So you're bound for a strip club against your will, because you've got to go to your brother's bachelor party with all his college friends, or your girlfriend is dragging you to check one out, or your boss thinks that's the best way to unwind during a business trip. You feel like a vegetarian at a steakhouse. Maybe you just don't get the whole concept of strip clubs; why would you pay for not-sex? Maybe you think they're corny as hell. Maybe you have philosophical or moral problems with the blatant objectification of women.

Too bad. Sometimes being a friend or relative or employee means participating in activities we wouldn't choose ourselves. There's no need, though, for a non-strip-clubbing sort to treat a strip-club visit any differently than the way a non-sports fan handles attending a basketball game or a non-8-year-old deals with a couple of hours at Chuck E. Cheese. Only Bob Jensen gets to hop on a moral high horse about how he'd never participate in such degradation, and party guests with that level of opposition to this realm are likely to bow out altogether. For the rest of you who're just dreading an evening of moderate discomfort and weird, unfamiliar situations, here's how to get through the night without acting like you're too good to be there or like you resent your brother for even getting married. (Note: This advice applies to anyone in any type of strip club, male, female, straight, gay, or otherwise.)

STRIP CLUB 101

The basics of strip-club etiquette are fairly intuitive if you've eaten in a restaurant, gone to a bar, or had a haircut. You know: Be polite and tip. There are some differences, though, because customers in most businesses usually can't bury their faces in cleavage, get topless backrubs, or have a naked person do a handstand in their laps. But a professional is a professional, and strippers deserve the same consideration due a server or massage therapist.

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A few issues are specific to this environment, and every club has a different policy. For instance, don't take pictures—even selfies—without clearing it. Clubs have wildly differing policies on photography, from "Make sure you hashtag that #houseoftittiesandbuttcheeks!" to "I'm throwing your phone against the wall and you on the sidewalk." Best not to chance the latter. If you're seated near the stage, make sure to tip in the manner of the club (could be making it rain, could be tucking bucks into the side of a dancer's thong). Ask prices first if you're on a budget. Bring cash. Make sure to ask before you touch. These all seem pretty obvious, but sometimes customers think that strip clubs are special corners of the demimonde that exist outside all conventions of normal life. They sort of are, but the people are still real.

LOOKING AT THE STRIPPERS

Bless you for being a decent guy who tries not to stare at a woman's body, or at least tries to be subtle about it. Now you're going to try to not be weird by jerking your eyes up suddenly from her chest while talking to her, and apologizing for it. Which is weird. Keep in mind that this is a place where staring at a woman's cleavage, fore or aft, is encouraged. Should you find this unnerving, don't verbalize your internal conflict. I've had men literally say, "Have you noticed how I'm only looking into your eyes?" Yeah, because it's creepy and makes me feel like you're measuring how my skin would look in that coat you're planning to make. Just pretend you're in a gallery or watching soccer, and that you're appreciating the aesthetic or athletic properties of the form.

DEALING WITH THE LAP DANCE

So you're feeling weird and awkward, and can't even imagine being turned on by anything that happens here. Fortunately, since the kinds of guys who go to strip clubs in large groups are often compassionate and understanding, your friends grab a dancer and send her to you anyway, saying, "WE'RE BUYING A DANCE FOR HIM HE'S NEVER BEEN HERE." You might be tempted to turn down the dance, but don't do that, because you're basically taking money out of the dancer's pocket just as much as if you'd just pulled a $20 out of her garter. You can get through the three and a half minutes of this dance, and then it will be over. One strategy you might try: telling her to go easy on you because you just spilled a beer on your lap. We don't want to sit on your wet lap and will give you a cordial, barely touching dance. One strategy not to try: looking anywhere but at her. This is really creepy and makes us wonder if we have, like, a cigarette butt stuck to our ass or something. Oh, and please don't tell us, "You don't have to dance. We can just talk." That isn't less work or a favor, and your friends will probably yell at you.

TALKING TO THAT ONE COOL DANCER

"You're too good/pretty/smart to be here!" is the single most insulting thing you can say to a dancer. Do not say this or any variation thereof, including how surprised you are to find someone you can talk to/find attractive/think is interesting working in a place like this. I've mostly heard this from not-strip-club guys, you see, and I can tell you're dying to say it the moment you realize a stripper is an actual person you might have a conversation with. It's so offensive, because underlying it are a number of nasty assumptions and copious evidence of a sheltered life, not to mention a healthy amount of condescension. Remind yourself of this: It might seem like a bizarre environment to you, but to the dancers, it is just another night at work.

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(In case you're wondering if this is really that bad to say, I had a guy thrown out of the club about a month ago because he wouldn't stop coming to my stage and delivering a variation of it.)

GETTING OUT OF THIS ALTOGETHER

If thinking about doing any of these things really sounds that awful to you, and you just can't think of a graceful way to bow out beforehand, take an emetic in secret when you're on the way to the club and throw up in the parking lot. That way, your friends still get to go, and you can sit in the party bus or take a cab back to the hotel in peace.


Susan Elizabeth Shepard is a writer living in Portland, Ore.; a founding editor of Tits and Sass, she tweets @SusanElizabeth.

Illustration by Jim Cooke.

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