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This is part of our Taboo Series.

I loved being a stripper.

The liberation from traditional employment—schedules, pants—was fabulous. I have never quite fit the mold. I tried fitting in, shutting up, and just going along with it. But I never really managed to maintain the façade, however hard I tried.

When I answered an ad in a newspaper to be a waitress at a strip club, I thought I would just try it out. Six months tops.

But I found a freedom there that I hadn’t yet known.

Sure, the strip club seems like a weird place to “find yourself,” but it worked for me. It helped me embrace my weirdness.

The adult entertainment industry gave me the freedom to be who I wanted to be without the constraints of a regular job. It allowed me to be home with my son, put myself through culinary school, and be there for the people when they needed me, without the burden of asking for time off. If something came up and I didn’t want to go to work, I didn’t have to.

If I didn’t like the club, no problem, smell ya later, I’m off to find a new one.

Dancing allowed me to express myself in the way that I wanted. I was able to push back on society’s idea of who I should be.

So with all these wonderful advantages, why aren’t I telling young women to be strippers?

Because not everyone should do it. In fact, most probably shouldn’t.

Although I came from a Catholic background, purity culture, body shaming, and sex-shaming were not a part of my childhood. Nudity wasn’t demonized and sex was explained to me in a way so that I understood it was a natural part of life. Consent and respect were major aspects of the conversations I had with my mother. She had grown up with the guilt and shame of her religion and wanted to break the cycle. She succeeded.

So when I started dancing, I wasn’t concerned with exposing myself. After all, we’re all naked underneath our clothing. It’s not like I was the only person on the planet with a butt and boobs. I was far more concerned with feeling like I couldn’t dance than feeling ashamed of my body.

I am highly aware of how lucky I am

Lots of women don’t feel that way, and in my experience, many women feel the need to drink or do other things to feel comfortable enough to strip. Unfortunately, that can leave them very vulnerable. Then throw in the financial aspect of the work, and they’re even more exposed.

Women who become dancers when their religion has taught them to be embarrassed or ashamed of nudity and sexuality can set them up for trouble before they even start.

As a stripper, you are putting yourself in a position to be objectified. You will be judged for your looks. And that is just part of the job. Although the emaciated heroin-chic look has largely fallen out of favor, the environment itself can make it hard to maintain your self-esteem.

When it comes to the adult entertainment industry, there were, and still are, a lot of sharks in the water—both male and female—just waiting for the opportunity to take a bite.

When I danced, I developed a set of boundaries that, at times, were difficult to maintain. The first was that I wouldn’t drink while working. That boundary was challenged and got a bit squishy when I worked in Reno and Vegas. So I limited myself to one or two drinks. But even that proved to be tough sometimes.

There were, and still are, a lot of sharks in the water—both male and female—just waiting for the opportunity to take a bite.

Staying sober in any job is important, whether you’re a stripper, bank teller, or kindergarten teacher. I think most people have woken up from a night out having made questionable choices after too many drinks. But the main difference between stripping and a regular job is that when you’re having a bad day as a kindergarten teacher, you don’t have access to an open bar.

I kept rules about what I would not do during dances, and I never gave out any private information. I kept most of the people I worked with at arm’s length and was very careful with whom I became close. Ultimately, what kept me safe were my boundaries, my sobriety, and my sheer stubbornness.

The dangers of stripping aren’t in the clubs themselves. They generally lurk outside the club, such as pimps or drug dealers that see dancers as easy marks. Some pose as talent scouts or modeling agents that can lure young and naïve women into situations they may have a hard time getting out of. When you’re sober, these guys are easy to spot. Like the car salesmen with a toothy smile trying to talk you into the extended warranty. After a drink or ten, his goofy sales pitch might not seem so goofy.

I am happy to say that I am not the only woman to have danced through the gauntlet of bachelor parties and fake smoke-filled VIP rooms. There are many who have done well and are living happy and productive lives. I know many women who have ended up as nurses, estheticians, hair and make-up artists, and even one with a PhD in sociology.

Unfortunately, due to the stigma around stripping itself, many of those aren’t putting “stripper” on their resumes. And so, their stories aren’t making it out there.

But I know enough who aren’t doing well to make sure I temper those success stories with reality; many women I know who have not fared well have ended up in a series of bad relationships, or have serious drug and alcohol problems.

Strip clubs are meant to be a place to party and have a good time. It is all too easy to find comfort on a bad night in something that might make you feel good in the moment, but will have major consequences down the road.

There has been progress over the years in the adult entertainment industry. And many do feel very empowered by it. Giving women more control and keeping the bad actors out, is simply good for business. As we move toward a more sex-positive society, there will be more progress.

But we are not at a point where I would advocate or encourage anyone to enter it. At least not without a whole lot of knowledge and understanding of the dangers and pitfalls. That’s the reason I make myself available to any who contact me about entering the industry. And I am not the only former dancer who is hoping to inform aspiring dancers.

I hope that someday we will get to a point where being an adult entertainer is as fun and rewarding for everyone as it mostly was for me.

I am a former adult entertainer, with a love of books, writing and humor. My job has given me a unique perspective on life. I spent twenty years as a stripper on and off and started writing as a way to...