The Truth About Lap Dancing: A Performer Speaks Out

Object is a UK group that challenges ‘Sex Object Culture’. They have kindly authorized us to reprint their interview with a former lap/pole dancer.

The Truth About Lap Dancing
A Performer Speaks Out
Object 2007

Comments on this Report

This testimonial is prepared from an interview with Lucy Brown, a former
lap/pole dancer who approached Object herself and with whom we have
met on several occasions.

Her testimony reflects that from other performers presented in research
carried out by Julie Bindel [link] for Glasgow City Council.

Notes About Lap Dancing

Performers are self employed – their only source of income comes from
customer’s payment for services.

Performers often have to pay ‘house fees’ for working in a club, often
paying retainers on the days they do not work.

Performers now will typically be fully nude, with shaved pubic hair.

The Beginning

Penny, can you tell us about your involvement in the industry?

I worked in two clubs from the Secret’s chain. I was a dancer at both.
The work involved chatting to men, private dances (fully nude) and
pole dancing (no nudity). There was also a VIP area where you could
take a client to spend the hour for chat and as many dances as they

Were checks were made on your age or immigration status?

I gave a fake NUS card as ID, which was accepted as documentary
evidence, proof of age, proof that I was able to work in the UK.

Were there any particular reasons that you went into lap dancing?

I was fired from my office job and needed money fast. I didn’t feel
qualified to do anything else. I was bored of working nine to five and
thought it would be an easy way of making good money. I thought it
would solve my financial situation quickly and easily. I was also using
drugs at the time and knew that it was a lifestyle that would allow me
to continue doing so.

I was at a point in my life where I felt helpless and hopeless and
somehow I felt that it was all I could do.

Why do you think other performers go into the industry?

Some of the women working in the club were clearly self-sufficient,
driven individuals who found that lap dancing suited them. However
some of the others were young eighteen year olds, others had moved
here from eastern Europe, others were working as nurses during the
day and coming in to the club at night, exhausted and wired, others
were single mothers.

So at least this was probably a positive experience for some performers?

I certainly knew a few dancers at the clubs who had long dreamed of
being lap dancers and whose families thought they had done well to
get the job. They also saw it as a route into glamour modelling,
celebrity, and thought it was a good way to meet a rich man.

While this was how they presented themselves, once you began to
dig a little deeper you discovered other things about them. For
example, previous relationships involving domestic violence. Ongoing
issues with men who controlled them. Drink problems. Self-esteem

Licensing terms

In your experience, do clubs abide by their licensing terms?

Club regulations stated that it was necessary to remain one foot away
from the customers at all times.

But It’s laughable to suggest that this was abided by, it really is.

Not touching, not exposing your genitals, not allowing men to touch
you is the exception rather than the rule.

I would say most of the lap dances I ever did were less than one foot
away from the man and that physical contact of some description was
usually made. Some of the more regular customers knew and
expected it.

Lots of the regular customers would make arrangements to come to
the club to see specific dancers. My impression was that in these
cases that more extreme sexual contact might well have been being
performed and paid for accordingly.

Why do you think the rules were so often broken?

If men weren’t prepared to pay for it, then all touching and exposure
would cease.

The key fact is that everyone knows they can make more money by
breaking the rules. In a culture where you are literally selling yourself
for cash, and you are working on commission, then you’d have to
work very hard indeed to stop people going for extra money if they
know they can make it.

Since there are no incentives to encourage dancers not to break the
rules, and the customers are always prepared to pay more to get
more, then licensing terms will always be broken.

What did management do to try and ensure licensing terms weren’t

Occasionally the management would come round and tell you off if
you were dancing too close in a really public place, but that was for
the sake of appearances.

One night, I think one time after Stringfellows had been busted for
being a brothel, the management put up all these newspaper
clippings about how the council were sending round people to check
the licensing.

Another time some policemen came in and the manager came over
to warn me about behaving when dancing for policemen.

The attitude of the management was, make sure you know who
you’re dancing for before you break the rules. The attitude is not that
we abide by the rules because they are there for a reason, the
attitude is we abide by the rules if and only if there is a danger of
getting caught.

How do you feel the clubs you worked at compared with others?

