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urlOf all the characters destined to work selling sex in The Three-Headed Dog, Marina has the most experience. Now in Spain for the second time, Marina comes from a backwater of la República Dominicana. Sharing the island of La Española (Hispaniola) with Haití, Dominicana is a poor, weakly governed nation popular with tourists on tight budgets. Many of these are called sex tourists by critics, meaning a central purpose for their visit is to buy sex and romance with natives, in a typically tropical setting. Marina reflects on how she got started in her present career.

d5d43c2ca5485db793354630fd176c90… if nice trees and flowers were enough to live on she would never have left home. She would have made do with slaving away as shop assistant in her aunt’s colmado or as a maid to some pretentious lady in the city, either way for pennies. Instead she took a job as hostess in a beer-hall, and her mother sobbed like it was the end of the world. It was okay for a while, but Marina was always looking to better herself.



She got taken on at an open-air nightclub in a larger town. It had twenty rickety tables, strings of coloured lights and loud music equipment. There was a platform made of two-by-fours where a single spot was turned on women dancing naked. It was close enough to beaches that tourists rode up on flimsy motoconchos, guys of all different nationalities, some who could barely stay on the bike. Motos with five Dominican kids would pass them roaring with laughter. Marina learned which men danced the best, which were most polite, and which gave the biggest tips.

scene_typique_ambatalok_nosy_tnThe craziest thing was the lines they spun! Come with me to Berlin, you’ll be a queen. There’s no one like you in my hometown. You’re a real woman, like we don’t have anymore. What a beautiful colour your skin is. Foreigners said island girls were sweet and willing to do anything they were asked. She fell for it only once, but the Romeo gave away his plan when he let slip how nice she would be able to make his apartment. If she wanted to be someone’s wife, she could have stayed home.

Marina wants to strike out on her own, not tied from the outset to anyone who believes he has the right to control her. She wants to go abroad like other women she has known; traditions to go to Europe are old in her country. She chooses to buy papers and services from small-time ‘travel agents’. On her second trip to Spain things go wrong, but not because of smugglers’ evil intentions against her; rather they are competing with each other for pieces of the smuggling pie.

Discussions of the fate of women like Marina generally talk over their heads. The wrongness of sex tourism and lack of options for females under patriarchy are the topic, while the pragmatic decisions women make in the here and now are sidelined. In The Three-Headed Dog, as in Sex at the Margins, their actions are the story.

hqdefaultMany times, their goal is to make enough money to build a simple house back home. Other times, they decide to try to stay abroad.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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The increase in coverage of anti-trafficking operations and Rescue Industry rhetoric is such that I only blog about a tiny fraction of it. I post much much more on facebook, short commentary on media articles, and sometimes interesting conversations ensue. You can subscribe to my facebook posts (I don’t accept many friend requests now). You can also follow me on twitter.

As part of my thinking about how the sex industry fits within everyday cultures, here are photos showing how striptease and taxi dancing were traditionally wedged into the Times Square landscape. Some venues survived the clean-up of the 1990s, especially on upper floors, but few are left now. Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York records losses such as these. Both he and I are perfectly aware that developers as well as a lot of middle-class folks consider these places to be sleazy, the adjective usually invoked for such small sex-businesses run on shoe-strings and charging little to the clientele, crunched into small spaces on streets that get less public sweeping than they need. Some see beauty in them or just appreciate the individuality of the facades, so unlike the shopping-mall homogeneity now dominant in Times Square, often called Disneyfication.

We don’t have to be overly sentimental or ignore sexism and other injustices perpetrated inside these little businesses to appreciate that they look like individual places – workplaces for some, entertainment places for others. It’s appealing, too, that dance venues are sandwiched between lighting shops and delis – note Parisian dancing above Whelan’s Drugs.

Taxi-dancing, which some of these palaces offered, involves a lot of waiting around for the dancers, who must try not to look too bored. It’s a break in the emotional labour of flirting while at the same time keeping distance.

Images of taxi-dance girls as immoral seductresses abounded not so long ago.

