Inside a Strip Club

Tom Matlack interviews a former manager of an L.A. gentlemen’s club for a glimpse of what it’s like to work among strippers—and the guys who shower them with cash.

A couple months ago I had dinner with friends in Los Angeles. At the table was a guy I hadn’t seen in 20 years: Brad, the younger brother of two of my buddies. Brad had an attractive young woman on his arm. We all enjoyed a drink together.

After the young woman left, the conversation quickly turned to the nature of her relationship with Brad. His brothers chuckled knowingly. Brad once managed a strip club, and the fresh-faced young woman had been a stripper there. He had since moved on to the gourmet-food business and hired her to conduct, and then manage, demonstrations in high-end grocery stores. Brad proceeded to tell stories I found funny, sad, and surprising about what it’s like to work at a strip club.


That conversation came rushing back to me when the Good Men Project Magazine ran “The Professional.” In that article, sex worker Charlotte Shane explains that she doesn’t think of herself as exploited. She claims that many of her clients were good men. Of all the stories we’ve published, “The Profesional” was perhaps the most challenging to wrap my head around.

The editorial team at the magazine operates with complete autonomy; the first time I was aware of the piece was when I got an email from a source on one of the stories I’d written about teenage girls being forced into prostitution. She was emphatic that publishing “The Professional” had done irreparable harm, by endorsing prostitution and minimizing the violence done to women in the sex industry.

At first, I instinctively agreed with my source. I have sat with child prostitutes and the people who try to help them. I learned firsthand how their young lives were devastated at the hands of pimps and johns who exploited them emotionally and physically.

But two things changed my mind. I posted the piece on Facebook and asked my friends if they found it offensive. A dozen respondents all said it was a revealing glimpse into male sexuality and how the sex trade works for some women. They didn’t interpret it as an endorsement of prostitution. Shane, a well-educated woman who chose sex work, was careful to point out that she was writing about her experience, not the experience of all sex workers.

The second thing that turned me around was recalling my conversation with Brad. While I didn’t completely agree with his perspective on stripping as a vocation, I realized that it’s important to distinguish fact from fiction when it comes to the sex industry. Where I had previously seen it as a black-and-white issue, I began to see shades of gray: all sex work is not the same.

After the publication of “The Professional,” I called Brad to ask him a few questions.


TOM: What kind of club were you working in?

BRAD: They were owned by a larger chain, Scores, from New York.

How did you get involved in it?

I have a good buddy I ran nightclubs with back in Chicago. He called me, and he said, “Buddy, come on up to the club; you can work for a few nights. You’ll be around a ton of girls, we get to hang out all the time, you don’t really do anything. Let’s have some fun.” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know.” But I went, and it was easy. For the most part, I got a ton of cash for really doing nothing.

How did you get paid?

Tips. We made minimum wage, and every time a guy would walk in, I would start talking to him, sit him down, try to get him a drink or something, see how much money he had, and then I’d introduce him to a lady. At the end of the night, girls tip you out for helping them. I would say those girls would probably be tipping out anywhere from 30–40 percent of what they made.

Wow. So how much did the average girl make a night in that club?

Well, that club kind of sucked. I would say the average girl there would make anywhere from $300 to $700 a night. An amazing girl could come in there on the weekends and make anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000. They all had regulars who just sat there, and these girls would just talk to them all night, and by the end of the night the guy basically threw down, like, three, five grand.

Did the guys want dances, or was it that they wanted someone to talk to?

A little bit of both. Some guys just came in to hang out with these girls, and some guys came in because they wanted the dancing and to get as close as they could to sex—but nothing really ever happened like that.

Who was the typical customer?

Your regular blue-collar guy who was probably married or in a relationship, and would come in and just want to be next to a girl who excited him. Just your average guy. I didn’t see too many white-collar dudes come in. The ones who did were regulars.

Sex was not allowed?

Not at all. I’ve been going to strip clubs since I was young, and any time you start getting into the nicer establishments, these places are watched over by the city and the police like hawks. We had cameras everywhere and security guys to make sure everybody kept his pecker in his pants.

Where do the girls come from and how do they get into this?

You just had all walks. They were college students who could make a ton of money doing this one or two days a week to pay their student loan, their car, their rent, and go shopping. Or you would have your seasoned veteran chick who’d just been doing it forever and kind of got addicted to the cash and couldn’t figure out anything else to do, or you’d get your ghetto rats, and the kind of chicks who aren’t well educated. You can tell the prostitutes when you see them; they go from club to club because they usually get caught doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.

What was the mindset of the dancers? How do they deal with what they were doing?

Some of them were really secretive. Everybody has a stage name, but the funny thing was, they would keep their personas outside of work and continuously call each other by their stage names. A lot of those girls really protected their real identity, and the girls would only tell you their real names if they really thought of you as a friend.

What was the nature of those friendships?

