In December 2017, I Googled “how to be a stripper Dallas.” My sugar daddy had just broken up with me and sent me off with a check for $4,000. The prospect of a day job repelled me right onto Stripper Web, a site full of strippers from across the country sharing firsthand knowledge of the industry, from complaining about high house fees in New York City to handsy customers in Houston.
After spending a few weeks studying all the tips the Newbie Board had to offer — dance as slowly as possible, managers will ask to see your tattoos, women of color should be prepared for racist hiring practices — I auditioned for my first club. Without the retro, Web 2.0 forum, I would not have had the courage to strip down to my thong and twirl around in a cramped office for three middle-age male managers. I got hired and made $271 in my first shift.
For over 20 years, Stripper Web was the holy grail for new dancers desperate for income but lacking community to draw wisdom and support from — until it shut down last week, prompting a widespread outpouring of grief on the internet. “This is heartbreaking,” one user wrote. “I owe basically my whole career to this forum.”
Stripper Web trained new girls like me to harness the power of money against the men who wielded it. Any dancer could read hundreds of posts about which clubs were rife with managers extorting dancers for money and sex. Nowhere else could I find strippers speaking openly about extras (slang for sexual services) or how to handle a customer who wanted more than I was willing to offer. It taught me how to respond to boundary pushers: Tip me now or get kicked out. In my first week dancing, a customer pulled out his dick during a lap dance. I told him to give me $200 or put it away; he put it back in his pants.
The forum was also a lot of fun. Strippers would preach the importance of an “abundance mind-set” after an amazing shift one week and bemoan the death of club culture the next. The feast-or-famine nature of earning a living as a stripper prompted hundreds of posts with outrageous suggestions about how to attract money and good customers. In a 2007 thread called “Vajajay juice,” one stripper claimed to have success by rubbing her own vaginal secretions behind her ears, believing the pheromones rendered her irresistible to customers. The legend lives on in the club to this day; I met dancers as recently as last year who swear by this tactic, though I was never audacious enough to try it myself.
Dressing-room lore transformed into documented, communal history on Stripper Web. I had heard about the boom and bust cycles of the club, but when COVID-19 hit and my source of income dried up overnight, I turned to the forum. There I found posts where strippers spoke of the 2008 financial crisis as if a bomb had detonated. Many strippers quit the club that year; some got formal jobs and others turned to prostitution to make ends meet. “Save your money,” those older posts warned, “because you never know when the next recession will hit.”
Without this history, we’re left with the most sanitized, corporate-friendly versions of stripper history that prevail in popular media today. As the internet grows more hostile to sex workers, there are fewer and fewer places to congregate. Since Congress passed the anti-trafficking legislation SESTA/FOSTA in 2018, social-media platforms have tightened their community guidelines and content moderation. On Stripper Web, there was no need to use code words for sexual assault or prostitution, terms that users worry could get them banned on Instagram and TikTok. Sex workers had the freedom to speak in explicit detail about our industry, sharing safety tips and crucial information. “Stripper Web was where you went when you wanted to talk to people about your work without judgment, because before stripping became ‘cool’ it was a thing you did not dare tell a SOUL,” as one user tweeted.
The end of Stripper Web is just as tragic as it is baffling. No one knows who owns it or why they made the decision to shut it down. The site was flooded with offers to buy it that went ignored: One user offered to take over the site, citing her experience with another sex-work forum. “If you successfully obtain the site and would need any help modding it, I can volunteer,” another chimed in. “This website is so important to me and I really don’t want it to die.”
Most of the site had already been captured on the Wayback Machine, but there was still a collective scramble to archive anything we found helpful, funny, or otherwise memorable. Where else will you find threads from back in 2005 where strippers bragged about making $3,000 on a day shift only to have their careers abruptly ended by the 2008 recession? Or superstitious posts that claimed cutting off a piece of every girl’s pubes and lighting them on fire in an ashtray in front of the club would attract customers on a slow night? Now they live on in my private stash of screenshots.