Calling Dr. Zhana Vrangalova a cam girl would be inaccurate, but the doctor, who has her PhD in Developmental Psychology, also happens to excel at live streaming. Though her clothes stay on, sex is still the main draw for the crowds that show up every time she opens Periscope (her live stream app of choice), where Vrangalova mixes lessons on human sexuality with sex toy giveaways and earnest responses to seemingly any question her fans might have about sex.
“VaZhanas” — that’s what Dr. Zhana’s fans call themselves (a play on “vagina” and the sex educators first name, duh) — love the interactive format. Watching Vrangalova live on Periscope they can say pretty much whatever they want (newbies ask her to “show her boobs,” something she used to block but now just ignores). Those who do stick around get access to Vrangalova’s breakdown of recent sex studies and her deep knowledge of the psychology of polyamory and casual sex (about which she’s currently writing a book). They even get the chance to participate in Vrangalova’s research, since it’s often Dr. Zhana who’s asking the questions.
This winning format has cracking the code to building an audience on this new frontier of the internet. Vrangalova is now a Periscope star with nearly 40,000 followers.
How did you get started on Periscope?
I started about four months ago. I just randomly heard about it from the sex educator group that I was a part of on Facebook. Someone mentioned it and had put a link to this one-hour podcast for a business coach who had been doing Periscope. I’ve never been much of an early adopter of anything: I was very late adopter on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For some reason, I just thought I needed to try [this] and see what it felt like so I started broadcasting right away.
It was love at first sight because I like talking to people and educating and I love the instant contact that you get with people — where they can talk back and ask you questions or make comments. It became my virtual classroom.
How were you able to gain an audience so quickly?
The longer it is, the more chance people have to log in. When I have a stream that’s 10 to 15 minutes, only about 700 people come in throughout. But even so, that’s a lot of people compared to my real-life classroom of 30 or 40! I was clear from the beginning that my streams were going to be about sex education. They weren’t going to be about what I ate, my workouts or whatever.
I come up with all different types of shows. In one, I allow people to ask me anything, which brings in a lot of new people. I have sex education news updates where I tell people about new studies. Those ones don’t bring a ton of new viewers, but keep my old viewers around. I’ve been doing a sexy word of the day type of show and sexy giveaways, as I’ve started to work with sponsors. I think part of the reason I’m successful is that I’m consistent. I’m on ‘scope every day.
And you don’t get paid for this.
Not to ‘scope every day, but I do get paid by certain sponsors to feature certain products.
Do you feel your audience is large partly because of nature of your topic? That webcams and sex on the internet are popular topics?
Absolutely. When you put sex as a topic, you obviously draw a bigger crowd because it’s such a taboo for so many people. They don’t have sex education from anywhere else; they’ve never gotten it in school and don’t feel comfortable talking about it. So this is an easy, nonthreatening way to come in and learn. I also create a safe space to ask pretty much any question. My view on sexuality is that as long as you don’t involve non-consenting human beings, you can do whatever you want with yourself and your consenting adult partners.
People find acceptance and normalcy with me that they’ve never found anywhere else in their lives. They’ll come back and say that they’ve learned so much and are inspired to have more intentional, more informed sex. It also helps that I’m a young, traditionally attractive woman that they like looking at.
Do you find people come in and misunderstand what you do? Is that an awkward experience?
It happens on a regular basis. Periscope has so many teenagers and yet, such a wide age range. I’m sure people come in and expect to see boobs. Depending on how big the room is I’ll either block them right away or, if they don’t get their boobs after asking once or twice, they usually leave. I’ll only block them if they’re being annoying in the chat — if they keep asking or keep making inappropriate comments. Every now and then people come in and yell things like, “How can this be on ‘scope? There are children, how can you be talking about these things?” But everything I do is in an educational context; I don’t do things to tease.
What do you see in live streaming’s future?
I think it’s going to grow. There’s no going back. It’s addictive! Whether they’re on there to see someone’s fridge or to actually get some information on sex education — even to watch people take their clothes off or masturbate. It’s a much more personable connection with the broadcaster than anything you can see on TV. People are using it for all sorts of reasons.
The other thing is ads. People are finding ways to make money. Some are asking for money from their followers — others are using sponsors.
Eventually, people with big audiences will want to be paid.
I’m spending so much time on here and I’m already talking about these products and promoting them in some ways. It would make more sense for me to exist and continue doing this, as well as everything else I do, if I was being paid.
Have you gotten a negative response from that promotion?
Not really. I’ve definitely heard of people on ‘scope not sponsored and not looking to get sponsored — just mostly talking shit about people who are doing it. Now and then people will come in and say something like, “You’re just doing it for the money, enough with the sponsors.” Fair enough.
But I explain that this takes a lot of my time, and if I don’t get paid, I won’t be able to do it. And I always provide honest reviews on things that I do promote.
Do you feel like the live stream aspect helps you teach more effectively?
I don’t think it helps much with research per se, but it helps in other ways. I’m currently writing a book on healthy hookups, but it was too academic. Being on Periscope for a few months helps me be more “poppy” because I’m learning a different way to present and explain things—stripping away a lot of the actual methodology and science. I have a great passion for educating the masses and I never feel like I’ve had a wider or deeper reach as I’ve had since I’ve started on Periscope. I literally get emails every day, people thanking me for what I do and telling me that this stuff changed their lives. These aren’t people who are going to show up to a workshop or take a human sexuality class in college.
Lindsey Weber is an editor at MEL. She last wrote about the many faces of John Travolta in The People v. O.J. Simpson.