At first, I would probably have loved to date any of these girls, but a lot of them do have some social problems or things like that. I’m still kind of like the lonely dude here in L.A., so if I ever want to go out and have a great dinner these gals will always oblige. Two of the girls still work for me.

They work for you in your food business, not stripping.


Does she strip still?

No. A lot of the normal ones, the minute they don’t have to, they won’t. You always hear they’re just putting themselves through college, but the minute they can get a real job, they’ll do it. The problem is, sometimes they find themselves a little bit too lazy to get up and do that. You can tell which ones are motivated and which ones are just kind of like,”Well, fuck it.” The normal ones, I don’t think it’s ever their lifelong passion to stay in the business; they’re always looking for something better.

So what are some of the crazy things that would happen in the club?

The VIP rooms are infamous for guys pulling their cocks out and not thinking it’s a big deal. And then security comes in and they’ll say, “Buddy, what are you doing?” And the guy will say, “What, what’s wrong?” Well, that’s illegal.

Retell me the story about what it means to “make it rain.”

That was probably one of my first nights there. One guy sits down nonchalantly and says, “Well, could you do me a favor?” And I said sure. He’s like, “I need to change out $9,000 in ones.” And I go, “Say that one more time?” “Yeah, I need $9,000 in one-dollar bills.”

I go over to talk to my buddy, and my buddy immediately says, “Oh yeah, it’s going to storm.” And he says, “Let me go check out in the safe.” He comes back and says, “I can do this.” We grab the gentleman’s money, we change it into singles. His gal, the girl that he was looking for, goes up onstage. All of a sudden, he just starts throwing the money straight up into the air, and it’s raining $1 bills, and it lasts for the entire song. Money’s everywhere. I have to get up onstage with a big broom and sweep it up into big garbage bags. It takes me an hour and a half to recount it, and she pays me $150.

What made for the most successful stripper?

The most successful strippers were usually the girls who were intelligent and could talk to anybody. She could talk to a thug, and make him feel all warm and happy, but could also go up to the Mexican cowboy dude who doesn’t speak much English, or the white college kids who would come in with the credit card. If you had a girl who could really only deal with one type of person, that’s all you could use her for.

So it was personality, not necessarily how beautiful they were?

It was all personality. You’d be surprised at how different the girls would look outside of the club, in normal attire. Walking around in a bikini—these girls could make themselves look gorgeous, but you’d see them walking in or you’d see them leave, and it was like nothing special at all.

You’re no longer involved with the club, right?

Correct. My friend still is.

In hindsight, do you have any moral pangs at all in terms of what was going on there?

No, no. I think it’s an amazing business. One, it’s just an incredible cash business. The tough thing is, my buddy, because he’s been doing this business for the past six, seven years, he really can’t do anything else. He puts that on his resume to go for a job outside of the industry and it’s a huge hindrance.

So you don’t feel bad in terms of how the girls were treated in any way.

No. They’re there because they want to be there. It’s not prostitution. The ones who aren’t good at it or the ones who have a problem, you don’t hire them back, or you don’t schedule them.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about strip clubs?

Well, I think the majority of guys think that they could offer these gals money and take them home, that they’re all prostitutes, and that’s not true at all. I would say a good 40 percent of them are no different from any of the other women walking around, except they just don’t have a problem taking off their clothes. They are comfortable with themselves, and they look at men as complete idiots. I can take that guy’s money, why not? Why not. And I love that.

The other misconception is that everybody there is on drugs and whatever. You couldn’t be. If these girls were drunk or on drugs, they couldn’t talk to the customers, and we would ask them to leave. Everybody’s there to make money, pure and simple.

What does it say about male sexuality that men, especially the big spenders, would go into the club and sit there for hours talking with some girl and spending thousands of dollars?

That we’re complete suckers.

Suckers, or you think it says something about how we deal with our sexuality?

We have no control over our sexuality or over our hormones. That’s pure and simple. The only time we have control is after we’ve busted a nut—that’s the only time in our lives when things are crystal clear.

So your view is that, especially the 40 percent of girls who are smart and doing it for a period of time, they were just taking advantage of men, and “good for them”?

Totally. Good for them. Why not?

♦ ♦ ♦

Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


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  2. The first time I was in a strip club, was sneaking in with older friends at 17….about 40 years ago! I just wanted to note that from my pov these clubs changed a lot, for the worse, where I live (Ontario, Canada) after a court ruling removed the ban on physical contact between dancers and patrons….I forget the exact date…at least 20 years ago.

    Whenever I hear the line that women need to watch how they are dressed because most men can’t control themselves, I’m reminded of those early days because full nudity had already been accepted in the clubs, but NO TOUCHING was allowed.

    The rule was strictly enforced. A touch or an attempt to touch a dancer walking by on stage got a tap on the shoulder, the 2nd attempt meant a couple of bikers working as club bouncers would start working over the patron while they were dragging him out a side door! Point being that I, and most of the guys who payed the cover charge to go in were able to control our urges even though we were confronted with beautiful naked women! So, where is all this bullshit coming from that still goes on today?

