If you have friends in the service industry, you've likely seen them post articles titled "The Top 37 Things Customers Do to Annoy Bartenders" or "How to Make a Waiter Hate You."
The obnoxiousness of nearly every faux pas on the list should be obvious, and the type of people who bother to read etiquette pieces are rarely the ones who need the wake-up call. But we can all benefit from an inside look at the businesses we frequent and remind ourselves that employees are people.
The same thing goes for strip clubs.
Whether you visit often, for the occasional bachelor party, or just once on a lark, there's rarely adequate preparation for how to act. Very few people understand how adult businesses operate, and we get very little practice healthily expressing desire in general, much less in commerce.
Because we are taught that sexuality is shameful, the folks who work in related fields are also dehumanized. When porn performers, sex workers, or exotic dancers are discussed, it's not uncommon for it to be in degrading terms, especially from the very people who use their services.
Stripping is both physically demanding and a form of emotional labor, like any other job that requires someone to use their body (construction, firefighter, etc) or express care about client feelings (hospitality, sales, etc). But because sexual work is conceptualized as unique and separate, we tolerate abysmal working conditions we'd never allow in other fields.
Depending on the club, most clients are polite. An unfortunate minority create the majority of the problems. But even well-meaning customers may mess up without knowing. The club business model is incredibly exploitative and management is entirely unsupportive. Informing patrons about the system is key, so they can understand why things that don't seem like a big deal are actually incredibly rude.
This introductory etiquette guide is based on feedback from women who work in the industry. The responses were immediate, emphatic and for the most part, universal:
It's been said that if you can't afford to give an adequate gratuity, you can't afford to go out at all. With strip clubs that is especially true. They are not bars or music venues, and just hanging out and watching is dreadfully rude. Dancers are actually paying for the opportunity to work and are also expected to share their money with the DJ, door guy, House Mom (who takes care of things in the locker room), and management. If you are seated near the stage, you're especially obliged to give money for every performer, for every song. If you end up conversing with a dancer, it's standard to give her money for the interaction: roughly a dollar a minute. If you don't want to talk to someone, be direct but polite about it, so as not to waste her time.
Just because a woman is wearing very little doesn't suspend the laws of consent. Ask before making any physical contact, let her guide the interaction whether you're sitting in the main room or getting a private dance. Touching is often against the club rules and the employee will be the one punished, even if it's entirely the fault of the customer.
If you have a particular kink you'd like indulged, speak up. As Kiera from Daydreams put it, "We have heard it all. If you want to pay us to rub our feet or step on you with heels, just ask. Many are willing to do those things." Meanwhile, know that it's not only illegal but rude to ask for sexual contact. Internationally renowned pole dancer Lux ATL made it clear that while she had no judgment for prostitutes that clients need to stop asking for sexual acts. "I am a stripper. I am here to tease and titillate, not facilitate your orgasm. You've got my job description wrong." Another performer added "even if you are with a hooker, ASK first."
Compliments are welcome, but feedback about what would make someone look better (breast implants, gaining/losing weight, more/fewer tattoos, etc) should remain unsaid. Refrain from suggesting stripping is beneath someone or that you would like to rescue them from this work. Cameron of Risque said, "So many guys come in and treat the girls like meat, and act like they can say whatever they want to you just because they gave you a dollar." Make meaningful conversation like you would in any social interaction.
Don't drag along a girlfriend who is going to feel icky, insecure or jealous: People should only come to the club if they are enthusiastic. Don't compete with the dancers or draw attention from them with amateur stripper moves. You wouldn't want someone to stand next to you at work, miming your actions, so don't do it at the club. The dancer is not jealous of you or trying to steal your partner, nor is she interested in a threesome with you and your man… she's at work.
Don't ask what she's doing after work, or for her or phone number or "real name." It's possible to cultivate a long-term, fulfilling business relationship between performer and client, but boundaries are important. A former dancer explained to me that some guys have a delusional fantasy that if they dated, she'd dress the same at home. "Not only is that not going to happen, but I'm not even into men. Working at the club rid me of that."
Most of us work a customer service job at some point and, through that, learn to be better patrons. But I don't have to have personally slung burgers and worked retail to know that I shouldn't yell at the person working the register or leave store inventory in random places. Ultimately any etiquette guide is about treating everyone with basic human dignity and exotic dancers deserve as much respect as any other worker.
Dr. Timaree Schmit earned her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from Widener University, where she now trains future sexologists and clinicians. Her passion is bringing rational, empirically-based, sex-positive information to the world, empowering others to celebrate their bodies, build intimacy and experience pleasure.