Is Lap Dancing Prostitution?

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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 – Rhode Island legislators included, it seems –  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?

-Bridget Crawford

(cross-post from

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6 Responses to Is Lap Dancing Prostitution?

  1. David S. Cohen says:

    I think you’re looking too theoretical here Bridget. My guess is that too many legislators get/have gotten lap dances and they just don’t want to ban them. Either that or they, like you, know lots of guys who get them and don’t want to criminalize what they do. If in fact the legislation’s language was intentionally written to not cover lap dances, I really think this is nothing more than not criminalizing what they and their friends do!

  2. bob coley jr says:

    Though I would agree that not criminalizing lap dances has a nefarious side, I can also ask myself a few questions that might be relevant. Are lap dances not criminalized for any and all possible gender configurations? What economic factors were examined in regards to criminalization? Who lobbied for what outcome? Who benefits, and how, from this course of thought?

  3. Pingback: Is lap-dancing prostitution? « Din of Inequity

  4. maggie says:

    The need for women to earn a living within the context of patriarchy means that criminalising any use of their bodies to do so will impact negatively on the women. This kind of legislation does not criminalise the users of the service, not does it provide any useful alternative social strategies.
    Isn’t it time middle class women stopped excusing their men’s somewhat pathetic sexual dalliances and see it for what it is – no different from prostitution, just a woman trying to earn a living and a man prepared to pay for it.
    I would much rather have a world without it – without any moral judgement at all to the women who do it, I think it is a sleazy, unpleasant industry. But without changes in the way men and women relate to each other, it will continue. So how about challenging these middle class wankers ( literally) about their behaviour instead of normalising it, and challenging anything which further criminalises women who have limited choices.

  5. Stephen P says:

    Is a model in a bikini on the front of a holiday brochure prostitution? Is a photo of a nude woman prostitution? Is anything less than a woman in a full burka prostitution? Where exactly should the line be drawn? Should skirts be worn above or below the knee? Should skirts be worn at all?

    There’s an interesting paper forthcoming on lap dancing and community pressures for regulation in the UK by Professor Phil Hubbard available in draft form at:

  6. Bridget Crawford says:

    In response to Maggie, above, please note that the proposed Rhode Island legislation does criminalize the “users.”

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