What went on the VIP areas in our club was pretty tame I think. But
certainly other, bigger, clubs in town had worse reputations. I heard
that at one major club in town it was expected of you, if you went to
VIP, that the man would at least be allowed to put his fingers inside


Can you tell us a little about ‘salary and employment’ terms?

Lap dancers don’t have employment rights like everyone else. They
are self employed so they aren’t paid a wage, they don’t get holiday
pay, sick pay, all the other things which people are entitled to in other
jobs. Instead they work like prostitutes, they only get money if they
get a man. And they will get as much out of each man as they can.
And unlike enforcing licensing terms, when it came to the regulations
enforced on the women, the management was absolute: you went on
the pole or you were fined £20. You would then be called to the pole
again and if you missed that you would be fined another £20. And so

How true did you find the notion of it ‘being easy money’?

It’s laughable. It is absolutely not easy money.

For example on my first night they said I didn’t have the right shoes or
dress and said if I wanted to work then I would have to buy them off
the club. The shoes were £60, the dress was £70 or £10 to rent per
night. I didn’t have the cash but they said I had to have them or I
couldn’t work so I would have to take them immediately and then
work to pay them back.

So from my very first night I was in debt to the management and
working to pay off that debt.

We also had to pay for our own (over-priced drinks) as well as paying
commission to the house every night which was a minimum of twenty
pounds whether or not you made any money. Some nights it was
possible to actually lose money.

There was also the fact that if you as a dancer break the regulations
then you were fined : £20 for being late onto the floor, £20 for wearing
the wrong shoes. £20 for the wrong or dress, £20 for missing your
pole dance. These regulations, unlike the licensing regulations
regarding touching for instance, were enforced strictly.

You weren’t allowed to leave early, you got fined if you don’t turn up
at all. It becomes very easy to start losing money.

Urban legends surrounded the amount of money it might be possible
to make in the club. In reality no one ever seemed to make that much
money. it’s the only job I’ve ever had where some nights I could end
up paying to be there.

Were there problems with drugs and alcohol?

Getting drunk was considered by many to be the aim of the night as
well as making money. If you had managed to get drunk on other
people’s money then you had done well.

I used drugs with at least four or five of my colleagues while I was
there, bought drugs off another, and was pretty regularly given drugs
to use by male customers. I’m talking about cocaine in the most part,
though sometimes we sneaked off upstairs to smoke a spliff if the
night was slow.

And prostitution?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

The action of prostituting or condition of being prostituted; the
practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for

Lap dancing, according to that definition, is prostitution.


The industry is presented as empowering for women – would you
agree with this?

Absolutely not.

My fundamental belief about this, having worked in clubs, is that the
reason why men want to pay for lap dances is not that they are
visually titillated, but rather that paying a woman to take her clothes
off is an act of power.

There is something predatory and unhealthy about that desire and
whether or not individuals feel able to control that urge, whether or
not it is natural, these are things of minor consideration when we
consider the state of rape convictions in this country.

There is still an horrendous power imbalance between the genders.
Lap dancing clubs feed and breed that power imbalance. Lap dancing
is the opposite of empowering.

Performers sometimes appear to paint a very positive picture of the
business. Why do you feel their account differs so much from your

If your whole living depends on your body, on how attractive you are,
then nothing is more embarrassing than admitting you haven’t really
made any money.

To the outside world I never admitted that I wasn’t earning that much
cash. I felt that if I admitted I wasn’t earning, it was like saying “no
one wants me”.

If you are – or have been – a lap dancer then you have an investment
in believing that it is a worthwhile thing to do and that there is nothing
wrong with it.

It’s hard to say : ‘I made a mistake. I betrayed myself. I’m unhappy.’
It’s hard to say : ‘actually some bloke offered me an extra twenty
quid to suck my tits and I said yes because the TV license man came
round and I really need the money’ . It’s hard to say : ‘I get drunk
every night. I need drugs to see me through’. It’s hard to say : ‘I’m
really just hoping to meet a rich man and one day to be rescued’.

Men who visit clubs often get the impression that performers are
happy, empowered and have more money than them!

It is important, within the club, to appear to appear wealthy and
successful. Are any of them really, really making genuine money?
No. I don’t believe they are, and if they are they are the exception to
the rule.

Most of the women working in most lap dancing clubs are not high
earners. They are not making more money than they could make
working in a bank or a shop. And there is absolutely no security.

