We spoke with a young woman who once worked in a Berlin strip club. She spoke to us about the challenges of stripping and explained what it is exactly that she likes so much about her job. The following are excerpts from our interview, which speak to her experience working in Germany, where prostitution is legal.
1. You need to have fun stripping.
I've always liked the sense of playfulness that goes with teasing and sexuality. When I was twelve, I wanted to be a burlesque dancer, which is very erotic. Before that, I began with ballet when I was three years old; later on, it was jazz and hip-hop, then standard and Latin American dancing as well as belly dancing. I've been dancing all my life. I was always attuned with my body and watched myself in the mirror when I danced. That created self-confidence, for one thing, and I can move really well as a result. I have formal training as a musical performer, but I think that's an exception. I've yet to meet another stripper who has also trained as a dancer.
Not long after I started stripping, I got together with my boyfriend. I stopped soon after that. He didn't like it, of course, and I always had the feeling I was cheating on him. At some point, stripping stopped being fun. And if it isn't fun for you, and you give off that vibe, you won't earn any money either. Many other people are really good at separating their work and their private life though. Perhaps I'm just too young to manage that. My relationship is falling apart at the moment though, so I'm thinking of starting stripping again abroad.
2. You can find work as a stripper by asking the right people – or by asking directly in a club.
Back then, I got to know a girl who stripped as a side job. Plenty of people who are studying or interning do it. She introduced me to her boss, who said I should stop by and work on a trial basis. He saw the way I danced and carried myself, and I was taken on immediately. Since there's often such a high turnover of staff, you'll usually find something quickly in strip clubs — as long as you look good to some extent and can dance to some extent. Actually, you don't have to be able to dance that well, as long as you have breasts. In contrast to what people may think, not many girls are actually proficient in the art of pole dancing.
3. The hours are fairly flexible.
On average, I was working four times a week. I earned around 1,000 euros each week there – all cash in hand. A few girls were employed there, but only on a 600 euro basis for the insurance. More than that was paid out to them though. And other girls are self-employed. I don't think that any of them enter their real earnings in their tax declaration though.
4. A normal work night starts around 10 p.m.
Our club opens at 10 p.m., and us girls are there about half an hour before. We do our make-up, get changed... everyone's running around half-naked because their bra or something is in a different changing room. The first guests arrive at around ten or half past ten. The girls will still be sitting around at the sides and smoking – they all smoke. I was the only non-smoker. When it eventually fills up, we go over to the guests and chat with them, try to sell them lap dances or drink something with them and just talk with them. You either get rebuffed or you do something with them. During the week, I get home around 5 a.m. and an hour later on weekends. My friend, for example, mainly took guests back to a room and was sometimes only finished around 8 in the morning.
5. As a stripper, you are often more than just a dancer
Because I had a boyfriend, I quickly ruled out getting intimate with guests. Before then, I did it with two or three men who I found attractive. I found them cool, so I wanted to do it. Strippers usually do more though. I'd say that 60 percent of the girls would regularly also go to a room with men they didn't like.
6. Guests who act stupidly get kicked out...
At the club, there were help buttons in the rooms downstairs. As soon as someone pushed this button, the security personnel would appear within seconds. Upstairs, we just needed to raise our hand and point to someone, and they would be thrown out. I'd say that us girls are well looked after. This is important because the guests might treat you with respect at first, on the surface anyway, but as it gets later and levels increase, you notice how the respect fades. Then we're just viewed as a piece of meat.
7. ... But they can still be pretty unpleasant to deal with.
I've never hit anyone, but I was hit once in the room. In such cases, the police come by of course. Some of the guests can be really sick. Thankfully, those are definitely exceptional cases.
8. There's really nobody at the club whom you can turn to with your problems.
In theory, we could go to the boss at any time. We can tell him that someone has done something so that person will be banned from entering. But you can't expect psychological support from him. There are a few girls with drug and alcohol problems at the club, and they're left alone. Of course, there are offers of help outside – but I don't know how much use those women would make of them. Many are really in a bad way, and it's not particularly easy to notice how ill you really are.