Although it sounds charmingly antique, taxi-dancing lives on in other parts of New York. And here are some non-taxi dance pictures from an earlier Sunday: erotic, exotic, artistic, talented). Below, taxi-dancing far from Times Square, in the state of Montana.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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India mandated the rehabilitation of sex workers last year – in case they want to be rehabilitated. The story below tells how the concept has become a subject of dispute. Two activist authorities give reasons why vocational training is problematic:

In many cases, women get into prostitution after trying out other options like domestic work, as sex work is more remunerative.

Rehabilitation cannot be on moral grounds alone. Recommendations made by the court or the panel should have a long-term financial benefit as well as ways to involve the family and other members of the society to give prostitutes social security.

Someone else says some women have been glad to work at MacDonalds instead. This is of course considered morally superior to prostitution, but what about dancing?

Girls who danced in the bars of Mumbai . . . found a means of earning a livelihood that was more paying than sex work… But even this was banned on moral grounds whereas what was needed was to make these places more safe for women.

And Dignity for All

Saheli Mitra, 1 February 2012, The Telegraph (India)

In September 1999 a sex worker in Calcutta was murdered by a prospective client after she refused to have sex with him. When the case (Budhadev Karmaskar vs the State of West Bengal) went to the Supreme Court, the latter passed a landmark judgment, stressing that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to live with dignity, includes a prostitute’s right to lead a life of dignity as well. To ensure that right, last July the Supreme Court set up a five-member panel to work towards providing sex workers with alternative means of livelihood. It was supposed to come up with a list of impoverished sex workers who wished to be rehabilitated as the apex court did not wish to coerce them into changing their profession. Initially, the panel was supposed to concentrate on the four metros and was to involve the local NGOs in this effort.

However, since then little progress seems to have been made in this regard. So much so that last week a bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Mishra of the Supreme Court asked senior advocate Pradeep Ghosh, who heads the panel, to submit another report on the work done so far. The bench said it would like to monitor the rehabilitation process by the Centre and the states so as to ensure that the exercise was not just an eyewash. “We routinely have conferences and seminars on these issues and the matter ends there. No concrete measures are taken to end the malaise. We want to make sure that something is done that satisfies our conscience. It should not be a mere eyewash,” the bench said. . .

The Centre has already paid Rs 10 lakh to the panel to kickstart the work. But though the state governments too have been directed to pay amounts ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, depending on the number of sex workers in their states, very few have made the payment so far. In fact, reacting to the panel’s complaint that state governments were sitting on the money to be paid, the Supreme Court has directed all of them to pay up and submit a list of the number of prostitutes they want to rehabilitate.

But though the Supreme Court’s initiative is a noble one, many feel that it may finally come to nought as attempts to rehabilitate prostitutes through vocational training have failed in most cases.

As Mumbai-based lawyer and human rights activist Flavia Agnes points out, “It has been amply proved that vocational training has not solved the issue of sex work or trafficking. In fact, in many cases, women get into prostitution after trying out other options like domestic work as sex work is more remunerative. Would any of us work at a job which pays one tenth of our current earnings? Then how can we expect a sex worker to be happy with this choice,” she asks.

Women’s activist Saswati Ghosh believes the whole approach to the rehabilitation of sex workers is wrong-headed and paternalistic. “Rehabilitation cannot be on moral grounds alone. Recommendations made by the court or the panel should have a long-term financial benefit as well as ways to involve the family and other members of the society to give prostitutes social security,” she says.

Agnes gives the example of girls who danced in the bars of Mumbai. Many of them had found a means of earning a livelihood that was more paying than sex work. “This was a viable alternative that women had found for themselves. But even this was banned on moral grounds whereas what was needed was to make these places more safe for women.”

However, human rights lawyer Tapas Kumar Bhanja points out that the apex court judgment does take into account the need for giving sex workers a financially viable alternative livelihood. “It says governments should make arrangements to provide a market for the trade in which the women are trained. So the panel’s work will not be over with merely training the woman. It has to ensure that she earns enough to support herself and her family.” And there are instances where this approach has worked, he says. A recent survey revealed that prostitutes placed in MacDonalds, Dominos, food courts, etc. by Mumbai-based NGO Prerana have not returned to the flesh trade. “Some of them are in touch with Prerana and are doing well,” he says. . .

