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Amy Jenkins: Lap dancing degrades women, irrespective of their education

Sex industry

As lap dancing clubs become just another feature of the average high street, a new report has found that 40 per cent of lap dancers have a university degree or are studying for one.

Far from being an underworld of sleazy exploitation, it seems that lap dancing has become a legitimate flexi-time career option for educated and resourceful young women.

They choose their hours; their days are free for study and – best of all – they can earn between £24,000 and £48,000 a year working only two to four shifts a week. Perhaps this is what the talk of empowerment is really about; not so much women taking possession of their sexuality as women embarking on a cunning financial strategy to get ahead in the more conventional jobs market. The report is the first of its kind and took the form a year-long study carried out by the University of Leeds. Confounding expectations, the report also claims that 84 per cent of lap dancers feel a high rate of job satisfaction and don't buy into the idea they are being exploited. Gosh. Doesn't it all sound easy?

By the way, I don't for one minute think the authors of this report meant to advertise lap dancing as a good way to pay tuition fees, but the trouble with lap dancing is that the devil isn't really in the detail. It's in the fact that women's bodies are still for sale in the 21st century. Yes, the women are reasonably well paid and they are not – in the main – directly coerced into it, but that doesn't take into account the fact that selling sex is a fundamentally soul-destroying occupation.

I went to a lap dancing club the other day to meet a friend who is an actress and who has turned to stripping to supplement her income. It was a remarkably sanitised place. If Disney did lap dancing, it would be like this. There were soft comfortable banquettes. The lighting was good; the music was low. The male bouncers and bar staff were relaxed and friendly.

The girls were blooming – young, giggly, full of good cheer in a spangly rainbow of lycra dresses. They showed off on the pole first, floating around it, light as a feather and then suddenly, impressively, flipping upside down. Afterwards, they talked up a storm. They all had great plans – for yoga centres they were going to set up and flats they were going to purchase.

They told me that a lap dance lasts the length of a song – three minutes. So if you get your kit off halfway through, then that's only 90 seconds naked. And anyway, they agreed, the main skill is flattering the men and selling the idea of an hour in the "VIP" lounge. Customers pay £300 for this, and, although in theory they can have as many strips as they want in this hour, the job inevitably ends up being more about the gift of the gab than the stripping.

In this context, I saw how easy it was to fall into the illusion that the men are the ones being exploited. After all, they are being cajoled into parting with ridiculous amounts of money for 90-odd seconds of naked tit.

Then, on the way to the loo, I glimpsed for a moment a "dance" actually taking place. The dancer was naked on the banquette, doggy style, waving her arse inches from a punter's face. One hand was between her legs, giving him a better view of the situation.

Call me naive, but I had a visceral response – a gut punch of shock and shame. Lap dancing isn't just a nice little wriggle out of the G-string, keeping the regulation distance of five feet. Lap dancing is a seriously degrading business. As for the "career strategy" that the Leeds report speaks of, you know that none of these women will be breaking through the glass ceiling.