8 Photos Take You Into The Surprising World Of Phone-Sex Operators

Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
Photographer Phillip Toledano's series, Phonesex, is intimate, sensual, and revealing. With that in mind, it might come as a surprise to learn that Toledano's father played a large role in his inspiration for the project: "I was taking care of my father, who had dementia," he explains. "And because he had no short-term memory, he hadn't realized that [my mother] had died, so I had to invent this kind of fantasy that she was in Paris taking care of her sick brother." Toledano adds that he and his father came to "live within this fantasy" together. It was only in skimming past ads for phone-sex lines in the Village Voice that Toledano made an improbable connection: "With phone sex," he begins,"two people agree to participate in a lie together, and that's what I was doing with my father."

This was what drew him to the subject — the implicit suspension of reality that occurs during a conversation between a phone-sex operator and a caller. Clients would ask to "be" operators' dogs, or would inquire about operators' strength ("I'd like to see you lift my girlfriend's car," was a direct quote), all in pursuit of their own pleasure.

In his conversations with the operators, Toledano learned that they find their work rewarding — in his words, "useful and vital." Their very availability makes callers' wildest fantasies permissible, and perhaps, more possible. "You can act out these incredible fantasies — which require extraordinary imagination — on the phone in a way that you can't if you were on a webcam," Toledano explains. He acknowledges that phone sex uses what he calls "an archaic technology," and that it may one day be completely obscured by webcam sex, making these operators' perspectives only more bittersweet. As Toledano points out, not all fantasies can live on a visual platform.

He is also quick to add that the people he photographed got into the phone-sex business for their personal enjoyment: "They got a lot out of it. They learned about themselves, they learned about themselves sexually, they learned about people, about their own desires. It was much more of a two-way street than you'd think it would be."

Click ahead to view a selection of Toledano's photographs and interviews with the operators. Phonesex, the book, is available for purchase here.
1 of 8
Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
"To the caller, when I first answer, I am the inanimate Barbie. They do not know what I look like, who I am, how I am feeling, or how I feel. They can only imagine. It is my job to indulge their fantasies, to convince them that I am not a doll. I am their dream turned real. If they ask if I am blonde, I become a blonde. If they ask how wet I am, I tell them that my panties are drenched. I respond to every sound the caller makes with an affirmation. I encourage them, I breathe life into the fantasy, I carve the doll out of flesh."
Advertisement
2 of 8
Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
"I’m 60 years old, have a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University, and [have been] married for 25 years. Men call me for an infinity of reasons. Of course, they call to masturbate. I call it 'Executive Stress Relief.' It’s not sex; it’s a cocktail of testosterone, fueled 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."
3 of 8
Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
"Just last night, I received possibly the most disturbing phone-sex call I’d had in a long time. A caller shot himself with me on the phone. The unmistakable sound of a gunshot followed by the heavy and wet sound of a body falling with a thud to the floor. Things like this always scare me. My current track record stands at one confession of incestuous sexual abuse, being asked to perform fellatio on my younger brother, and two other suicides."
4 of 8
Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
"I am a straight male who speaks to women. They want me. They want me to talk to them, and to take them to another world. I’m good at it. I’m a pro. A ladies' man. I speak to younger women. I speak to older women. I speak both Spanish and English. I have been thrown offers left and right. They want me to meet up and have my way with them, but I keep it only to phone conversations."
5 of 8
Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
"I got into phone sex because I thought, why not get paid for talking dirty, instead of doing it for free? It brings up my self-esteem so much, knowing guys are looking at my pics and wanting to talk to me."
6 of 8
Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
"My first night was on a Saturday at midnight. It was a gentleman who I believe called himself Bob. He told me about his first experience with a glory hole. He explained that he had no one he felt comfortable telling this to, and I felt a strange intimacy between us, though it was rooted in a fantasy. I think it’s easier to release repressed desires to a non-judgmental, fictional person, because there are no consequences in the outside world."
7 of 8
Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
"I never thought I would work in the phone-sex industry. All those years doing customer service, my customers would comment on my sexy voice. I thought I was being professional, not sexy. This work is customer service. It’s just your customers leave with more than a smile."
8 of 8
Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.
"Gary was watching a World's Strongest Women show and saw a woman pick up a motorcycle. 'Oh, I could do that,' I offered. 'Could you?' he responded, breathless. 'Yes. How much do you weigh?' '160.' 'Oh. I could bench-press two of you.' 'Oh my god...I'd like to see you lift up my girlfriend's car.' 'What kind of car does she have?' 'A Mazda Miata.' 'Oh yes, I could pick up a Miata. In fact, I would love to.' 'Really? Oh my god! What if my girlfriend was inside?' 'I would just pick it up, lift it to shoulder level, and then hoist it up over my head, with your girlfriend inside. I'd slowly turn around in a circle with it held up in their air, with your girlfriend screaming in the front seat.' A part of me may miss getting paid for this when I move on."
Advertisement