So one solution does not fit all, but the requirement that alternative jobs be financially viable is a bit vague. Wages and working conditions in fast-food outlets are not going to interest a great number of people, whatever their present jobs are. The failure to figure out what sex workers actually want is reflected in numerous stories of rejected Rescues.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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There are other images to show to illustrate news about striptease than stereotypical posed bodies on poles, or even bodies at all, including lap dancer solidarity (above) and efforts to unionise (below).

Here’s a clear-cut example with which to illustrate the concept of hypocrisy, if anyone needs one:

Judge Criminalizes Strip Club, Patronizes Stripper, by Dr Marty Klein

A 67-year-old guy is arrested by the FBI for illegally using marijuana, cocaine, and prescription painkillers with a stripper over many months. In addition to purchasing lap dances and sex with her at a strip club, he had a sexual relationship with her outside lasting many months. Nothing unusual about this. A lot of victimless crimes, but crimes nevertheless. It turns out that the guy is a longtime federal judge, appointed by Ronald Reagan. . .

And here are a few strip clubs located in interesting urban buildings.


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No claim of 40 000 victims of trafficking for this big race held annually in Cheltenham. But it is interesting to see how the police describe the actual crimes that concern them in connexion with the sex industry – here, lap dancing clubs. Although there is some stuff about indecency and the reporter mentions sex trafficking, police concern seems to be about violent competition between people taking advantage of temporary licences for lap dancing.

The report illustrates something I’ve believed for some time: that women and sex are actually not the core issue. This is a struggle between the men in the centre – men in suits – and the men they fear, who live in alternative arenas of power and under different laws. This police report brings that out without the usual trappings of horror over the fate of women.

Fears over Gold Cup week lap dancing turf wars in Cheltenham

11 October 2010, This is Gloucestershire

Fears of organised gang crime and sex trafficking have prompted police to call for tough new laws on lap dancing in Cheltenham. Officers say the flurry of temporary strip clubs which spring up in the town during Gold Cup week sparks turf wars between agents and nightclub owners.

The borough council will consider today whether to adopt new government legislation, which would tighten controls – and police have urged councillors to rubber-stamp the move. Licensing officer Andy Cook said:

We support the adoption of this legislation as it will assist further in controlling such activity and help minimise associated incidents of disorder. Each year, during race week, the constabulary receives a few complaints from members of the public about such activity and the marketing which surrounds it. Regular checks are made on all licensed venues to ensure they are upholding the conditions of their licence.

According to police records, disputes between lap dancing agents and club owners in Cheltenham have led to a petrol bomb being thrown at a nightclub window. A bouncer was also hospitalised when an agent’s minders tried to attack a club manager who had employed girls without his approval.

Officers said lap dancers could earn up to £5,000 a week – making the industry an attractive prospect for criminal gangs and international traffickers. Police believe there are direct links between lap dancing and prostitution, drugs, pornography and illegal immigrants.

The council has also received complaints of “scantily-clad women” patrolling the town centre to attract business from racing fans. A report for today’s meeting said council officers found handbills providing “adult entertainment” all over the town in March. It also said there had been complaints of “indecent flyers being distributed and being left on the ground for children to find the next day”.

At the moment, licensed venues can transform into strip clubs if owners serve the council with a temporary event notice. During Gold Cup this year, six businesses served the borough with a notice, which meant they could hold events for up to a maximum of 96 hours as long as they informed the council and police.

The new powers under Section 27 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 not only outlaw the temporary notices, but also give local authorities the power to impose tighter rules on lap dancing clubs by forcing them to apply for a sex establishment licence rather than a public entertainment licence.

Currently, the Blue Room in St Margaret’s Road is Cheltenham’s only licensed lap dancing club. If it is adopted, the new legislation will mainly be used to give the borough council more control over whether new clubs should be allowed to set up in the town. At the moment, councillors can only turn down applications for a lap dancing club on the grounds of crime, public safety and the protection of children. Today’s full council meeting will be held in the Municipal Offices at 2.30pm.


