Sex work isn't always about sex. Sometimes, it's simply about connecting with other humans.
When I was 25, my friend and I went to New Orleans for a working vacation, and found ourselves in a fairly new club on the famous Bourbon Street. It was an old building that began its life as a brothel. You’re shocked, I’m sure. It had a window that faced the street where the dancers could gyrate in skimpy outfits in order to lure in customers off the street. It worked swimmingly.
The inside was pretty typical, with a bar, a stage, and several VIP rooms for private dances. The VIP rooms were charged by the hour or half-hour.
Our first night there was a weeknight, and a gentleman who was out of town on business asked me for an hour in the VIP after some light chit chat.
We went back and the waitress took our drink orders, and while we waited for our drinks, I took off my shoes in preparation to start a lap dance.
He stopped me.
He asked me to sit down and put my feet in his lap. I know what you’re thinking, because I was also thinking the same thing. A foot guy. He too knew what I was thinking. He then informed me that he didn’t have a foot fetish.
At that point, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. Our drinks came, and I was feeling awkward. He had already taken one of my feet in his hand and had begun to massage it. So I thought maybe it wasn’t all that bad. Then he started talking.
And he kept talking. And talking.
When our hour was up, he asked if he could have another. He was still massaging my feet, and I had yet to take my top off.
We had another couple of drinks, and he talked some more. I interjected a few times to ask a question, but mostly he just talked.
To look at him, a well-dressed late-middle-aged white guy, he was every bit the typical strip club customer. He was in New Orleans for a conference and wanted a reprieve from his colleagues. An emergency cardiologist, his job was high stress. Like crazy high stress. The things he went through were beyond anything I could imagine.
And after three hours, I didn’t have to. I knew all about it.
When he left, he gave me a hug and a chaste kiss on the cheek. He never once asked me to take off my top, and he thanked me for a wonderful evening.
My feet felt wonderful.
And when I asked, he told me that it just felt good to make someone feel good. One of the hardest things he dealt with was not being able to save everyone, and rubbing my feet made him feel a little better.
I know, right?
You may be thinking, “But Erin, he must be an anomaly. An outlier. Surely most strip club customers are rude and gross and slobber all over you.”
And truth be told, the gaggle of airmen I met in a Reno club was totally that.
But no, that guy was not just an anomaly.
After 9/11 and beyond, I met many servicemen who, when I took them back to the VIP, just wanted to be held. They wanted an anonymous shoulder to cry on. I mean that very literally.
I was there when those same guys came in before they shipped out. Young men who looked like boys, full of piss and vinegar and ready to put a boot in someone’s ass. They didn’t come home the same.
There were more:
A paramedic on a break from searching for bodies who couldn’t watch any girl doing pole tricks for fear he would see her fall. The same guy who told me he had to plant live people in the rubble of the twin towers so that his service dog could find them because she was getting too depressed to keep working.
A man who had lost his wife that just needed to hold a woman in his arms again.
A guy diagnosed with late-stage cancer who was in dire need of a woman’s touch, but didn’t want to get involved with anyone only to die on them.
Stripping and other sex work are inherently sexual. And what is more human than sex itself?
We’re all born naked; it’s society that makes it dirty. Wrong. Taboo.
Intimacy and caring for other human beings isn’t easy for every person. Especially when taking into consideration the guilt and shame that religion and even secular societies place on it.
Men expressing those kinds of emotions openly can be just as taboo as a naked woman dancing on stage.
The strip club allows people to be themselves in a place where they know they aren’t likely to be judged. They don’t even think they know my real name.
I was the ultimate keeper of secrets.
Like the mild-mannered contract attorney who needed to show me his pretty lace teddy under his dress shirt. The relief in his eyes at my non-reaction gave him comfort. He wasn’t some gross pervert. He was a human who just wanted a place to be himself.
I know I’m delving into what some may describe as a culture of toxic masculinity, and I’m not a psychologist or sociologist.
I’m a former stripper who has seen hundreds of men…people, at their most vulnerable.
You see, sex work isn’t always about sex. Sometimes, it’s simply about connecting with other humans.
Sometimes it’s about finding acceptance for who you are and how you feel in a world that isn’t always kind.
Sex work isn’t always about sex, sometimes it’s about humanity itself.