Fear the Towel

What goes down when the towel goes up at male strip clubs?

I have always thought there are two types of men: those who look at porn and those who lie about looking at porn.

In fairness, I suppose there are some religious zealots and true ascetics out there, a few guys who genuinely don’t like watching women act out their most deviant fantasies without the risk of an STD, but I don’t know many of them.

However, any man who has ever trolled the porn sites knows that there is one household item that scares the hair off our salacious asses: the towel.

If you know what I’m referencing, you’re nodding right now, your head hung and fists clenched. If not, allow me to explain.

There is a niche in the porn world that purports to tape “real” women at male strip clubs. In these videos, the clothed women in these clubs—strobe lights flashing and bass beats pumping and humping in the backgrounds—scream and howl and claw at the male dancers with the ballistic ferocity of an id on steroids.

The catch is that these are supposedly ordinary women, not porn stars. These are our wives or fiancées or girlfriends unleashing the type of sexual aggression that we never imagined our demure little ladies possessed, much less expressed in a public place.

Then, as the narrative goes, the male stripper, usually some beefcake with gelled hair and tattoos, invites a woman on stage with a nonchalant wag if the index finger. And the woman—your wife or fiancée or girlfriend—plays coquettish and shakes her head. No, no, I don’t want the temptation of baking in your uber-masculinity.

But, finally, after the relentless hawing off her friends, she concedes and, like a child dazed by the piper’s flute, proceeds to the stage.

The hunk then invites her to sit on a chair and shakes his junk, tucked in his nylon banana hammock, around her face while she blushes and holds up her hands. No, no, please, your penis is too big. Get it away. Please.

But the pulsating piping of the club music dizzies her. Then he holds up a towel, concealing your wife or fiancée of girlfriend’s head and his mid-section from the crowd. In a sneak peek behind the towel, the cameras next catch glimpses of the beefcake spraying whipped cream on his pole then your wife or fiancée or girlfriend attacks it with her mouth like it’s a fire that needs putting out.

And while it’s true that what you don’t know will never hurt you—oh, that damn towel.

As a male watching the videos, there is the inner-voice of logic telling you: This is staged porn, not real life, and the only reason you’re watching it is due to some masochistic urge that simultaneously turns you on. And you know it’s not your wife or fiancée or girlfriend, so it’s all good.

Or so we tell our selves.


American men grow up knowing that the deck is stacked and the double-standard works in our favor. We know that we can sleep with as many women as our beds can hold at any particular time, on any given night—as long as we’re not married or attached—and it will only bolster our reputations. In fact, it is often seen as impressive and heroic in the eyes of our peers.

But here’s the rub: The women we choose to commit to—our wives or fiancées or girlfriends—are the women who are in control of their passions, their raw lusts. Because, you know, no one wants to marry a slut.

This patriarchal and misogynistic system has been working for men for the past two thousand years in most Western civilizations, so it’s our tendency to not say anything and let it be.

In my estimation, this is why the towel—both literally and as a metaphor—simultaneously disturbs and arouses men.

For anyone who is sexually healthy—and as a former-Catholic, I don’t fit into this category—it is natural to be turned on by aberrant sexual behavior. But it’s also seems strangely natural for men—and maybe this is uniquely American, a byproduct of a collective Puritanical hangover—to judge women who act on sexual urges and assume it’s not our wives or fiancées or girlfriends.

The hypocrisy gleams when one considers the fact that while most men wouldn’t bat an eye at a friend who got a tug-job in the VIP young at the strip club, yet we’ll cast aspersions on a woman who licks the whipped cream off a male stripper’s penis and deem her slutty and dirty and entirely inappropriate. And maybe it is not a porn star or a stripper or a prostitute who we’re watching with cool objectifying eyes, but our wives or fiancées or girlfriends.

I’m not insinuating that these websites are any more real or any less apocryphal than any other “amateur” porn, but the towel—and what it represents—becomes a powerful metaphor for guys too secure with our beloved double-standard.