    It’s too bad that the rules changed for strip clubs. Because whenever I went in after the late 80’s, I noticed a complete change in atmosphere. There were no cover charges to get in the door, but the clubs were turned into semi if not outright whorehouses, where iit was impossible to sit at a table near the stage, without some girl speaking broken english standing in front of me trying to negotiage a deal to lap dance for $10 or $20. per song. If these clubs were still like the old days, I might still be going in once in awhile. But not what they’ve turned into today!

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  5. Check out my stripper documentary LICENSE TO PIMP. It’s about the choices that 3 San Francisco strippers make when their workplaces engage in illegal labor practices that effectively turn them into brothels. And let’s get real. Prostitution does happen in strip clubs.

  6. Hey there,

    I’ve never heard of the Good Men Project (and shame on me for being culturally ignorant to such an appalling extent) but it’s always encouraging to see men who aren’t willing to simply accept the gender roles our society likes to hand out. So, kudos to you for that. And as a woman, and a stripper, it’s great to read articles that aren’t out to demonize the sex industry and its employees.

    However, while I’m sure he was simply speaking from his experience, Brad makes a couple of comments that aren’t quite true. Now, since he was speaking from experience, perhaps the club he worked at was simply different than the ones I’ve worked in. But I do want to take the time to point out a few facets of the industry he may not be aware of. I’ve been stripping for 7 years now (I guess that means I’m not “normal” by Brad’s standards. Whoops.) and have worked in over 20 clubs across the U.S. so I like to think I have a pretty good grasp of the industry. That being said, like Brad, I can, of course, only speak from my experience—so with that in mind I’m going to take this opportunity to nit-pick some statements he made. I hope you’ll excuse the novel length comment.

    >>Did the guys want dances, or was it that they wanted someone to talk to?
    A little bit of both

    Narrowing down the reasons someone might come to a strip club into 2 categories is really, really, limiting. Customers come in for a vast variety of reasons that simply can’t be summed up by “conversation” or “sex/dances”.

    Yes, you do get the guys who come in because they want someone to talk to. Maybe he had a shitty day at work and just needs to vent. Maybe his marriage isn’t going so well and he can’t talk to his wife any more. Maybe he works nights and none of his friends are on the same schedule, etc. In those cases being a stripper is a lot like being a therapist. A naked therapist, but still. For many people it’s a lot easier to talk to a stranger than a friend (why do you think so many people tell their troubles to bartenders?). But you also get the guys who come in for the experience of having an intelligent, attractive, woman make them feel wanted and/or needed. They don’t want dances, and they don’t want to take me home; they just like to feel that someone enjoys their company. Essentially the last thing they want is sex. They specifically come in looking for “flattery” of the strictly mental/emotional kind.

    And of course, yes, you do get the customers who are there for the sexual aspect (the ones who shout obscenities at the stage or try to grope me beneath the bar). Generally speaking they’re a minority. And often these customers have a deeper, ulterior motive they may not even be aware of—the guy trying to grope me probably isn’t doing it solely because he finds me attractive, but because he feels a need to exert control and feel powerful in a “manly” way. Thanks again, gender stereotypes. In any case my point is that customers do not fall into 2 neat categories, talk, or dance. There are tons of reasons guys come in—and it’s important to be aware of them.

    >>What was the mindset of the dancers? How do they deal with what they were doing?
    Some of them were really secretive. Everybody has a stage name, but the funny thing was, they would keep their personas outside of work and continuously call each other by their stage names.

    Sorry Brad, not everyone has a stage name. My name is Lilah. Guess what my stage name is. That’s right, Lilah. *shrug* I just don’t have a great need for secrecy in my life, and certainly not in my work. Some girls feel differently, but I don’t hide what I do because there is nothing shameful about what I do. My friends all know I strip. My landlord knows. Hell, even my parents know. My mom’s come down to the club and watched my sets in the past. Some people say I should use a fake name to protect myself from potential stalkers. To that I say: I’ve been stalked. In my experience if someone is really determined to stalk you it will take more than a fake name to deter them.

    As to the idea that strippers are so secretive they call each other by their stage names even outside of work, let me say this: calling each other by our stage names arises out of a need for convenience, not secrecy. Why take the chance that you’ll accidentally call another girl by the wrong name at work, thereby blowing up her proverbial spot in front of customers? It’s just more to remember, and we already meet a lot of new people every night. Remembering the names of customers is hard enough.

    >>Does she strip still?
    No. A lot of the normal ones, the minute they don’t have to, they won’t. You always hear they’re just putting themselves through college, but the minute they can get a real job, they’ll do it. The problem is, sometimes they find themselves a little bit too lazy to get up and do that. You can tell which ones are motivated and which ones are just kind of like,”Well, fuck it.” The normal ones, I don’t think it’s ever their lifelong passion to stay in the business; they’re always looking for something better.

