I recently met a man at an airport bar who told me that he did not believe in the exchange of money for “sacred goods.” One sacred good, he said, was sex and our bodies. At first, I didn’t think much of it, as he was a random man at the very classy Ruby Tuesday’s bar, but he got me thinking. As a self-proclaimed feminist, I have always tried to be a proponent of the positive benefits and female empowerment that can accompany exotic dancing or prostitution.
I personally have enjoyed going to strip clubs in the past. I even started taking pole-dancing classes a few years ago. At my classes, the instructors always preached how pole dancing was an art that was a way to empower oneself and could be used as a gift for a deserving partner. A leisurely hobby, however, is not the same thing as a job or a lifestyle. I was able to interview two friends about their respective experiences in various adult entertainment fields. One currently works in Vegas at a club called The Crazy Horse III, and another used to dance and get paid for sex in Las Vegas.
Intermission (INT): What do you/did you do in Vegas, and how did you get started?
Riley*: I dance at Crazy Horse III…and I have been there for six months. Before that, I worked at Spearmint Rhino. I usually work Thursday through Saturdays, but now I only work once or twice here and there.
Jane*: I had just lost my job in sales, and I was struggling financially. One of my girlfriends called me up one night telling me she made $800 in eight hours. She told me to come meet her in Vegas, and that is how it all started. I started dancing at a small club, and before I knew it, I was working for them doing girl-on-girl shows for parties. I made about $500 in one hour rather than $800 for eight!
INT: How do you view your work? Do you enjoy it or just view it as a way to make money?
Riley: I think the majority of the girls probably hate what they do and do it because they are in some type of a bind. Either they have kids or a drug addiction. I enjoy parts of it. I like the control of the job…It makes me feel better inside, and that’s enjoyable. I like enough about the job that I haven’t left for seven years.
Jane: The greed takes over, and you lose yourself in it. Nobody really enjoys begging men for money…When you are doing it, it is very demeaning. There were many guys I did like, but that made me feel worse. I saw it as a man I would date, or who would date me, and now I have no chance. At the end it was often, “You don’t seem like the kind of girl who would be doing this stuff…” It was hard on my self-esteem.
INT: What do you do/how do you cope if you get a really gross or creepy customer?
Riley:I am a really picky stripper. You don’t have to take what you can get, and for me, I don’t want to spend hours with the world’s most disgusting guy [just] because of the money. Or, if a guy is super gross, then I just demand more money.
Jane: The money is so good and so easy, so you really numb yourself and do whatever you have to do to get through that night.
INT: How did you learn the tricks of the trade?
Riley:I did learn it on my own. I didn’t know anybody who danced–I had only been to a strip club once before. I kept it a secret from everybody until I met another girl that was working there, and when we became friends, I felt more comfortable telling other people what I was doing.
INT: Does your job/did your job change the way you view sex or intimacy with your current or former partners?
Riley:It does affect your sex and intimacy with your partners. Every aspect of dating a guy is completely affected by the job; that is one of the biggest downsides. Either you think the guy just wants you for sex or for the money or just for your wild job. So, you don’t trust them as much or tell them the whole truth. Then when you do find a good guy, it is difficult to stop what you are doing and reevaluate your life…I don’t know one girl in the industry that has a good relationship.
Jane: Prior to doing that job, I was only with five guys for my whole life. I lived in a small town and had only been in long-term relationships. Going to Vegas, I felt like I was a rag doll–it just tossed me around. I didn’t date or have sex (without being paid) with anyone while I was there…I didn’t date for seven or eight years after. It definitely messed me up.
INT: What is the relationship between the industry and drug use?
Jane: [Using drugs] is an easier way to check out and accept whatever you are doing. It is very hard to do sober, because it is fighting with so many voices in your head…after a while, you just go numb. Sometimes I felt in control, and sometimes drunk guys would beat the shit out of me. That is when I knew I had to get out of that job as soon as possible. I think what empowered me was later on in life, knowing that I actually survived.
INT: Jane, how did you decide to leave the industry?
Jane: I was very grateful for a man who used to be one of my customers and would fly in from Arizona to see me. He paid for me to go to L.A., and he paid for my rent for a year and a half. He was a godsend, because I probably would be dead or be stuck in that whole thing again [if it weren’t for him]. It is definitely a hard thing to stop if you don’t have a level head.
INT: Do you have any advice for other women who are considering these types of jobs?
Riley:I wouldn’t recommend it for anybody to start. It’s kind of like a drug. You get caught up–when you do it all the time it really affects your life and psyche and your opinions of yourself and others’ opinions of you. Even though it’s nice because you can be independent, make good money and make your own schedule, you are constantly being objectified and that doesn’t feel good.
Jane: Most women that are dancing are also hooking, either with a [client] or with someone else. [Dancing] leads to sex [for money], and when you cross the line, where do you stop?
*Names have been changed for anonymity.