Sex, sweat, and the psychology of why women go to lap dancing clubs

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The Independent Online

The number of women going to lap dancing clubs is rising. Encouraged by high-profile celebrities including Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Kelly Brook, Zoe Ball and Sara Cox, who have all reportedly paid visits to such clubs, more women are paying to see lap dancers perform.

Clubs are springing up around the UK and a new film starring Daryl Hannah, Dancing at the Blue Iguana, has helped to remove much of the stigma attached to them.

Dr Petra Boynton, a prominent member of the British Psychological Society, says one of the reasons for this growing trend is a "sexual crisis" which has emerged over the last few years.

Under growing pressure to conform to a sexual ideal, women are visiting strip clubs to compare their own bodies with those of the dancers.

"There's a huge area of uncertainty for women today, because their role has changed dramatically over a relatively short space of time," said Dr Boynton. "Women are increasingly being told by the media that they should be more sexual, but they aren't quite sure how. There is a gap in their knowledge, which is one of the reasons why they are going to these places to learn.

"Women are incredibly visual and do actually enjoy looking at other women," she continued. "These dancers are portraying themselves in a sexy way, and there is a subtext in there that women can watch it, copy it, take it home and be sexy themselves."

At the same time, argues Dr Boynton, women are subconsciously comparing themselves to the dancers.

"It's a 'like me' or 'not like me' situation," she said. "Women will either imagine themselves in the place of the dancer, or attempt to judge themselves and their own worth by how much better or worse they perceive the dancers look than them."

Daryl Hannah, who stars as a stripper called Angel in the film Dancing at the Blue Iguana, told the IoS that she had been pleasantly surprised by her experiences in the world of lap dancing.

"When I was learning how to dance, the only way I could do it properly was by actually going to work in these clubs," said Hannah, on a brief visit to London. "The girls I worked with were really good. They were so supportive, and I made a lot of good friends."

It was an experience which inspired Hannah so much that she made her own documentary on the subject, Strip Notes, which appeared on Channel 4 last month.

At Stringfellows in Covent Garden, one of Britain's most famous lap dancing clubs, the rise in female customers has proved so great that male dancers were introduced for the first time three months ago. It's a phenomenon which has surprised the owner of the club, Peter Stringfellow.

"The psychology has definitely changed," he said. "Now, on a Saturday night, up to 30 per cent of our customers are women.

"Attractive women like other attractive women. It doesn't mean they want to have sex with them – it just means that they like other girls taking their clothes off."