    Ok Brad, now we have to have words. A lot of what he says here is problematic—not only does he imply that stripping isn’t a “real” job, but he also intimates that stripping is easy (I’m also not convinced that his use of the word “normal” is…). Unfortunately, I hear similar sentiments from clients all the time. When sitting with someone I often get the question “So, what else do you do?” and they’re never referring to my hobbies. The assumption is that stripping can’t be my only source of income, and I must have a “real” job as well. First, let’s just clear this up: stripping IS a real job. It is hard, tiring, draining work. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Clearly not even the high monetary incentive is enough to convince more women to try it. Why? It’s ridiculously difficult.

    It requires a level of confidence most people don’t have, strength, determination, intelligence and determination. I work 8 hour shifts just like most 9-5 jobs—only I don’t get breaks. And I don’t have benefits. No sick time. No 401k. No vacation time. Even though there is a high risk of injury in pole dancing, I am not eligible for workers comp. It’s a bit like hosting a party; you have to make sure everyone is happy and enjoying themselves regardless of how you feel. If you’re tired, you can’t show it. Angry? Better bottle it up. Sick? Take an aspirin. Your job is to entertain. Keep everyone happy, interested and invested. Even if someone isn’t your favorite person, you make sure they have a good time. Just like hosting a party, it’s fun, but it’s exhausting. Stripping is like that—only you do it for 8 hours straight, 5 days a week, in heels, for people you don’t even know. And so I’m still a bit confused as to why it doesn’t qualify as “real” work.

    Next problem: “sometimes they find themselves a bit too lazy to get up and do that” Again, lazy? Brad implies that it’s easier to continue to strip than to go work in an office or what-have-you. Well, I’m pretty sure we just covered how stripping is anything but easy. If a woman continues to strip as opposed to going out and getting a different, more socially accepted, job, you can be pretty sure it isn’t because she’s lazy.

    And finally, he says “The normal ones, I don’t think it’s ever their lifelong passion to stay in the business”. This implies that if a woman does make the conscious choice to remain a stripper as long as she can, she is somehow abnormal for making that choice, or that the choice itself is wrong. Sorry, but I take personal offense to that. I love my job. With all it’s ups and downs, I love my job. I’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from the club before I quit. I refuse to believe that choosing this profession is an inherently poor choice. I’m an educated woman (graduated magna-cum-laude from Hofstra University in NY) and I know exactly who I am and what I want. I enjoy stripping. I want to continue to strip. If that makes me “abnormal” whoops—guess I’m a freak.

    >>What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about strip clubs?
    They are comfortable with themselves, and they look at men as complete idiots.
    Uhm, please don’t put words in our mouths. I do not look at men as complete idiots. Why would I? Because they’re willing to pay for my time? That just means they find my company valuable. Guess what—I have enough self-respect to agree with them. My company & time are valuable. The only men I see as idiots are the ones who don’t respect me as a person. But I don’t need to go to a strip club to find those.

    >>What does it say about male sexuality that men, especially the big spenders, would go into the club and sit there for hours talking with some girl and spending thousands of dollars?
    That we’re complete suckers.

    You do yourself, and every man on earth, a disservice by saying this. Calling men “suckers” when they make the conscious choice to enter a strip club invalidates the thought they put into that choice. It’s not as if they walk in unaware of the dynamic that exists. They know how a strip club works. They know they’re going to have to pay us if they want our company. And they choose to do so. That doesn’t make them suckers—it makes them self-aware. Calling them suckers is basically saying they didn’t know what they were getting into, and that’s just patently untrue.

    All right, I apologize for absconding with your article/comment thread. I do hope that what I’ve said highlights some of the facets of stripping folks may not have considered before. If anyone is interested in learning more, please feel free to visit my website, Body of Indulgence. Drop by to discuss the finer points of stripping, ask questions, or even just say hi at any time—I’m happy to speak with you.

    Lilah Quinn

    • I concur with much of what you say. I have dated two women who were dancers (when I was in the military) and so I have a male perspective on this that a male employer might not. First of all, both women would and their fellow strippers would prefer to do something else but were compelled by circumstances to do this. Second, they were creeped out by many of the men who came to the clubs. Once they learned how to work different situations, they settled down a bit, but it took a while.

      What makes me sad is that there are all these women asking “where are all the good men” and there are all these men out there paying strippers thousands of dollars just to talk.

      Am I the only one thinking there is a massive disconnect here?

      Men have a lot to work on. Women can help but I will refrain from sharing my thoughts here as this is not a safe forum for such candor. Suffice it to say that women have more power than they are either willing to admit or recognize.

  7. wet_suit_one says:

    Why does this particular article pop up every month or so?

    We’ve seen it like 10 times already.

    Got anything else that you can put into syndication? This one is getting old. Real old. At least post something new about the ‘rippers, rather than rehashing this. Sheesh! It’s like a slow news day but worse.

  8. I’ve only been to one strip club, and it was in LA. It’s where Courtney Love met Kurt Cobain. I am not sure if I should mention the name of it in this post, but you can look it up if you’d like.

