Dare to Ask: Strippers: Living the high life?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why are so many strippers into dope?
Deanna, 27, Irvine, Calif.
I think the reason they do drugs is to numb themselves from the humiliation
of having men act disgusting around them.
Dwanny, 51, female, Fort Worth
I have been in the exotic dancer business for nine years; most of the girls
are actually in college, or they are supporting their families. It's not all
about drugs. I won't lie to you; it is all about the money.
Mary, Austin, Texas
Two reasons: 1) to numb themselves from bad feelings, and 2) they get mixed
up in other fast-cash enterprises.
Anonymous female, New York
It's all part of the business, the hype and the "glam." It's the same reasons
movie stars get tied up in drug problems, too.
Ryan D., 20, Dallas
I think you can look at it the other way around. Why do so many dope heads
become strippers? Stripping provides quick, easy money for people with no job
I think some dancers use drugs for the same reasons other people use drugs:
escape, not thinking about the future, inability to resist temptation, to be
cool. Dancers (we don't really use stripper that much) tend to do OK with money,
and it is cash, so maybe they have more access or opportunity. Generally the
girls at the better clubs don't as much as the girls at the not-so-nice clubs -
not sure what is cause and what is effect, because once you start abusing drugs
(including alcohol) regularly, it's usually a slide down to the bottom.
Kiana, 37, dancer, Atlanta
Stripped to its bare essence, this is really about whether someone can drink
alcohol and smoke pot and still maintain their pole position.
Viewed from that angle (or multiple angles, if you prefer), exotic dancer
expert Bernadette Barton says yes, they can - to an extent.
"Dancers are encouraged to drink on the job; the boss and the customers want
them to drink. They don't want them so intoxicated that they can't function, but
just enough to loosen them up. The more they drink, the more money they make,"
said Barton, a Morehead State University sociology professor who researched
dancers for 12 years and wrote Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers.
"Weed is also commonly used, but other forms [of drugs] are really frowned
upon by management. Weed is less compromising in terms of their ability to
function, and there are less penalties, so management winks at weed use."
Because they are usually working in a bar to begin with, there's more access
to alcohol and marijuana, Barton noted.
"One dancer I interviewed said it was typical for the 'pot guy' to come into
the club, the 'cocaine guy' to come into the club . . . you probably won't get
that in your accounting office," Barton said.
Because sex work can take a toll on a person over time - with rude and
abusive customers, intrusive touching, insults, poor relationships, jealous
partners, a stigma that encourages hiding the work, and even a reduced sex drive
and general disdain for men that can develop - it can cause mounting pressures
that lead to abusing drugs or alcohol.
Still, Barton cautioned against singling out exotic dancers for being users.
"Yes, some portion of dancers do get high at work, but also a significant
portion of Americans in general use substances at work. It's very easy to
stereotype and say these [dancers] are bad people, or that they're unusually
So it's important not to demonize them, she stressed.
"We as a society are all doped up: People are on caffeine, anti-depressants,
sleeping pills, drinking six-packs when they get home," she said. "As a culture
we use a lot of drugs, because we have a difficult work world right now."
That world has not exactly put strippers in the lap-dance of luxury lately.
"With the economy tanking, it's affecting dancers, and not in a good way,"
"It's harder to make the same amount of money. There's more sexual labor
involved, and they have to push it more. . . . The women who end up remaining
exotic dancers might be those most vulnerable, those who are most addicted. I'm
speculating, but it could be that the percent of the dancer population on dope
may be increasing because of the economy."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
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