It was on Thanksgiving Day that I decided to give stripping a try. About a month into the slow season for our food truck, I’d been thinking about getting a second job. When my stripper friend Kitty showed up at our house for dinner in a BMW that night, mine and Brad’s eyes lit up. We spent the evening questioning her about the job I once believed she worked out of desperation.
A single mother of two, who bravely escaped an abusive marriage and is putting herself through nursing school with no child support, I’d admired her from the time I met her. But to see how far she’d come with no help from friends, family or government, was beyond impressive.
She told us she could easily make a thousand dollars cash in one night, and that anything less than $500 was considered a bad night. She set her own hours and acted as her own boss (independent contractor). As a former ballerina, she knew how to pole dance as gracefully as if she were performing in Swan Lake. Exotic dancing had empowered her in a lot of ways, she said.
I was sold. I couldn’t dance to save my life, but Kitty said that wasn’t necessary – the men weren’t interested in my dance skills, they were interested in almost-naked female bodies.
It didn’t take long to change my mind. After one night of observation and one night on the job, I realized strip clubs are among the most sex-negative places on earth.
My first lap dance was for a fat, old miserable man named John. Kitty told me he was a regular. “He’ll be safe for you to practice on,” she said. She walked me to his table, introduced us and then ordered him to buy a dance from me. It was clear she was the boss in this establishment. I knew I had a long way to go before I had the confidence to command men around like that.
As soon as we got into the semi-private room, where about half a dozen other lap-dance duos were lined up on black pleather “love” seats next to us, he started me. “Why do you want to work here?” he asked. “You don’t want to work here. This is no place for a nice girl like you.”
Indignant and tempted to slap him (but not wanting to get fired on my first night), I asked – “Why are you here?”
“Because I’m single and lonely,” he said. “But if I had a wife, I wouldn’t want her working here. Would you want your mother or daughter working here?”
“I do have a daughter, and I want her to do whatever she wants, because I’m not a hypocrite,” I said, staring him dead in the eye. “If it’s such a terrible place, why are you here?” I repeated.
“I’m just here to convince Kitty to quit,” he said. Kitty and the other girls had warned me about the “Captain Save-A-Ho” types – who deluded themselves into thinking they could get one of the dancers to fall in love with them and carry them away on their white horses.
“She doesn’t want to quit and neither do I,” I said. “I don’t feel bad about it and neither should you.”
“Well, are we going to do this or not?” he asked, realizing the time he’d paid for was half over.
“Oh, right,” I said and commenced the semi-welcome, semi-resented seduction.
I’ve been angry and baffled by his reception of me for weeks, but, after much thought, I hate him a lot less than I initially did. It’s not his fault. I’m sure there are plenty of guys who share his mixed feelings about paying for sexual gratification, and I had mixed feelings about charging them for it.
Why we were there
The truth is we were there for the same reason. Rich, powerful men have been artificially reducing the supply of women sexually available to the common man for nearly 10,000 years, enabling the few women willing to make themselves available (without a ring or other strings attached) to charge a high price for their “services.”
It all started shortly after the advent of agriculture. According to the book Sex at Dawn, human beings enjoyed total sexual freedom for at least 2 million years prior to domestication. Like bonobos and the few hunter-gatherer tribes remaining untouched by civilization today, our ancient ancestors lived in tribes whose members were all sexually interconnected, rather than monogamous, nuclear family units.
They argue gatherer-hunters were (and are) far more egalitarian than agricultural societies, sharing everything they foraged or killed for mutually assured survival. They used sex as a tool for strengthening social bonds among tribe members, easing tensions, and diffusing conflict with neighboring tribes.
In addition to keeping tribal relations copasetic, rampant promiscuity (non-monogamy) ensured survival of the fittest genes. It is common practice among bonobos and many foraging tribes still today to engage in “friendly gang bangs” – meaning several males lining up and taking turns having sex with one female. The female – evolved to have dozens of orgasms in a row – welcomed the parade and attracted more male suitors with her copulatory vocalizations. The purpose was to encourage sperm competition, enabling a woman’s body to “select” the best genetic match.
For the males whose sperm were not the lucky winners, there were plenty of other opportunities to find a receptive womb. And no one cared about determining paternity. They all raised the young together, as a tribe – all adults parenting all children.
