We speak to strippers about their visions of how the industry might evolve in the future
This article is part of our Future of Sex season – a series of features investigating the future of sex, relationships, dating, sex work and sex worker rights; tech; taboos; and the next socio-political sexual frontiers.
Strips clubs are contested spaces; battlegrounds for conflicting ideas about the ethics of sexual labour and the legitimacy and rights of sex workers. As such, they are continually imperilled by licensing laws and the majority of dancers who work in the clubs live in a state of constant uncertainty with little job security, unprotected by the rights that exist in most other realms of employment. As recently as March this year, Edinburgh’s regulatory committee voted in favour of a nil policy on sexual entertainment venues, jeopardising the livelihoods of all the strippers working in the city.
But it’s not only local councils and licensing regulations undermining the continued existence of strip clubs as we know them. These sequestered spaces – part of the everyday landscape of the towns and cities we inhabit yet somehow remaining outside the stream of everyday life – are at the mercy of so many forces which both threaten and promise to potentially change them in the future.
Lockdown obliged many of those making their money from stripping and other forms of sex work to take their business online, using camming and platforms such as OnlyFans to connect with clients. But the scope and pace of technological innovations have created a range of new ways for people to access and enact their fantasies. Dating apps, the ubiquitousness of free pornography, Metaverse sex clubs, the anonymity and availability of online interactions, advances in super-realistic sex dolls and toys, and augmented reality are just a few of the possible means by which strip clubs may become redundant for future generations. But can virtual encounters ever fully replace human contact? Could an AI ever recreate the company of a sentient being in a fulfilling way? How might technology be incorporated into strip venues in the future? What will that look like and how would they function? What experiences could they offer?
As attitudes to gender, sexuality, beauty, and objectification evolve, strip clubs that cater to a homogeneous male gaze may seem increasingly regressive. How can these spaces become queerer and less binary? How can they welcome a more diverse range of bodies and offer a less gender-normative experience?
Below, as part of our Future of Sex series, we talk with four strippers about their visions of how the industry could and should adapt. From their concerns relating to safety and workers’rights, to stripper-bots with “tentacle-lined Fleshlight attachments”, sex work in the Metaverse, and how strip clubs will be perceived in the future, they share their predictions for the future of strip clubs.
Scarlett Kapella is a Los Angeles-based dancer and visual artist with a focus on all things erotic. Her Instagram account BITCH! You Strippin’ spotlights dancers and sex workers throughout the US. She is the co-producer of Topless Tapas, LA’s most notorious pop-up strip show and she’s appeared at the historic Jumbo’s Clown Room for more than ten years.
“If I’m still around when robots take over the world, I hope humans will still have niche appeal. I can see stripper-bots presented as a novelty, but I think a scantily clad sentient being would always be more likely to lure someone into a VIP room.
“People everywhere, including dancers and club owners, will adapt when hard cash is phased out but, let’s face it, a Venmo payment alert just doesn’t compare to showering a lady in cash. Maybe more places will sell patrons Monopoly-type money that can only be spent in-house and allow flexers to make it rain. Fortunately, most strippers also accept unconventional forms of payment such as bricks of gold, diamond jewellery, stocks and bonds, and real estate.
“I think stripper outfits of the future should go full fembot! Now that customers can enter the club wearing Ray-Bans with built-in creeper cams, I’d take some glasses that scan the crowd for piece-of-shit creeps with nefarious intentions and locate the person most likely to add me to their will. Bring on the beautiful bedazzled lingerie equipped with Bond villain-style weaponry and Pleasers with pepper spray!
“Honestly, how long can you be inside a virtual world and it remain enjoyable? I don’t see it fully replacing human experiences or live performances. But if clubs do become a rarity, I think avatars could be an opportunity for performers to own their own intellectual property that generates income from the Metaverse. The sentiment ‘there’s an ass for every seat’ will expand into the future of technology. Whether you prefer to stay at home donning VR goggles, throwing cash at a glitter-coated human, or having a robot girlfriend with an upgraded tentacle-lined Fleshlight attachment, the world is yours!”
Rachel is the manager and one of the co-founders of Harpies, Europe’s first-ever LGBTQ+ strip club. Their next party is September 17 at the White Swan, Limehouse.
“In the future, I really hope strip clubs evolve to stop solely catering for cis straight men. It’s so boring! Strip clubs feel so stuck in the past sometimes. With more conversations around gender, transgender and non-binary strippers will be free to express themselves however they wish within strip clubs without having to worry. We have already seen how [changing attitudes towards gender] can be a reality with Harpies [Europe’s First LGBTQ+ Strip Club].
“Even if clubs do become virtual, I think a desire for in-person intimacy is something that will still draw customers to brick and mortar strip clubs. Over lockdown we tried to do Harpies Live online so our dancers could earn some money, but it actually ended up making me feel depressed because I missed the real thing so much.
“I really wish someone would invent an ass chip so customers could tap their cards on strippers to tip them, the novelty would never wear off! And cyborg strippers would be fun and I am sure some robot fetishists would love it… however, this just seems like it would end up as another way for men to exploit female sexuality and take money away from working-class women. I also worry that some men would sink to even lower depths of misogyny if they got used to treating robots women however they wished. Although, I would love to see a Westworld-style revolt in a cyborg strip club… I think that would be a great idea for a sci-fi horror.