    Anyhow, the apparent personal situations of the entertainers did not match with the college girl type. For the six or eight women I saw dancing on stage, and the three or four women walking around talking to men, I saw not one who didn’t have a faraway look in her eye. They were physically present but not mentally, and it was eerie. I’m not questioning the validity of the interview at all, I think it is possibly limited to a certain higher class club.

    That was a really interesting interview and I appreciate the perspective.

  9. Just to clarify, there is no such thing as a child prostitute. Girls who are underage and who are having sex, regardless of whether and how much money is exchanging hands, are victims of childhood sexual abuse. Victims. Not prostitutes.

  10. A great blog is Maggie McNeill, the Honest Courtesan.
    She is an ex escort and madam. Absolutely fascinating.

  11. alberto remus galvan says:

    i like the e mails of the good mens project, thank you albert temus

  12. hello there says:

    “They’re there because they want to be there. It’s not prostitution.”

    Hm. I don’t really see any reason why a strip club is different from a brothel with regard to the girls’ motivation.

    The US made prostitution illegal, so obviously those girls have to settle for more shady places.
    But if strip clubs and brothels were treated the same, I don’t see why there would be a big difference.
    In any country where both is legal you always have both:
    shady strip clubs, clean strip clubs. shady brothels, clean brothels.

  13. Black Iris says:

    Could we stop calling them “gentlemen’s clubs.”

  14. I’ve worked in clubs in NYC, Miami, Houston and Philly as well as dated strippers for years…and I also enjoy visiting clubs from time to time….that said, I can say that my experience in the club is far different from your interviewee. That is not to say that he is not telling the truth…just that in the sex industry, you can always find the other side of what is going on. I have had sex with strippers in private rooms, gotten head, had a three way and have met with many dancers outside of the club after work.

    So many of these women have high sex drives, love to party, marijuana, cocaine and x use is very high when not working…and it doesn’t matter a lick if they are the hottest or plainest looking…women and are no different than men…some are more open to sex and drugs and some are not.

    My biggest issue with all of the rights groups and articles and everything is the idea that women are different than men when it comes to consensual sex…we all got our thing.

    John D.

  15. if you’re interested in the mindset of a large money earner in strip clubs read “Make Love Like A Porn Star” by Jenna Jameson. she described how she became the top money earner in any club she worked in. women work in those clubs to make money pure and simple and they use men to make their money, it’s nothing personal and if you can’t wrap your head around that then you shouldn’t go in there … i don’t anymore but i don’t have anything against the women who earn a living in there.

    • Using Jenna Jameson as an example of the “mindset” of a sex worker who’s made bundles of money points out the reality that many women who work in the sex industry–like Jenna–have experienced sexual abuse or incest or rape during their childhood or teens.

      Jenna, who grew up without a mother, was gang-raped and beaten as a teen; the infamous pinup Betty Page was sexually abused by her own father as a child and also gang-raped as a teen. Hollywood’s Sex Bomb Marilyn Monroe was sexually abused as a child by foster parents, had no relationship with her mother, etc., etc.

      These are tragic glimpses into the early formative sexual experiences and emotional health of the sex industry’s big “successes.”

      So in a twisted way, yes, when you hear sex workers describe their experiences as “empowering” that could be true from their perspective because in those scenarios the tables have turned–they’re in control and they’re exploiting the men, they’re (literally) “making them pay.” If men have used them as sex objects they’ll use them as money objects, walking ATMs. It’s mutual hostility and fear of intimacy on display, not “Sex.”

      Yet these unfortunately emotionally harmed women are set up as sexual role models for young girls who may feel there’s something wrong with them because their stronger sense of self views the sexual acting out of Sex Pro’s unnatural and unappealing.

      Commercialized sex is not healthy, not natural sex, but about power and control and pits the genders against one another in a battle to see who can exploit or use or humiliate the other more. Men and women both come away from these experiences feeling more objectified and less compassionate, less connected as human beings. We can do better than that and should be working towards that, instead of finding ways to channel human misery and alienation into one more money-making outlet.

  16. Gregory A. Butler says:

    This is a great article – it very accurately describes what goes on in a strip club!

  17. “We have no control over our sexuality or over our hormones.”

    Maybe not, but you do have control over your dong. This guy hates men as much as he hates women.

  18. It really honestly is a lunatic world in which women who voluntarily choose to sell their bodies (or in this case not even that; just a glimpse of them) are victims while the men whose desires they make bank on are somehow the perpetrators. It’s like a drug pusher claiming he’s a victim because his clients just won’t stop buying. No one forced these women into strip clubs or “prostitution” or whatever. Even outside the First World, sex trafficking is extremely rare, and more often it’s women willingly seeking sex work where the fat hangs heaviest (… i.e. the First World).