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An interesting selection of pictures of women dancing: tags could include burlesque, can-can, Korea, bar girls, Thailand, striptease, 1930s, 1950s, cabaret, fan dance, Soho, Anna May Wong, erotic, artistic, exotic, go-go, swing bands and?


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Word Games by Kat

So a stripper, an exotic dancer, an entertainer, a nude performance artist and an ecdysiast all walk into a bar… and the bartender only mixes one drink BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL THE SAME THING PEOPLE! Chart showing stripper thinking about not being sex workers

A café for the Paris sewing crowd, Global Post

It’s called Sweat Shop, but there are no poor children working on factory assembly lines in this Paris establishment. Instead, patrons of the “sewing bar” pay a fee to stitch and darn, and hone age-old skills like knitting and crocheting, for pure pleasure.

More deadly than the male by Kathy at The Edge of the American West

Our spy narratives have changed very little in sixty years, especially for women. There always has to be a dead drop, a furtive exchange of bags in a subway station, and a femme fatale, preferably with red hair and a Russian accent.


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As part of the Policing and Crime legislation coming into effect 6 April 2010 in England and Wales, places offering lap dancing are reclassified as sexual entertainment venues, giving local authorities more power to control the number and location. This licensing category was heretofore called sex encounter establishments (yes, a strange name), and lap dancing clubs were not included. Being included means having to apply and go through the bureaucratic procedure to get a licence. Note this law applies only to England and Wales.

If there is going to be licensing of sex establishments at all, then lap dancing venues fit the description:

‘Sexual entertainment venue’ means any premises at which relevant entertainment is provided before a live audience for the financial gain of the organiser or the entertainer. ’Relevant entertainment’ means (a) any live performance; or (b) any live display of nudity which is of such a nature that, ignoring financial gain, it must reasonably be assumed to be provided solely or principally for the purpose of sexually stimulating any member of the audience (whether by verbal or other means).

A separate issue is whether the licensing process will make it too difficult for these places to open and operate legally, meaning that people who work in them lose a way to make money. The usual objections are that a) lap dancing is disgusting or pornographic and b) lap dancing promotes prostitution. As far as disgusting goes, that’s an opinion not shared by everyone. As far as prostitution goes, any situation can become the opportunity for one person to offer another one money for sex. Patrons of lap dancing venues come for the lap dancing; if they are definitely out for another kind of sexual experience they can get it more directly. Part of getting the licence for a sexual business in the UK involves providing bouncers, security cameras and rules like keeping a metre’s distance between customers and dancers. On the other hand, drinking and watching pretty bodies increase the chances that men will proposition women – just as they do at dance venues, bars and private parties.

In crusades against the sex industry, the testimonies of individuals who hated their involvement, felt degraded and powerless, play a big role. Without diminishing the truth or importance of those testimonies, one must note that not everyone feels that way by a long shot. The following statement of one lapdancer’s experience comes from the ECP (English Collective of Prostitutes):

I’ve worked all around the country. I do three minute dances which cost the guys £10. I pay towards the cost of the venue, security and the DJ; after that, whatever I earn is my own. We work as a collective and prioritise safety. We have a good support network of door and bar staff. Someone always knows where I am. I take a lot of responsibility for the new girls as I’ve been around a long time.

I can earn £250 for four hours. Worse case, I walk out with £50 and that’s still more than I would earn in a day job at £5 an hour. Nine out of 10 women turn to prostitution or lap dancing because there’s not enough money to survive. I work with students, mothers and all kinds of other women. Recently my mum couldn’t afford a pair of school shoes for my brother and sister. When I worked a day job I couldn’t help her, but now I can. If the government is offended by the work we do, then give us the financial means to get out of the industry.

There is no pressure to have sex with men, only opportunities. I could go to a nightclub and have 10 times more of an opportunity to sleep with a man than I do in my workplace. In any case, if I want to have sex with a man and if he wants to pay me, then so what. If I had kids and sleeping with a man for money meant my children could have food in their mouths, I would do it. And tell me one woman that wouldn’t.

I haven’t met any women who were forced to work in clubs. Some women from other countries come here for salvation and help because it is terrible for them back home.

