It’s been a long time since stripping has been a profession cloaked in mystery. This year alone, there’s been a blockbuster film exalting profession; an international pole dancing championship, which has received millions of views on Youtube; and now even middle America – not exactly known for its progressive viewpoint on sex work – has been moved enough by Amber Rose’s Slutwalk to dedicate reams of editorial to destigmatising what is (probably) the second eldest profession in the world.
Your mum can now take pole dancing classes with your aunty Mavis to get fit. Whether you call it evidence that the women’s movement is failing or a sign that women are taking control of their sexual agency, stripping has moved away from the shadowy corners of tourist-town high streets and into the mainstream consciousness.
But, despite its apparent ubiquity, there are still aspects to stripping that are completely inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t actually do it for a living. Everyone I spoke to had something they wanted answered: questions as wide-ranging as whether or not strippers are able to hold down ordinary relationships with their family or partners, what actually happens in those back rooms and what the hell strippers are supposed to do when they’re on their period.
We asked some of the girls who have made stripping a career to answer these questions and many more.
1. Why did you actually get into it stripping?
‘I think there’s a – pretty jarring – misconception that the only girls who get into stripping are lower-class, vulnerable, sexually exploited women who have gotten into stripping as a last resort,’ explains Amy, 29, who has a 2.1 in English from Manchester University and started stripping two years ago.
‘I come from a very “normal”, loving, upper middle-class background and I have no history of abuse. I got into stripping because I think being sexy is really fun and the money is good. Simple as. It’s better paid than your average service industry job and, while I’m not really sure what I want to do for a living long-term, it’s a really sensible way for me to pay my rent doing something I happen to really enjoy.
‘I don’t need your pity.’
2. Is the money actually any good?
‘People assume that it’s a lot better than it is,’ says Tanya, 27, who has been stripping since she was studying at university in Brighton. ‘It depends a lot on how reasonable the guy – it’s pretty much always a guy – who manages the club you’re working at is.
‘You have to pay them to “rent” your pole which is usually around £80, so if he gets loads of girls in on a night with hardly any clients you could end up owing them money. It makes you want to break the rules – like giving contact lap dances – to give you the edge over the other girls.
‘That being said, I’ve made over £1,000 on a very good night before. It beats picking up dirty plates for minimum wage.’
3. When are the busiest nights?
‘You’d be surprised,’ Tara, 24, explains to The Debrief. ‘Any night when there’s football or rugby on are obviously big nights for us – traditionally boozed-up evenings – but Sundays and holidays like Christmas are actually often really good nights to work. I made nearly £2,000 last Christmas day in tips.
‘You might think that’s really grim, but no one really wants to be alone over Christmas, do they? Lots of the time, it’s not even about sex. These places serve an important function and help a lot of people deal with a crippling loneliness. It’s cheap for the price when you think about it like that.’
**4. What actually goes on in those back rooms? **
‘That’s where we go to give private lap dances, which are more expensive,’ says Amy. ‘All clubs have a very strict policy about keeping all dances non-contact, but if that rule was ever going to be broken, it’ll be in there. I have let a couple of guys touch my breasts and my vagina and I know a few girls who’ve had sex in those rooms.
‘This is very much the exception to the rule, though. Yes, it’s to do with money, but sometimes I’m legitimately turned on by what’s going on. It happens, but if anyone was to find out about it, you’d get in shitloads of trouble.’
5. What annoys you most about your job?
‘I get a bit of a hard time from my feminist mates from uni,’ Tanya tells The Debrief. ‘They basically make out that I’m letting them down, which is fucking ridiculous. I don’t know why people are so quick to blame the girls who’re dancing, rather than the punters.
‘You can be a feminist and still strip – none of my beliefs have changed – I just see this as a way of making some money while exploiting the unfair sexual dynamic we live with. That and people getting too handsy. We’re not going to have sex with you – stop trying.’
‘Day to day, it’s actually just bodily function stuff,’ says Amy. ‘It’s really gross when guys don’t wear deodorant and when they come in their pants – that really pisses me off. I always tell guys to let me know if they get too excited, but lots of them either don’t listen or care.
‘It’s not all that pleasant having someone come on you unexpected, but to a certain extent it’s a hazard of the job. If it continues, I’d ask one the managers to ask them to leave and not come back.’
**6. What ‘prep’ is involved? **
‘You have to be really fit to do this job – just have a look at videos on the internet – so looking after your body is obviously important,’ says Tara. ‘Other than that, it’s hours of hair, make-up, washing, fake tan, that kind of stuff.
‘Looking natural isn’t a big money spinner. Guys aren’t there to see the girl next door – you’re fulfilling a fantasy.’
7. Can you work when you’re on your period?
‘I actually think I make more money when I’m on my period. It might be something to do with the pheromones,’ says Amy. ‘All you have to do is cut your tampon string so it doesn’t come out of your knickers and fish it out later. Simple.’
8. Are you able to hold down a normal relationship?
‘The key, I think, is being honest with people from the off,’ says Amy. ‘Me and my boyfriend have been together for three years and I told him on our first date. He gets it – it’s not really anything to do with “normal” sex and I’m up there playing a part, like any dancer on a stage.
‘I’ve taken him to work with me a couple of times so he can see what’s going on. I’m not saying he loves it, but the stigma around stripping isn’t the same as it once was. If anything, I think a lot of the guys I’ve been with have been proud of it.’
9. Do you pay tax?
‘Of course. “Dancing” is a legitimate profession,’ says Tanya. ‘I’m freelance, so I have to do my taxes like everyone else, but lots of girls I know are paid through a payroll. If anything, most strippers want more transparency when it comes to this stuff and we want to be unionised. People stopped treating us like second class slaves a long time ago – I think the way we’re taxed should reflect that.’
So there you have it.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.