    How in the world are these women victims? They’re earning $700 for just undressing and this is somehow the height of exploitation? The only exploiters here are the strip club owners for facilitating a woman’s lack of morals and the women themselves for making cash out of titillating male desire with assets they’ve had since birth. No different to selling khat to Bangladeshi rice paddy workers, and no more laudable for that matter either.

  19. (This and my prior post were taken from my response to Tom’s article linked to the FB page of Dan Clark above)

    I sense that in our understanding of ‘respect of women’…we fail to really focus on the reality that fundamentally…modern societies have minimal respect for life…period. We exploit women because they have less physical power, and thus T & …A are their marketable assets most desired by the market of consumption. Yet…at the same time…we exploit males as warriors…both objectified by society (I hate ‘support our troops’ junk in a society that yields its males so willingly to the maw of war) but not really persons ..not really a ‘being’ of value.

    From warrior exploitation, to minimal wage exploitation, to throw-away employee exploitation, and more…it all rings for me of a species that is so distant from itself…that it is amazing we’ve survived this long. We breed…for what purpose? We live in a world of images and ideals…tearing ourselves and each other apart for these images and ideals, while deeply failing to see in the ‘other’ ourselves…and our liberation. Consumerism depends on images of one another, and our self…but so does religion and politics. The ‘other’ is always an image…not a real person. ‘I’ looking at ‘me’ see what I fear…and measure myself as lacking and needing fixed…I bend to make myself smaller in some way…

    For me, the gender relations/sexuality questions have never been about respecting women…but simply seeing them. When we really see one another…we see each others suffering…and are so built as a social species…that we feel it…we feel each others suffering. When we feel it…we respond…not react. Do we really want respect…or do we want people to see us??? Where is liberation in my relationship to you…?? In an artifice of respect (all built in images isn’t it?) or in my feeling and seeing your reality?

    I agree that sex work is simply market segmentation…simple segmentation. Just another form of work for which women will be given minimal acknowledgment. Because in the objectified relationship…no one is but object. Sex isn’t where she disappeared into that object world.

  20. I made it a point the numerous times in my ‘sentencing’ to be working in cities, to take the time to talk with sex workers. When I first started doing this…while student teaching in Kansas City, I was living on the edge of a red-light district, with an adult theater half a block from my apartment building, with hookers on the corner, and I had young hookers in my classes in the high school I taught. As a long-haired hippie, I was non-threatening, and became friends with those outside the school, as well as counselor for those in school. This continued when I was in seminary in Denver, and later in Santa Barbara and Harrisburg. This meant conversations with hookers, strippers, masseuses, call girls, skin mag models, video actors…the gamut. I always found a sense of amazement in listening with people whose lives were so unlike my own.

    For me, sexuality had always had an immense social structure surrounding it that condemned women for the open enjoyment of their sexuality, the open exploration and expression of their sexuality. Largely religious in roots, nonetheless, the very nature of our language condemns women for their sexuality as anything other than holy ‘love-making.’ It sickened me as a kid in high school watching how my fellow males treated girls they wanted to schtup, wanted to party with…and then snicker about them being ‘sluts.’ So males wanted open and free access, while wanting females to pay the price for that access. I find myself today often listening and challenging women in their 50s and 60s who find themselves divorced…and for the first time in their lives…feel like their sexuality is really theirs to explore…as they want.

    As a consequence, I’ve always had a mixed feeling around the sex industry. Some women/girls are out there making a good living, and making their way in the world, while yet often feeling that they must hide it from much of society away from the industry…so good, yet not good. At the same time, others are in the industry in a certain level of desperation…but…at the same time, at least they have a marketable asset the ‘market’ wants. ‘Iffy’ for me there because desperation is not the call girls, the high-end strip clubs and more polished video productions….its the second and third tier kind of places that begin to make sexuality a bit tawdry..if not a lot tawdry. But still…a means to economic fluidity.

    And at the bottom of all of it, is the industry of abuse, where, like in family…what can be wonderful and fun and productive, becomes violent, exploitive to the max, degrading and life threatening. In this level of the market, vulnerable women/girls find themselves abused and exploited to the max…run by an abusive pimp, or husband/lover/father…a market that thrives off of men who cannot see women but as T & A for their ‘nut.’

    In all of it…a person working to make a living…to survive in a world that couldn’t care less about them as a person…just as a provider of service or product…a situation all to common to most human beings trying to make a living.

    The control of sexuality ties deeply to the religious-roots of monogamy…and the control of women’s wombs for the progeny of inheritance. Good women only open their legs and share their skin with who will breed her and provide inheritance to her offspring. If you allow women such freedom of expression that their work is men’s paid access to their skin and womb, then…how can the patriarchy know that little rug rat is theirs? With DNA testing more readily available today, of course, we can…but that is a new chapter in all this control of sex with which we haven’t yet caught up.

