There’s a lot of reasons strippers lament that the strip club just isn’t what it used to be: Internet porn means fewer men want to leave the house to see some breasts; the days of the business lunch at the club are over; and people just generally have less disposable income to literally toss in the air.
Strippers aren’t necessarily making less than the women of the 1990s — in fact, song-for-song, they’re making the same, and that right there is the problem: While the cost of living has continued to increase, the cost of a lap dance has remained fixed.
“I’ve been dancing for almost 10 years, in many different places, and nowhere have I seen an increase in the price of a lap dance,” says Jacqueline Frances, a dancer and comedian better known as JacqTheStripper. “I do, however, recall an increase in house fees, the price of drinks going up, the price of VIP rooms going up, the price of the cover charge going up. Everything in the club has become more expensive, including the cost of working there. In New York City, where I’ve danced for eight years, it’s still $20. It’s been $20. I have no idea when it was ever not $20.”
The exact trajectory of the lap dance sticker price varies from club to club, but generally, the average lap dance costs between $10 and $30 per song, with $20 being the common standard. On Twitter, dancers frequently question why this standard hasn’t changed in the last two decades — even the clubs themselves will joke about it.
In July, the New York Times reported on the state of the strip club industry in light of the movie Hustlers, noting that while dancers are increasingly online and open about their career and have leaned into modern forms of payment like Venmo or Bitcoin, the cost of the lap dance has stuck around like a relic of the glory days. “One thing that appears to be almost universal is the cost of lap dances: $20 to $30,” the paper states. “Dancers report that the price hasn’t changed since at least 1990 and argue that inflation should have brought it to $40. ‘If you ask the customer to pay more than $20, they’ll look at you like you have two heads,’ said Zara Moon, 27, a stripper and artist in L.A.’’
Per this inflation calculator, $20 in 1999 is the equivalent of $30.82 today. While the failure of clubs to make that adjustment is good news for the dedicated club-goer, it’s not so great for the dancers themselves, for most of whom dances and tips comprise the entirety of their income. Because rather than the clubs paying an hourly wage or providing benefits, dancers often have to pay the clubs just to work. (On top of that, the clubs also take a cut of the dances they sell.)
Technically, as independent contractors, dancers should legally be able to choose their own rates, but as Jacq has witnessed, girls can get fired for trying to charge more. “It’s criminal that they [the clubs] do this,” says Jacq. “It’s a clear indication that the people in the industry who run the clubs don’t give a fuck about the dancers. The way strip clubs are run needs to change. Dancers need to be in management roles and opening their own clubs.”
A few clubs have tried incrementally increasing their prices, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed by their regulars. “One of my regular clubs jacked up their price from $25 to $30, but they’re now also allowing two-way contact, so the price increase may be related to that,” a user on strip club forum The Ultimate Strip Club List (TUSC) complained in 2016.
It’s possible, too, that some clubs in major cities may be catching up with the times in a more comprehensive way — two customers I spoke to reported paying $50 per five-minute dance in New Orleans and Miami. My personal guess, though, is that the dancer charged them for two songs, at $25 a pop.
So why this failure to keep up with inflation? For the most part, it’s because there simply isn’t the belief that the market demands it. The economy has been slow, and by some estimates, there are more sex workers than ever. As a particularly brash writer on TUSC explains in a 2013 post, “Fifteen years ago in 1998 all you got online was a few websites giving you a couple free porn clips, but it was mostly expensive pay sites. I never saw any escorting ads back then. So strip clubs were still the mainstream outlet for horny dudes to get some lumber in their pants, and strippers could charge a premium for it. I remember most lappers in the 1990s were $20 each and the hotter girls could command $40 laps (for all nude).”
“Fast-forward 15 years, and cheap pussy is everywhere,” he continues. “It’s just too much poon supply for the market demand out there. The typical working stiff has fewer discretionary dollars these days (thanks to Bush and Obama), and so we need to spend wisely. There’s been many times where I felt like heading to the [strip club] for some kicks but it was just way easier to stay in and order a $100 wh*re to show up at my place and suck my dick dry and then leave so I can watch the rest of the game.”
Which, yeah, charming.
According to Jacq, however, it’s greedy club managers and owners who have lowered the value of a stripper’s time. “Ultimately, it’s about women being worth less. They want to maintain that rhetoric for the men coming into the club. It perpetuates this whole concept about women not being worth getting a raise. It’s because clubs are more worried about losing clientele than valuing dancers. It’s capitalism; it’s the worst,” she believes.
Jacq has seen the club experience decline just in her time as a dancer. By her estimate, the visible maltreatment of dancers is part of the problem. “The industry is changing so much. People are still going out and having fun but with different expectations. The internet changed everything — the way you can find exactly what you’re looking for without having to go to the strip club, which I don’t have a problem with,” she says. “I think strip clubs have refused to adapt, and so, people are less interested in going. There are certain parts of the club that I think are wonderful: The stages, the lap dances, the opportunity for people to be intimate with strangers. It’s a great opportunity. But strip clubs are trying to cling to this 1980s concept, and they’re not letting women make more money in a culture that’s shifting in how we see women who make money with their bodies. And the heteronormativity of clubs — it’s so limited to what you can achieve as a business. I’m a business owner. I know you need to change and adapt every day to succeed, but these clubs are just these old-ass dudes who are charging us more, but not letting us charge more.”
That said, Jacq explains there is something a dude who relates can do to help: “Pay her more! If strippers aren’t allowed to charge more, take it upon yourself to give more. If you have it to give, you should give it. It’s classy, and it feels good. The knowledge that strippers have been doing more for less is a bummer. The idea of getting a cheap lap dance, the human labor of that and wanting a bargain, is gross to me. Don’t you want to be adequately compensating someone who’s entertaining you?”