And for those who believe it is their true calling, perhaps it is
impossible to see that actually they are genuinely capable of so much
more. That often these women are resourceful, intelligent, funny,
entertaining, creative women, who despite a lack of education could
actually be doing something else. If they can’t see it then there is a
bigger problem to blame. There is a problem within our culture which
is underestimating them and which is leading them to underestimate

What about it being sexually empowering for women?

In society, attractive women are perceived as having sexual power.
So women are encouraged to believe that by being employed as a
lap dancer, they are inherently powerful.

And as young women we are encouraged to believe that our sexual
power is particularly potent. The emphasis which is placed on our
responsibility to control and contain this sexual power, to guard it, to
be careful with it, implies that it is very great. In fact, many people
believe it to be “the one power women have over men”. It is also
sometimes represented as “the real power”. The myths imply that we
can manipulate or seduce men according to our wishes and that men
are helpless to resist.

So if your job, as a lap dancer, revolves around exercising this sexual
“power”, then you may feel as if you are powerful and empowered.

But is that real power?

Some say strip clubs empowers women to be very provocative in a safe

If you went to a nightclub, met a man, took him into a private room,
and then danced provocatively for him, took your clothes of for him,
gyrated on his lap and then told him he wasn’t allowed to touch you
or have sex with you, and then he raped you, then you would
probably find it pretty hard to get a conviction.

And if you are a young woman then there is a high chance that on the
outside world you will have received your fair share of unwanted
sexual attention and sexual contact from men for which there is little
to no retribution.

So the rules of a lap dancing club, where the men know that they are
not supposed to touch and to behave as the rules dictate, and where
there are consequences and resources available to you if he breaks
that boundary, might seem like power.

So because you live in a world where it is culturally acceptable for
men to invade your boundaries without ramifications, then being
sexual within the “safety” of a lap dancing club feels relatively
speaking like power.

But this comes from a place of powerlessness. From unsafety.

So where is the real power?

The reality is that in the clubs, as in so much of life, the real power
lies where the money is. The men have the money, and therefore the
men have the power.

And for me that is a problem because it reflects a cultural reality.
Maybe it wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t inequality of power in our
culture. But I can’t help but feel it’s chicken and egg. Lap dancing
exists because of that inequality, and might not exist without it.


Why do you think women aspire to it?

You get to dress up and look pretty and loads of men tell you that
you’re “gorgeous”. It is affirmation on the most basic level, appealing
to the part of women which to some is most important: our looks.

And lap dancers portray themselves as high earning, glamourous
individuals who do what they want when they want. They are well
groomed and well turned out.

Most importantly, those who aspire to it genuinely believe that it will
earn them a lot of money. And maybe it can be, but it’s certainly not
guaranteed. There’s no guarantee you’ll earn anything.

Why do you think some women do not take issue with strip clubs
when their husbands and boyfriends visit?

They don’t take issue with it because it is presented as simply
striptease. They have no idea what actually goes on inside the clubs.
If a woman’s boyfriend is off to a strip club then she may feel
pressured not to take issue because she doesn’t want to be
perceived as unliberal or prudish.

And she also probably imagines it will simply involve him watching
another woman take her clothes off.

Of course if that same woman knew that her boyfriend was actually
going to be allowing a woman to touch him, put her breasts in his
face, show him her vagina while she fingered it, maybe even let him
finger her, put her face in his crotch, gyrated against him until he
came…etc etc. suddenly she might not feel so liberal about it.
Suddenly that might actually feel like infidelity. But women don’t know
what really goes on because not many women go to strip clubs.

So what about women who go to strip clubs with their boyfriends for

Even if they do, they don’t really get the full picture.

As a dancer when you see a man or woman come in together, you
aren’t going to treat them the same as you are a man on his own or a
group of men. You will act according to what you think they want.
So even if your boyfriend took you to a strip club to show you what it
was like, you still probably wouldn’t know what really went on.

Is there a double standard applied to the performers at clubs as
opposed to the customers?

The fact is that lap dancers are not respectable members of society.
I haven’t told anyone at my jobs since working in clubs that I once
worked as a lap dancer. It’s not a job like ‘I was a waitress’
But the men who come into the clubs are ‘respectable’. They are
mostly suits. They have city jobs, engineering jobs, wives, children,
new born babies.