    I use to teach Soc of Sexuality classes, and I pushed students to really listen in themselves as to who exactly benefited by how they viewed the world of their arousal. Who benefited from who they condemned in the expression of their sexuality? Where was freedom in their understanding of arousal and sexuality? It pushed them to let go of efforts to make everything black and white, and to learn to be comfortable in the more murky waters of gray where moral order imposed on people becomes immediately visible as violent and disempowering. Then they could more adequately wrestle with why exploiting men for muscle and sweat was somehow different, or not, than exploiting women for their vaginal canal and sweat…

    • I wonder if Mark Chaffee understands that the sex industry controls female sexuality as much as religious repression does? That ye old Madonna/Whore dichotomy–being the property of many men for financial survival is as limiting as being the property of one.

      What the sex industry sells is in no way a representation of authentic “open enjoyment. . .exploration or expression” of female sexuality. . .the strippers, porn stars, hookers are only performing like animals in a circus for “dollars” instead of “treats.” The way men direct and pay them to.

      If anything what they act out is an impersonal, indiscriminate, crude and public “sexuality” – the opposite of what most women consider sensual or sexual when they’re sexual in the way (and with whom) they would naturally choose.

  21. I’ve been enjoying The Good Men Project ever since a friend recommended one of its articles several weeks ago. I’d be interested in what my friends think of this one. I am definitely into sex, but my one and only experience at a strip club confirmed my long supposition that it’s a pretty depressing deal. The performers I saw seemed to be getting what they wanted, but the customers had to get pretty drunk to believe it was fun.

  22. I thought i was a good man.... says:

    Someone tell me, what is good about this article? I have been directed here from twitter and so far, all of the articles have offered “new” and “unique” insights into categories such as porn, strip clubs, and prostitution – except these new and unique insights are more redemptive than discouraging. If we are about finding out what it means to be a good man, lets talk about learning how to control our sexual appetite, which MILLIONS of men are able to do. This guy wouldn’t know about control because he has spent his life working in an industry that doesn’t take effort in getting women to take their clothes off. Restraint IS key to being a good man. Finding ways to channel our hopelessly uncontrollable nature (i.e. strip clubs and porn) is just a spineless cop out. But, I am glad this website is there to make those who cop out feel a little more justified. THANK YOU GOOD MEN!

  23. Terrific piece, Tom. I’ll blog it tomorrow. By the way, I have a piece in progress for my column on why women go to strip clubs, and it isn’t because they’re turned on by naked men.

  24. I think this is my favorite article so far. Hee, hee

  25. Mark Ellis says:

    I have been dragged into strip clubs by male associates who think that going to such places is a whale of a good time. Yes, often the women were beautiful in face and form, but I could not get over the essentially pathetic nature of the tableau.

    Many of the women who performed seemed to be fraternizing with the patrons between sets, and seemed to be making arrangements which would continue outside the club. This raised the specter of prostitution and drug addiction, and the possibility that these men would bring infections home to wives and girlfriends.

    The act of stuffing bills into panties and stocking struck me as tawdry and cheap.

    Also troubling was the aspect of shared arousal. As I looked at the men around me, catcalling and hoisting beers, I realized I was surrounded by the kind of men I would not talk to at a bus stop.

    Ultimately, going into a strip club leaves me feeling as if I need to go home and take a shower. I don’t go there anymore.

    • “men would bring infections home to wives and girlfriends.”

      I wonder why no one is ever concerned that men are bringing infections to sex workers.

      • Because sex workers knowingly understand the risks they take by having sex with many partners. That’s a risk they take.

        Wives and girlfriends think they have a commited man who is actually cheating on them with a person that has a higher risk for STD.

  26. I’m disturbed at the comment by the interviewee that says men “can’t control their sexuality”. This mentality leads to RAPE, pure and simple. He can’t help it, he’s just gotta bust a nut! She’ll get over it! Disgusting. No wonder this man condones stripping.

  27. You need to correct your weblink on your page. It incorrectly links to a nonexistent webpage when it should be

  28. great article and comments. I wonder if you would be willing to explore how the world of prostitution could become the perfect place for a female with aspergers syndrome.

  29. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    [Interested in uploading my photo because I comment frequently, but can’t find a way to do it.] Great article. Good job with the website.

  30. Thank you for this, but I hope this magazine puts up more articles on burlesque and prostitution, the two things that strip clubs really fail to replace.

  31. Thank you for presenting a realistic portrayal of the gentlemen’s club industry. There are so few in the mainstream news media, probably because the story that enforces the drug-addicted stripper is so much more interesting than the story about the stripper who saved her money and retired financially free.

    As an 11-year veteran, I’m one of those in the boring second category. I now teach new and aspiring entertainers how to do the job wisely, how to manage their money smartly, and how to position themselves to transition out of the job when the time is right.

    Rebecca Avalon

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Wow Rebecca if I getting the thumbs up from the stripper school means I must have gotten something right. Appreciate your feedback.

    • Yeah, no... says:


      While I honor your contribution and recognize your experience…. this article is not a comprehensive portrait of the stripping industry, not by a long shot.

      The author interviewed one man who was a former manager at what he admits is a ‘higher end’ strip club.