But everything changed after humans were tempted by the real “forbidden fruit” – grains. When they learned they could cultivate grains – that they could stop wandering the earth, settle down and fill their bellies with carbs – many of them became sedentary and started collecting “stuff.” The concept of private property was born. People needed to mark off their territory – their fields, grain houses, livestock, houses and gold, along with “their” women and children.
Because men now had “property” to pass on, they wanted to ensure it went to their own genetic heirs. To do that, they needed to ensure no one else had access to their women. Thus women’s sex organs became private property and a commodity.
While wealthy men could afford several wives and concubines, most could afford only one or none. Meanwhile, they were still genetically wired to crave sex with many. So, the “harlot” was born. Prostitution – an institution as old as marriage – has served as an outlet for the pent up male drive for sexual variety for thousands of years.
Of course females have at least an equal drive for sexual variety, but in the new civilized, patriarchal system their needs could be damned. Women had to learn quickly to suppress their sexual desires, or else “their abdomens would swell and their thighs would rot and they’d become a curse among their people” – in other words, they’d be killed.
Because males historically haven’t been as punished as females for giving into the “uncontrollable urge to spread their seed,” our culture has allowed them certain socially tolerable avenues to discharge their caged sexual energy – strippers and porn. Many wives, in denial about their own sexual frustration, have given in to the “ugly truth” that their husbands need an occasional guy’s night out and/or a continual influx of novel porn. These women seem willing to put up with “their” men engaging in all kinds of sexual activity outside of their marriage, except actual sexual intercourse.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that one of the three men I gave lap dances to during my brief employment said he was there with his wife’s blessing. My coworkers told me it was more common than you’d think for women to come to the strip club with their boyfriends and husbands. Apparently it turns some women on to see them tantalized and teased (I’d prefer to see “mine” satisfied). They seem to enjoy the game, up to a point.
Somehow, they have no problem with their husbands or boyfriends having virtual sex with women on the internet, or dry sex with essentially naked women in strip clubs, but as soon as the thong is removed or the man’s pants are unzipped, all hell breaks loose. He’s “an unfaithful bastard having an affair, who doesn’t love her enough to keep his dick in his pants.”
But most women still can’t see how ridiculous this game is – not to mention how ridiculous it is that they pretend not to want the same thing.
Money’s Not for Nothin’ and the Chicks Aren’t Free
It’s definitely not because I’m half naked. I’m all for nudity these days, and I actually think it would be less shameful if I were fully unclothed.
Maybe it was the hairspray, the lipstick, the nail polish, the six-inch heels, the lingerie designed to exaggerate my figure, and the fact that I’d barely eaten for a week, that make me feel like a fraud.
Of course, our culture’s demonization of strippers, prostitutes and porn stars as “sluts” – who give it up “too easy” and undercut professional wives who charge far more for sexual access – doesn’t help.
But I think it’s deeper than that. I think more than ashamed, it just makes me feel sad, because if there’s one thing left on this goddamned planet that shouldn’t come with a price tag – that should be free and plentiful for all – it’s love, especially sexual love.
I am acutely aware that the only reason I can sell my sexuality is because the vast majority of women still feel shamed into keeping theirs under wraps, leaving men (and women) desperate for sexual fulfillment, and willing to pay whatever the cost in hopes of satiating their desires. As blogger Danielle Campoamor wrote in her article What I Learned Working at a Strip Club – “we’ve convinced a large population of women that their sexuality is wrong, that their bodies are shameful and that if they love their bodies they’re ‘whores,’ just so that others can secure a profit.”
While tempting, it didn’t feel good cashing in on other people’s repression. That – and the fact that I can’t dance – is why I only lasted two days.
I want to make it clear that I am in no way disrespecting sex workers. While I think sexual repression is tragic and wish all people had access to all the “free love” they needed, I’m glad there are women out there willing to provide an inkling of sexual relief to men who didn’t sign up for our oppressive patriarchal system and who don’t benefit from it any more than women do. Also, I’m glad some women have figured out how to make a decent living reclaiming the sexuality that was stolen from them millennia ago.
My ultimate hope, though, is that one day we’ll live in world where sex “work” isn’t necessary, sexual play is abundant, and women’s financial security isn’t dependent on selling the most beautiful gift they have.
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