Firms take their lads in to make business deals. It’s a night out.
In contrast lap dancers aren’t even on a wage, they are working cash
in hand, they aren’t getting a pension, or perks. They could be fired at
any moment with no employment tribunal. And they – not the men for
whom it exists – are surrounded by a culture of judgement.

the end

Why did you leave in the end?

I was constantly in trouble for not looking cheerful and for not wearing
the right clothes or shoes. I was tired of daily pube shaving and fake
tanning. It also became increasingly clear that my drinking and drug
problem was out of control. I was not alone in that respect. There was
a high turnover of dancers, and often women would be booted out,
only to be allowed back in again several months later.

I didn’t make very much money.

It’s competitive, it’s tough, and it’s incredibly tiring.

I had started seeing a therapist while I was in the club, and was
beginning to work through some of my problems and realising that I
could do something better with my life.

What effect do you feel this work had on you?

I now realise that lap dancing is one of the hardest things I ever did. I
found it tough, soul destroying and it had begun to strip me of my
humanity. I began to see everyone in terms of how much I could get
out of them. I had begun to really hate men, to be bored in their
company. I stopped caring about people around me because I was
surrounded by this atmosphere of constant mistrust.

See also:

Daily Record Special Report: Prostitution in Scotland (4/28/08)
In the survey of 110 Scots men who buy sex… Almost a third of those had bought sex at a lap dancing club…

Prostitution Research & Education: How Prostitution Works
Real sexual relationships are not hard to find. There are plenty of adults of both sexes who are willing to have sex if someone treats them well, and asks. But there lies the problem. Some people do not want an equal, sharing relationship. They do not want to be nice. They do not want to ask. They like the power involved in buying a human being who can be made to do almost anything…

Some people do not want real relationships, or feel entitled to something beyond the real relationships they have. They want to play “super stud and sex slave” or whatever, inside their own heads. If they need to support their fantasies with pictures, video tapes, or real people to abuse, the sex trade is ready to supply them. For a price, they can be “a legend in their own minds.”

Strip Poker Men’s Club: Women’s Lib to Blame for Men’s Going to Strip Clubs
These days for men that are married, come home to an un-kept and
generally empty home, their wife or partner is also out at work and
often returns home later than the average male, pursues the corporate
ladder and excuse the pun, like a bitch on heat. The male picks up the
children from day-care, cooks the meal, does the laundry and patiently
waits for his partner to return and in some sick twist of fate still
somehow falls into to some outdated statistical category that says that
men still do little around the home!

Well it didn’t take long for men (married, single or repeatedly
divorced) to realize that they now truly are holding the short end of
the stick.

What was man going to do?

There is something about the atmosphere of a Strip Club, the way in
which women strut their stuff on stage and not breaking eye contact is
almost an animalistic approach that not only attracts men sexually but
because of the eye contact that most women have mastered to enable to
do their job well, it seems to offer men what they are so desperately
in need off and they haven’t been able to get from today’s modern
woman, “attention”…

So there you have it, no need to feel guilty, it’s one of life’s small escapes, the last bastion of the male domain, enjoy it!

A Review of Sherry Lee Short, “Making hay while the sun shines: The dynamics of rural strip clubs in the American Upper Midwest, and the community response”
The public debate quickly gets sidetracked into issues of free speech
and “liberated” versus “repressed” values. Those who wish to resist the
sex trade’s infiltration of their community find themselves cast as
villains in a morality play that ignores the real power dynamics of the

Regardless of the source, the arguments of pro-sex industry advocates
and proponents have a common theme: the industry springs from a liberal
mindset and frees women and men, sexually, politically, and
spiritually. Part of this logic is that sexuality–particularly women’s
sexuality–has been oppressed historically and that the sex industry
offers women and men the liberating possibility of unbridled sexual

This logic ignores the fact that the use of women in
prostitution as well as other forms of human sexual commodification has
existed for at least as long as there has been a historical record.
Thus, if sexual commodification were freeing, then sexual oppression
would be uncommon or, more likely, exist only as some curious
historical fact…

Thus, ‘liberal’ support for the sex industry
is only a mask for the traditional face of prostitution. A sexually
freeing or liberating industry offering unique and new experiences of
choice and revolutionary change for women and children would not be
characterized by bodies being exchanged for money or other payment.
Indeed, the exchange of bodies for money or other payment is a very old
and un-revolutionary practice. Prior to sex industry rhetoric, this was
referred to as bondage, slavery, or indentured servitude. (pp.309-10)