And if the videos are legit, and women are really licking the whipped cream off the beefcakes, I’d offer you the same advice I’d offer my male friends: Don’t let your husbands or fiancés or boyfriends find out and see you on the web.


The Men and Pornography series is the product of the joint call from elephant journal Love and Relationships and The Good Life on The Good Men Project. Read more on elephant journal: Porn Appeal: The Hidden Male Fantasy Every Woman Needs to Know? By Jack Kammer.

Read more on Men and Pornography on The Good Life.

Image credit: Kristine Paulus/Flickr

About Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester, New Hampshire. He is the author of three collections of poetry---Not So Profound (Green Bean Press, 2003), Teaching Metaphors (Sunnyoutside Press, 2007) and After the Honeymoon (Sunnyoutside Press, 2009)—a collection of short stories, Frostbite (GBP, 2002), and several chapbooks of fiction and poetry. A chapbook of short prose pieces titled Hangover Breakfasts was recently published by Bottle of Smoke Press this fall. For more information, visit his website at NathanGraziano,com.


  1. Wait wait wait….a dude goes to a strip club and his “special treat” can end up to be getting a “tug job” or BJ. A girl goes to a strip club and her “special treat” can possibly be to….basically give a dude a BJ on a stage behind a towel? What a rip off! News flash….that’s not a “treat” for the ladies…

  2. I have one main rule for any man who is with me: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If we cannot come to mutual agreements about sexual matters, than obviously we are not right for each other.

  3. Nate Graziano says:

    While I certainly appreciate the comments, I want to say that I wasn’t trying to cast a large net about “gender binaries.” I wrote it tongue-in-cheek, playing off stereotypical male frailties. I agree 100% with GirlGlad: it really should be determined by individual couples and their comfort level. I thought it was funny—not “ha,ha” hilarious”—how guys get worked up over women asserting the same primal sexual urges that males do and the disparity between both. Anytime you write sometime like this, you’re constricted by stereotypes and gross gender roles. It wasn’t my intention to make it trenchant. I was trying to giggle. Maybe I failed.

  4. Random_Stranger says:

    Oh god here we go with the gynocentric social critique of the gender binary -sure that’s right, the entire system is a vast plot by men to extract privileges from women for the past one thousand years, bohowahaha!

    Geez, seriously can we try some balance in our analysis. Sure the gender binary does not require male chastity, but it doesn’t expect or value it either. So yes, consequently men have enjoyed the relative “privilege” of suspended judgement with regards to sexual promiscuity but also endured in tandem a culture prejudiced and fearful of a man’s sexual intentions and hostile to man as object of sexual desire.

    I think the “towel” is a curtain behind which we find a contradiction: the women as sexual actor and the man as sexual object. Its get’s us out of our 2×2 box for a change, and we like it.

  5. JoAnne Dietrich says:

    If you are in a committed relationship, it is not o.k. to go to a strip club. I think it is wrong for both men and women. This article says it is acceptable for married men to go to strip clubs that married women should do it too. No person in a relationship should be licking whip cream off someone’s body.

    • GirlGlad4TheGMP says:

      I’d say that, if you’re in a committed relationship, regardless of gender, it is only okay to do what’s deemed appropriate for that relationship, which should be mutually agreed upon.

  6. GentlyGoodNight says:

    I really appreciate this article. I think the towel is a clever metaphor for the intentional blindness some men participate in when it comes to female sexuality. I just really don’t like that this piece ends with a judgement, especially one that seems to buy into patriarchal stereotypes that all these hypothetical women who go to see male strippers must have a man at home. I get the whole bachelorette party, blah, blah,blah that you might use as an excuse, but that’s not good enough for me.


  1. […]   (This is the fourth in a seven-part series over seven days, in colloboration with the Good Men Project, addressing the question: Is Porn a Good  Thing? For GMP’s most recent posts in the series, check out The History of Porn  and Fear the Towel.) […]

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