is it locked? Could your secretary walk in? Maybe your secretary would be shocked, or maybe she'd like to catch you?' Then the fantasy was on!"
Who would have the nerve to call from the office? "Most often I got calls from bosses or presidents of companies, not your average Joe Blow in a cubicle," she says.
Her husband at the time knew she was a phone-sex operator and didn't have a problem with it. He was away on business five days a week, and she didn't take calls when he was at home. But after her marriage ended, she didn't feel "up" enough to handle phone sex, and the company's new minimum jumped from four hours of action to 40 hours a week of being on call — more time than she was willing to commit.
She hasn't entirely given up on the idea of phone sex, however, saying she'd likely take it up again if the required hours were more reasonable.
"I must admit, I really like the feeling of being able to pleasure a man just by talking.
"And," she adds, eyes dancing, 'I really like the sound of a male orgasm!'"
Even though it means the metre has stopped ticking.