They say we are degrading ourselves. Actually no. The issue is what kind of protection we get from the police and courts. My friend was raped in a supermarket carpark. Some one very close to me was abused as a child. The cases got thrown out of court.

If you bring in more regulations and criminalize the sex industry, you make it harder for women to work. Girls can’t insist on good working conditions or their rights. The industry will go underground and it will be much worse.


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In campaigns protesting raids and other drastic actions against prostitutes and sex workers, Christianity is often slagged off. That’s not fair; it’s how people interpret their duty as Christians that can lead to abuse. Here’s an example of Christian outreach, carried out in the same sort of way that civilian harm-reduction projects are done. Note that this helper ‘won’t apply for federal funds because she doesn’t want anything to interfere with “preaching the Word,”’and doesn’t see her role as trying to get women out of the industry  Excerpts only – click on the title for the complete story.

Jesus & strippers

Emily Belz, WorldMag.com

Los Angeles. Near midnight. Industrial buildings. Empty streets. Full parking lot. Men wander into a nondescript building, “Fantasy Castle.” Bouncers stand at the door. Inside, on stage. women dance to earn their rent. Men watch in the dark. Booze, perfume, and loneliness.

A group of young women with fistfuls of flamingo pink gift bags approach the bouncer and offer him cookies—yes, cookies. This is the second strip club they have visited, pulling up in a church minibus: They have five more on their list as they canvass neighborhoods north of Long Beach, south of Compton. The bouncer takes the cookies and lets them inside to the bar, the customers, and the dancers, who are all lined up on the stage.

“I hated lining up—like a cattle call,” remarks Harmony Dust outside the club. Dust, a former stripper, started slipping notes on the windshields of dancers six years ago telling them “you are loved”—and her ministry, I Am a Treasure, was born. Along with other women including former strippers, she lavishes love on women in the sex industry and teaches that Jesus loves them too. On this night, several of the dancers turn away from customers to give the gift-baggers bear hugs and tell them their real names.

Treasures—that’s what most people call the ministry—has a simple recipe: Bring gifts of lip gloss, jewelry, and handwritten cards into dressing rooms in strip clubs. Wait for phone calls, texts, or emails from the women that often come in just hours after the visit. “This is largely a seed-sowing ministry,” said Dust—and when sprouts appear, volunteers help with childcare and rides to church. They listen, talk, mentor, wait, and hope.

. . .  70 percent of Christians admitted to struggling with porn in their daily lives. Another poll by Rick Warren’s pastors.com in 2002 showed 54 percent of pastors had viewed pornography within the last year. . . . Dust started stripping under the name Monique at a club by the airport and managed to complete her undergraduate degree even while she was working in the sex industry at night. . . .

In 2003, while driving to the airport to pick John up, she drove by the same club where she used to strip—but she couldn’t pass it by. Filled with emotion and conviction, she pulled into the parking lot, and the security guard let her put notes on the women’s windshields telling them that they are loved. Then she couldn’t pass by clubs anymore, and she and others who joined her work began building relationships with dancers. She saw women eagerly reach for that same love she found in Jesus.

Dust doesn’t see her role as trying to get women out of the industry or tell them that their jobs are sinful. No one needs to tell them, she said—anyone in the industry feels a certain sickness in her soul. What they need is someone to extend the gospel through love. But she’s quick to say that Treasures volunteers don’t see themselves as strippers’ “saviors.” “I have nothing—I have lip gloss,” Dust said, laughing. “And I probably only have that because of Jesus.” The organization functions off a skeleton of a budget—under $100,000 a year—and Dust won’t apply for federal funds because she doesn’t want anything to interfere with “preaching the Word.”


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Anti-sex-industry campaigning promotes the idea that society is sexually out of control and we are in imminent danger of being devoured by raging commercial sex. The introduction to Three Naked Ladies says different: For as a long as there’s been music, women have danced for the entertainment and titillation of men: Dancers Rachel Aimee, Lauri Shaw and Jodi Sh Doff discuss whether dancing is ‘going downhill,’ whether dancers have to offer more than before and how regulation works and doesn’t work inside dance venues in New York from the 1970s to today. Look for the Three Naked Ladies and a new topic every Wednesday on laurishaw.com, thedirtygirldiaries.com, and hoshookerscallgirlsandrentboys.com. Here it is revealed that dancers were once referred to as hot lunches.