“I don’t know if cryptocurrency will ever replace cash but I just wanna say solidarity with all the strippers in VIP who have to listen to the most godawful boring tech bros talking about Bitcoin! No one cares, shut up!
“As much I want stripping to become more accepted and for slut-shaming and whorephobia to end, I never want it to stop being a bit taboo! I think our customers at Harpies love it because it feels a bit naughty to be stuffing dollar bills into someone’s garter as they are writhing about on stage.”
Chiqui Love has worked as a burlesque dancer and erotic entertainer for over 20 years, performing all over the world. Dedicated to destigmatising the industry and enabling sex workers to take control of their own narrative and working conditions, she has co-founded a strippers’ collective in both London and Berlin.
“My predictions for the future of strip clubs really depends on what part of the world we are referring to… it seems like the differences among legislations, culture, and general disposable income does have a huge influence on how strip clubs are run and therefore the future of them.
“Everything – including sensual experiences – is very much designed and delivered for a very hetero male gaze, but I know for a fact that even they want more variety. The industry is dated with 80s aesthetics yet the world is very different now and we are becoming more diverse and inclusive. So the change I would like to see is more venues run by actual sex workers with workers’ rights and ethical working conditions. I would love to see more gender, racial, and body diversity.
“There is always going to be space for both IRL and virtual, and people are into a variety of kinks and tastes for a huge variety of reasons. Some people with reduced mobility for example would have the possibility to enjoy a nice erotic experience online, but there are others who enjoy the intimacy and touch of a real-life experience, and this is one of the fascinating things about the sex industry, there is always something for everyone, everywhere.
“As long as there is this huge stigma attached to the industry, legislations that make it really hard for us to thrive, and venues are run with the sole purpose of creating profit from the economic exploitation of dancers and punters economic exploitation then I doubt we will see a huge change. We need a radical shift in the industry to create these spaces, run with a more open and respectful approach, a place where adults can enjoy an erotic show with more humanity and where performers get more of a say in their own conditions and terms.”
Showgirl Rara (also known as Rashelle) has spent the majority of her life in the entertainment industry. Despite having signed to Sony ATV as a songwriter, she remains working as a striptease artist. As a songwriter signed to Sony ATV, she expresses her sexuality through her original music, and her inspirations – from lyrics to aesthetics – have been heavily influenced by the strip club scene and her time working in them.
“If I could walk you through a night in my dream strip club of the future, it would be all us dancers having workers’ rights in a much nicer environment where everyone feels safe and secure. Dancers would also be paid a fee for every shift so that there is zero risk of any of us ever going home empty-handed. There would be a variety of entertainment… music acts, specialist stage acts like fire dances etcetera, celebrity special guests, and erotic horror stage shows. There would be unique VIP sections for private dances in heavily-themed rooms... a Fifty Shades of Grey room for the subs and doms, a sexual VR room featuring your favourite dancers or celebrity crush and, of course, a foot fetish and worship room. A girl can only dream!
“Artificial intelligence is becoming so advanced! The latest sex dolls are so beautiful! It’s fascinating but, ultimately, it’s reducing a person’s exposure to real human contact and interaction, isolating them further. I don’t think it can possibly compare to the human experience, but it’s all advancing faster than we can keep up with.
“I have a hard time thinking that virtual strip clubs could ever replace the real thing in the future. A real conversation with real chemistry in a sexy environment is ultimately what keeps good customers coming back. However, there is something very naughty and seductive about being online because you can create whatever identity you want, and I’m guessing that a lot of customers enjoy that they can hide behind the computer and discuss their fantasies without having to expose their identity. But it would be really cool to introduce VR sexual experiences into a club! That would absolutely generate some major interest and I know people would be curious to try it but I still believe the real deal will always prove more satisfying.
“The future of strip clubs Is definitely concerning to me. I think the majority of strip clubs in the UK have always had to fight to stay open. Ever since I can remember there’s always been this obsession with shutting them down due to the council and politicians pushing their agenda and ideology. If strip clubs in the UK were to continue and thrive, then I think a few new aspects would need to be considered. The most important one would be to actually protect the dancers and to commit to making their job safe and stable. Many clubs don’t actively prioritise the girls, and dancers are always at risk of losing their job due to all kinds of unfair dismissals. It would be great to see strippers get the same rights as other workers as this has been the biggest failure in this industry and it’s time to recognise dancers as real people who need the same basic work rights as everyone else.
“If strip clubs were to close entirely, then I still have faith that sex workers and dancers could thrive online, we have already seen the major impact OnlyFans had during lockdown This is proof that the sex industry is very much alive. However, it’s still a huge blow to girls having to start all that from scratch, because it’s not something that generates money overnight. What I have noticed though, is that many girls prefer camming from home right now and they didn’t realise this until they had no choice during lockdown. So, in some ways, it’s been a blessing in disguise and hopefully, if others go this route, they can also feel freer by working from home during hours they choose.
“Stripping will always have that edge to it, even if it becomes more mainstream in the future. It’s always going to upset someone. Attitudes are changing, but it’s always going to rub a few people up the wrong way.”
Lead image: Bronwen Parker-Rhodes, portrait of @blackvenusinfurs (taken from Wanting You To Want Me: Stories from the Secret World of Strip Clubs by Bronwen Parker-Rhodes and Emily Dinsdale)