      He did not talk about ‘lower end’ strip clubs and also deftly dodged talking about the 60% of strippers he deemed not to be simply ‘normal women’ who were just there to make the money.


      Why didn’t you ask about what he thought of the 60%… he threw out the 40% number which begs the question?

      Also, note how he refers to grown women as girls. Note also where he says, “The ones who aren’t good at it or *****the ones who have a problem****, you don’t hire them back, or you don’t schedule them.” Not exactly an industry that cares about its workers.

  32. another great piece of writing. I like the sharpness of the questions and his honesty with the answers. An intriguing insight into a world that I have never entered and probably never will (no, honestly).

  33. Heather Berg says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thank you for this piece. I’ve added the Good Men Project to my regular reading, and have encouraged my colleagues at the feminist organization where I work to take it up as well.
    Having done extensive research on sex work and trafficking, I wanted to put my two cents in regarding your previous source’s claim that running “The Professional” obscured the realities of violence against women and girls in the sex industry. Making space for the diverse voices of women and men in the sex industry does just the opposite. The one-dimensional portrait of sex work that many focused on trafficking put forth is deeply disrespectful to sex workers, and makes it impossible for those who choose the industry to organize for their rights as workers (since the nature of the dialogue has already foreclosed any possibility of their agency). Similarly to the conflation of sex and rape, it also trivializes abuses that do take place in the industry (if all prostitution is abuse, there’s really nothing noteworthy about trafficking, for example). Finally, the assumption that all sex work is exploitative betrays highly problematic assumptions about the immutability of female victimhood and male cruelty and aggression, neither of which are progressive or useful to efforts for social change. This isn’t a zero sum game, and protecting the right to choose not to be in the sex industry does not require pathologizing and silencing those who view it as a legitimate occupation.
    If you are interested in a more comprehensive critique of positions like that put forth by your former source, I encourage you to look into Laura Agustin’s book, Sex at the Margins.
    Thank you for your work, and for being a “good man.”
    -Heather Berg

    • Cooper Fleishman says:

      Great comment, Heather. Thanks for this!

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Heather thank you for this confirmation that we are on the right path here. Obviously as men writing about what it means to strive to be “good” the whole area of sex, porn, strippers, and prostitution is full of contradiction and potential for judgement. In my own reporting I started with the easiest to talk about, which is teenagers who are homeless and being directly abused by their pimps. But as we started to look at porn and then strippers and the sex trade in general I began to realize that the most important thing I could do is get facts in front of our readers—not to participate in generalized myths—and then let them decide for themselves what they believe about what in means to be a good man in light of the facts. Obviously Brad is a very funny and direct speaker, which helps shed light on what actually happens in a gentlemen’s club, for better or worse. He forced me to rethink my own views and take a more realistic and nuanced approach to the topic. I appreciate your confirmation that what I wrote checks out from your perspective. One thing, having done all this writing now, that I am sure about is that the most important thing we as men can do is make sure that those women who choose to work in the sex industry are given the same rights and protections to safety and working conditions that anyone else in our country has when they show up for their job.

      • Lilith Aguirre says:


        This is a very disturbing article. Most importantly because of how undisturbed many intelligent people are by it’s implications.

        “The fact that women participate in what I would call patriarchal institutions is neither new nor surprising…it’s in the nature of oppression.” -Dr. Robert Jensen

        Would you want your daughter stripping for men to pay off her school loans? No little girl wants to grow up to be a stripper or a prostitute. The fact that some women enjoy stripping, choose to do it or feel empowered by it doesn’t mean it’s not a degrading business. It only demonstrates what women will logically do in a world where girls are indoctrinated to believe their self worth is determined by how sexy they are, and where the amount of sexual violence perpetrated against women and children is terrifying.

        The sex industry is what happens to women at the intersection of capitalism and patriarchy: Don’t have the money to pay off school loans? Only make 77 cents for a man’s dollar? Can’t afford an education? Can’t survive on minimum wage? Well dear, there’s one industry you can be successful in, and all you have to do is sell you body to ENTITLED men who feel they have the right to look at, use and buy women’s bodies whenever they want. Most men who go to strip clubs aren’t scoundrels, which just shows how insidious our inculturation into patriarchal norms is.

        TWO THIRDS of those in poverty are women, most of them single mothers. Perhaps if there wasn’t extreme wealth inequality, perhaps if there wasnt job discrimination, perhaps if girls weren’t sexually objectified, perhaps if there was more help for drug addicts, perhaps if rapists were actually prosecuted, PERHAPS if women could support themselves and their children with meaningful work, they would stay the HELL away from the sex industry.

        I am angry with how deeply unaware we all are, myself included. I disagree with your opinion on this issue as of 2010, but I love The Good Men Project and appreciate your contribution to this important conversation. Here’s part 1&2 of an article which shined a bright, revealing light on this issue for me:

    • Are you serious?
      They are making money.
      They are taking money from men and putting it in their pocket.

      Who is exploiting who?


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