Rachel Aimee: I think there’s this myth among dancers that the industry is “going downhill” and that dancers across the board are expected to do more than they used to do. I know women who have been working since the 90s and refer to that decade as the “golden age of stripping,” when dancers got paid tons of money just to dance on stage and didn’t even have to touch the customers, but it seems . . .  that dancers have been doing more than just dancing for a long time.

Lauri Shaw: Yes, and in the 90s there were girls who said the same thing about the 80s.  . .

Jodi Sh Doff: In the late 70s there was a lot less regulation. It was years before AIDS reared its ugly head. Tourists, particularly Japanese men, could come off the plane at Kennedy airport, hand a cabbie a slip of paper with just the word “Cookie” on it. Places like the Cookie Jar and Winks were standing room only, bottomless, with stages no higher than, well, than your dinner table. Girls were there for your dining and dancing pleasure, hot lunches they used to be called. The money was insane and there was no hustle. You couldn’t sit and drink with a customer — there was no room. . . By the early 80s the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) code called the shots, and if a club served booze, the girls had to be a minimum of six feet away from the customers and they had to have g-strings. No pulling aside the g-string (although girls did), no touching yourself or them (of course we did that too). That’s when a lot of stages moved behind the actual bar. Diamond Lils was a renegade bar, hence the lack of register tape or financial records of any kind.

RA: Yes, you couldn’t get away with anything like that at clubs I’ve worked at, but I think it’s the norm for lapdances to be pretty heavy contact and sometimes include “extras” (hand jobs, etc.), especially in private rooms. Then of course there are plenty of dancers who just dance and don’t do anything illegal.

LS: All of that’s true, in fact last year Scores lost its liquor license after getting busted for prostitution in 2007. But in the 90s, blatant tricks didn’t happen out in the open like that, out on stage for everyone to see. The rule was generally “no touching the girls onstage.”

RA: I’ve also heard cops arresting dancers just for allegedly agreeing to perform an illegal act. In cases where dancers get busted, of course the clubs never take any responsibility, even if they knew perfectly well what was going on and may have been making money off it.

LS: I do remember one place where a scenario like at Diamond Lils might have flown — the Harmony Theatre. I was only there once. They kept it really dark and made no pretence of being “entertainers.” I don’t think they even bothered serving drinks. I do not remember there being a bar at all. Men sat in those theatre seats and haggled with the girls over the price of a lapdance, which was often a euphemism for a hand job or more.

JshD:The original Harmony was uptown, on 48th Street, right by the Gaiety Burlesque. The Gaiety was an all male dance house with live sex shows and a lot of action going on back stage between sets. Working girls used to hang out in the back rows just to get off their feet for a while. It was a blast, I had a few guy friends who worked the Gaiety. But the Harmony used to be specialty acts, old school star strippers and girls that could pick a dollar up off the table with their cooch. Very impressive if you ask me. I believe the name was changed to the Melody Burlesque and then the Harmony re-opened downtown and it was that free-for-all you’re talking about. All lap dancing, no pretense of being “entertainment” at all.

LS: Exactly, it was a free-for-all. Men could buy anything they wanted at the Harmony, and working girls could buy the freedom to give the men whatever they wanted. There wasn’t a bouncer in sight. The shift manager sat in the coat room, away from all the action.

RA: I’ve never worked at a place that was that free and easy, but I’ve definitely preferred working at clubs where management was more hands-off. At some of the big corporate “gentlemen’s clubs” that have taken over modern-day Manhattan, management are constantly micro-managing everything the dancers do, policing lapdances and pressuring dancers to take customers to private rooms (because they make a huge cut). I think most dancers prefer the freedom to decide for themselves what they’re comfortable with. But in general I find it’s very difficult to have open conversations about who does what in strip clubs because it’s so easy to offend people. There’s so much stigma attached to sex work that it’s easy to unintentionally make someone feel bad if you’re not willing to do something that they are willing to do. Everyone has different boundaries, so I think that tension is always going to exist in the industry.

– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist


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