The idea of people going online to watch NSFW material isn’t anything new. For decades, viewers have been covertly opening incognito tabs on their laptops, firing up sites like YouPorn and Pornhub, and consuming adult entertainment from the comfort of their own homes. But for those in the sex work industry, the pandemic accelerated a push to online interactions. Platforms like OnlyFans took off. But while these platforms explicitly allow creators to share sexual content, a number of creators are using more mainstream streaming sites, like Twitch and YouTube, to share what might be seen as NSFW content — within reason — and they’re making money, and building careers, off of it.
For popular streamer Amouranth, the decision to stream sexy content wasn’t the plan from the start of her time on Twitch. Instead, it was a gradual transition. “I never had planned to do it,” she tells Refinery29, “But the opportunity was fairly good and a lot of girls were getting into it, so I was just like, wow, I could do that, too.”
She first joined Twitch in 2016 after the streaming platform invited her to share her cosplay costumes online as a way to promote more artistic content. For years, the 28-year-old Houston-based content creator, who declined to share her full name, citing privacy concerns, streamed every day and was steadily growing her audience on the platform. Then in 2019, shortly after Twitch established the “IRL” category, now called “Just Chatting,” which allowed creators to connect with audiences in a more face-to-face way, her viewership skyrocketed.
Amouranth started doing more outdoor and live content at cosplay events, but also from her backyard and an inflatable pool. With her “pools, hot tubs, and beaches” streams — another category launched by Twitch in May 2021 — her following and her income has grown. Often the creator is in a string bikini, sometimes in a cheetah print, other times black and red, perched on a white stool in a maroon and white-lined kiddie pool. A purple neon sign emblazoned with “Shameless” lights the scene, as Amouranth — alongside other creators like Alinity — try hot sauce or talk about her dogs. In other videos under the same category, she still wears her bikini, but instead plays Raid, a popular video game.
Her bikini-clad streams have, perhaps unsurprisingly, proven popular — and lucrative. As one of Twitch’s top creators, she now boasts over 5 million followers. Currently, Amouranth says she averages around $100,000 a month from Twitch alone, with the number increasing based on ads or sponsorships. “It wasn’t very hard to know it was working for me because my view count went from about 4,000 views [on a video] on average to 10,000 and 13,000, hitting 20,000 and occasionally 30,000.”
Anyone on in the internet will probably know that sexually-charged or implied content is kind of complicated. Primarily because how people view this content changes vastly from person to person — as it does for the platforms streamers might be creating on. Facebook has long been seen as anything but sex-positive, while other platforms like OnlyFans have infamously flip flopped, ultimately landing on the side of supporting and allowing sexual content. Part of the issue with streaming comes from the fact that, at least when it comes to Hot Tubs, Pools, and Beaches, there’s a blurry line between what’s viewed as sex work or sexual and what’s just kind of sexy. (It’s important to note that Amouranth doesn’t classify her videos as sex work, but rather “variety streaming.”)
This is an issue Twitch ran into earlier last year, launching the designated category in response to critics who were uncomfortable with bikini-clad content under the “Just Chatting” category. In a 2021 blog post, Twitch shared the company’s stance on hot tub stream content, stating: “While we have guidelines about sexually suggestive content, being found to be sexy by others is not against our rules, and Twitch will not take enforcement action against women, or anyone on our service, for their perceived attractiveness.” In a statement to Refinery29, the company elaborated on their decision, saying: “Sexually suggestive content — and where to draw the line — is very complex and highly subjective. In response to community feedback, we have been making steady advances over the past year to better clarify our stance and empower audiences to filter content they may not wish to see on Twitch." Twitch added, “No one deserves to be harassed for the content they choose to stream, how they look, or who they are, and we will take action against anyone who perpetuates toxicity against streamers who are following our Community Guidelines.”
For Amouranth, the decision by Twitch to create a dedicated category for this type of content makes sense, and she sees it as a positive sign. “I think it shows that they're not deciding to strike down against women and their bodies and that they're supportive of it and they just want to find a solution and make everyone happy, for their creators and the viewers and the advertisers,” she says.
“Companies will use attractive women to draw in customers and remain memorable. So I definitely do find that annoying, but that’s just how the world is and instead of feeling bitter about it. I just decided to capitalize on it.”
And, it follows her own ethos. Much of the general pushback Amouranth has received hasn’t come from advertisers or streamers outside of the more NSFW content, “there's actually more of a bias just from certain viewers,” she says. This takes on a lot of different forms, from people shaming the mostly female creators for showing their bodies on screen, to men who hate to see said women profit and become successful on a still largely male-dominated platform. (According to a recent report, in 2020, 65% of Twitch users were male.)
And part of this is probably tied to the fact that there’s still so much stigma associated on women’s bodies as sexual objects — and maybe seeing them in all their human glory, essentially just existing — be it while playing video games, swimming, or talking to followers about their day, will help curb that. “I feel like it actually would do the world better if people were more desensitized to human bodies, specifically female bodies,” she says. “If they can just get used to seeing girls in bikinis, maybe they stop freaking out about it and acting weird about it…I feel like this is my body. I'm human. You have a body, too. And we should all just get over it and look past that and move on.”
Plus, in a way, using perceptions about her body is a way of kind of gaming the system to her advantage. ”It doesn't really bother me, because I kind of just view the world as that’s the way it is,” Amouranth says. “Companies will use attractive women to draw in customers and remain memorable. So I definitely do find that annoying, but that’s just how the world is and instead of feeling bitter about it. I just decided to capitalize on it.”
It’s a smart business decision too, for both Twitch and the creators on the platform. Across Twitch are a number of creators whose accounts are, like Amouranth, classified as “diverse.” On Amouranth’s channel, you can find hot tub streams alongside videos of her gaming, hosting game shows with other creators, and playing with or educating viewers on her dogs (she has an exotic breed, a Caucasian Shepherd, that she bought to protect her from stalkers).
Streaming and curating her content this way has allowed Amouranth to become an entrepreneur, allowing her the freedom to choose her lifestyle and dreams. “I have a lot of animals and I want to get a ranch and even more animals. So something that allows me to invest and pretty much move wherever I want is really nice,” she says. “I don't have to be inconvenienced by an office job where I have to clock in hours.”
But like most streamers, Amouranth faces tremendous pressure to capitalize on the moment, something she has become even more aware of as viewership has gone down as people have started to leave their homes after the height of the pandemic. And it can be stressful to feel like there’s a ticking clock on your career longevity, and how behind streamers may be if they need to turn to more traditional careers. “Even though [I make] a lot of money, since we’re all using these platforms during the prime of our life and most people are starting to get really into their careers and networking, none of us are doing that in a professional world kind of sense,” she says. “So if we got banned everywhere or social media just exploded or became irrelevant, it’s very scary to think about having to find a traditional job because we put so many years of our prime time into the media space.”
Earlier this year, Amouranth announced that she’d be moving off of her other platforms — including OnlyFans — and pledged to focus her time on Twitch, including developing a series of shows on the platform. In May, Amouranth produced Streamer Royale, a game show in which popular streamers faced each other in physical competitions. “I feel like my business is in a place where I can make those kinds of investments now and not worry about if I'm going to have enough money if it doesn't work out,” she says.
Ultimately, Amouranth is using her success to invest in her profession both online and IRL. She wants to open an animal sanctuary and lean hard into producing more content for Twitch. And, her current content is helping her get there. “Right now the appeal [for viewers] might be initially like, ooh girl in a bikini, but there’s so much more [to me].”