…In Wahpeton, North Dakota, a town of 8,700 people, representatives from the local crisis center testified before the City Council in 1996 that since the opening of the town’s second strip club, there had been a 96.6% increase in sexual assault and domestic violence complaints. Victims often reported that the abuse happened after their male partners returned from one of the clubs. (p.316) An increase in crime in the neighborhood, including two extremely violent fights outside the clubs, also aroused public sentiment in favor of regulating the clubs more strictly…

True Freedom Includes the Freedom to Say No (explicit language)
True sexual liberation is the ability to say “no, I don’t want to have
sex right now” and have it stick. The sex industry only gives women the
ability to say “yes”. How is that liberating? How is that empowering?…

woman who says “no, I will not be in a relationship with a man who uses
porn or goes to strip clubs” is not seen as exercising her sexual
liberation, she’s seen as a prude who apparently just needs a good
fucking. Apparently “sexual freedom” only means the freedom to have
wild, kinky sex, go to strip clubs, and watch porn, not the freedom to
say “no, I won’t tolerate those abuses of my body and my sense of

And it’s THAT power which will really shake the
world up in terms of equality. So of course, that’s the stuff that’s
met the with most violent, nasty resistance.

Former Stripper Tells Easthampton Hearing about the Life: It Stinks
Harrison then told the story of her eight years working in strip bars
in four states, including Massachusetts. Her story, which she said was
not for the “squeamish,” included harassment by clients and management
and the prevalence of venereal disease in strip bars.

Carolyn McKenzie: Undercover with the Viewing Booths; Disease, Intoxicants Prevalent Among Strip Dancers (explicit language)

Profitable Exploits: Lap Dancing in the UK
A dancer at Legs’ n’ Co said that some of the dancers
suffered from bulimia and/or anorexia, and have low self-esteem. “If
anyone has a tiny bit of cellulite, or is slightly overweight, she is
pulled by management and told to do something about it. That can make
you feel like shit. It’s as if they own our bodies. We’re even told
when to shave our public hair” (GD11). Six women overall across the
four clubs had breast enlargement scars under their arms…

Several of the dancers used alcohol in the clubs, and in all of the clubs visited, as aside from The Flying Scotsman,
one or more dancers stated that management encouraged the use of
alcohol, primarily by making it a condition for the dancers to accept
any alcoholic drink customers offered to buy them. Thus, management are
profiting from the dancers’ alcohol use…

“Waitressing, I cleaned the floors and I own a box of men’s
wedding rings that I found on the floor.”

…I wanted to make enough money to escape these men and, in particular,
the New Bedford area and the life I had led up until now. I went back
to the strip bars to make money. I cannot tell you the lie and the
fantasy that it is for men…

of these experiences I have been made to feel so inferior that I was
saving and had planned for breast implants. I had dyed my hair blonde
and ruined it at one point. I weighed 86 pounds. I now have severe
emotional and medical issues, revolving around the stress, physical
punishment and trauma I have gone through…

The Science Behind Pornography Addiction (explicit language)
The terrible work
life of the pornography performer is often followed by an equally
terrible home life. They have an increased risk of sexually transmitted
disease including HIV, domestic violence and have about a 25% chance of
making a marriage that lasts as long as 3 years.

Testimony in Minneapolis: Porn and the Death Spiral of a Marriage
About this time, when we went out we started meeting his friends at wet
T-shirt contests, amateur strip nights or elsewhere–we would meet
together as a group–or pornographic adult theaters or live sex shows.
Initially I started arguing that the women on stage looked very
devastated, like they were disgusted and hated it. I felt devastated
and disgusted watching it. I was told by those men, if I wasn’t as
smart as I was, and if I would be more sexually liberated and more
sexy, that I would get along a lot better in the world, and that they
and a lot of other men would like me more…

Strip Club Tips: How to Savor an Exquisite Blend of Fantasies, Lies, Exploitation and Despair (explicit language)

Strip Clubs: Dancers Pay to Work There

Investigates Human Trafficking and Prostitution in the US; Valley
Advocate Advertises “Foreign Fantasies” Where “Everything Goes”