Over at The Right Coast, Tom Smith makes a good observation here. He reads the Rhode Island legislation [against indoor prostitution, previously blogged here and here] as far from”flawed”: he suggests that it is carefully crafted to permit lap dancing. I agree that lap dancing is outside the scope of the legislation.
This inspires a follow-on question. Is lap dancing prostitution? If prostitution is selling (or buying) use of a body for sexual pleasure, then I suppose the answer is yes. Yet I follow this statement with the admission that I have extremely well-educated, seemingly polite and law-abiding male friends who freely acknowledge enjoying lap dances. These men say they have never paid for intercourse (massages with so-called”happy endings”are another story, though). I cringe at the idea of both the lap dance and paid intercourse, but I admit that I cringe a little less at a lap dance. Why? Maybe because I know so many men who have received them that it seems”normal”? Because I don’t want to be the prissy one with”old tired ethics”raining on the boys’ parade? (Hat tip to Ariel Levy’s work.) Surely that’s no theoretical defense of lap dancing.
So why might some people â€“ Rhode Island legislators included, it seems â€“ judge a lap dance more acceptable (or less offensive) than paid intercourse? Is it because the health and safety risks to the woman are lower with a lap dance than with intercourse? After all, lap dances typically are done in full view of others who can enforce a no-hands rule.
I wonder if the different attitudes toward lap dancing and prostitution are influenced by an unarticulated belief that the roles of exploiter and exploited are reversed in the lap dance scenario. In other words, might a permissive attitude toward lap dances rely, at least in part, on the belief that those men who receive a lap dance lack a certain power and that those women who perform lap dances wield a certain power? If so, is that assumption correct?