9. Drugs are always present.
Alcohol plays a big part in any case. I think I drank every day as a stripper – if only because I was paid to do so. You get a cut if you receive a drink from a guest. That means that I earn my money from that. And naturally, it makes the evening more pleasant and easier. There are other drugs as well. I was usually offered something or other from the guests almost daily. I think many strippers take drugs to block it all out, to stop noticing what's going out downstairs. It sounds pretty cliché, but one thing leads to the other. You get a lot of money for going downstairs to a room, in return for relatively little work. At the same though, this work is tough, and it is made easier by the drugs. Eventually you can become addicted. And then you're taking guests to the room for the drugs.
10. Even if you enjoy stripping, it's not easy to talk about it.
My parents were totally cool with it. I had been to the club with my dad and watched the dancing with him before. I had even asked him, "Papa, what do you think about me starting to work here?" The parents of most of my colleagues don't know anything about stripping though, or they just know, like in my case, about the stripping itself and nothing about what goes on in the rooms. My parents wouldn't respect that. I wouldn't even be able to tell them about that on my deathbed. My friends had mixed opinions. Those who have known me for a longer time weren't very surprised because I was always an extrovert. Some of them consider it dangerous or cheap, though.
11. People often think you're doing it against your own will.
I get asked really often if I'm here of my own free will or if I'm being forced. Or whether my parents know what I'm doing. I've also often been asked if I'm studying. Whenever I said "No," they say, "Why not? You're much better than this. You can do a lot more than just this here!" Nobody ever believes that I like doing it — having fun, earning good money, having extremely flexible hours, and enjoying undressing in front of others. This job has a stigma, which I find a bit of a shame.
12. You decide whether you take someone back to the room and what happens there.
It's always my decision what I do and what I don't. What the man wants is discussed beforehand. The price depends on that, after all. Generally, the customers want normal standard sex or a blow job. Things like anal sex or such are pretty rare. I've been asked for that two or three times, but that's one of the things I won't do. Kissing isn't normally allowed. A friend of mine had a regular guest though who came about twice a week. The two of them saw each another more often than some people in long distance relationships. They'd withdraw to a private room to drink something and would kiss there as well.
Men go to strip clubs to experience affection as well, be it physical love or the attention of a female – and the more you go along with it, the more money you earn. So, you'll have some women who say, "Well OK, I'll kiss him then and get my two or three drinks more." And some will say, "No, I won't kiss under any circumstances. That stays a private thing for me."
13. Guidelines like the German Act to Protect Prostitutes are barely mentioned at all.
At the start, I was told that I'm working officially on a self-employed basis and needed to register myself in case the club was ever raided – which feels like it happens every five years. If the police would actually come by, we would pretend to just be dancers. However, I knew one woman, for example, who worked as an escort until the point she should've registered as a prostitute. She just came to us at the club then and is just a dancer officially, although she does more.
14. Strippers can also work when they're on their period.
I have an IUD, so I don't have any more periods. If the period is especially strong, most people tend to stay at home. Many use a tampon and will just dance during their period instead of going back to a room with a guest. Some insert something like a little bits of cotton wool before sex so that the man doesn't notice anything. That stays in place for the 20 to 30 minutes that you're downstairs with the guest.
15. You aren't usually a stripper for long.
The oldest dancer with us at the club was between 38 and 40 years old. She's been doing it for ages. She always talked about how much more money was earned 15-20 years ago. There was a 35-year-old as well. And then came the girls who were about 28 or 29 years old. I'd say that girls generally do it during their studies or apprenticeships, so for four to five years at most. Some also had another job as their main work. Once you get to 30 though, most women are in a relationship or have children, and they generally stop.
16. For the right person, stripping is a great job.
If you can say that you are strong and confident and feel good about your body and don't let others influence you, then I'd definitely recommend the job. I started just before I turned 19, which is really young. I'd only recommend it to girls once they're 20. In addition, I'd also advise anyone not to work too much. You can quickly be in over your heard with all the money, for one thing. You need to watch out so that you don't lose your grip on reality.
17. Every day in the strip club can be great – but you need a thick skin.
The validation is enormous. You're constantly told how great you look, how well you can dance, and how beautiful your body is. Some people fall in love with the dancers and then come particularly often.
You come into contact with a lot of strange characters and need an unbelievable amount of self-confidence. Because even though you receive a lot of validation, you also experience rejection. Everything is reduced to your body. If someone is keen on big dark-haired girls and not blondes, you're out. You have to remember that it's not personal.
I'd love to change the bad rep that the job still gets because it's still fun for the girls. And it would also be a lot better if hard drugs weren't such a big part of that lifestyle.
This post was translated from German.