What I learned in strip clubs

Inside the world of traveling strippers
Inside the world of traveling strippers

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Inside the world of traveling strippers 02:05

Story highlights

  • Lisa Ling goes inside the lives of four traveling strippers
  • She admits she had reservations about "women who use their bodies to earn a living"
  • Filming the "Road Strip" episode of her CNN show changed her viewpoint
  • Watch "This is Life with Lisa Ling: Road Strip" Sunday, November 2, at 10 p.m.
I am, by no means, a regular patron of strip clubs. But because my show, "This is Life," explores different American subcultures without expressing opinion or judgment, I found myself in quite a few of them this year for the upcoming episode "Road Strip," a window into the world of traveling strippers.
Stripping is hardly a new profession, but the Internet has allowed women who work in it to more easily access large groups of men congregating for leisure or for business: sporting events like the Super Bowl or Final Four championships, even political events like the Republican National Convention.
But because of the nature of what they do -- taking their clothes off for money -- strippers have been and will likely continue to be some of the most stigmatized members of society.
I haven't really known too many strippers throughout my lifetime, but I've admittedly fallen into the trap of not feeling particularly respectful of women who use their bodies to earn a living. Perhaps it's because of my perennial disdain for the objectification of women.
But what happens when women themselves decide on their own to capitalize on their assets? During the course of shooting this episode, I met many different kinds of women, but one thing was present in all of them: ambition.
Lisa Ling is the host of "This is Life" on CNN.
For some of the women, stripping allows them to make more money than other day jobs. Some dancers use the job to put themselves through school, like Antonia Crane, who earned her master's degree in literature and creative writing.
Others take advantage of the flexible schedule, like mothers who want to spend more time with their children. I don't know any other job that allows for this kind of flexibility in schedule. If I want to spend more time with my child, I can't just choose when I work. Many dancers can. They dance when they need money, but no one determines their hours but themselves. At many clubs, they are independent contractors who pay a percentage to the clubs for allowing them to dance there, but the rest of what they make goes into their pockets.
That's not to say it's an easy life. The money can be highly unpredictable. A couple of dancers told me that there have been many nights when they've returned home with less money than they left with, because guys just weren't feeling very generous. Trying to remain upbeat and engaged is essential, even if you're not having a great day.
A good stripper is skilled in many art forms that go far beyond taking her clothes off. In many cases, she is a therapist or even a shoulder to cry on.
Strip clubs have reputations for being havens for drugs and sex trafficking for a reason -- pimps have been known to force women to work as strippers. But the clubs I visited do not condone drug use or prostitution. The former manager of Thee DollHouse in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, told me that if he as much as suspects that a girl is being run by a pimp, he'll throw them both out.
So how did I feel in strip clubs? Frankly, I was utterly mesmerized. There is an art to seduction, and even if you've been married for decades or you're a devoted churchgoer, every one of us harbors the desire to be able to seduce or excite -- even our long-term partner. The way these women's bodies move, the manner in which they play with their patrons: They are veritable masters of seduction, which is something that seems to have unquestionable value. So, why shouldn't these women capitalize on it?
A couple of nights, I went back to my hotel room to see if I could mimic some of the things I'd seen in the clubs. I have a long way to go. But it was fun. It felt -- sexy. In all relationships, we long to be able to maintain our partner's attraction. Let's be honest, it takes work, especially if the relationship has spanned years and multiple children.
A club owner told me that often, men spend time in his establishments and report going home to much friskier interactions with their wives. Whether that is true or not, I know I was struck by how much sexier I felt. I wonder what would happen if we checked our opinions at the door? If we're lucky enough, we might run across someone like Antonia Crane and be able to discuss and debate whether Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" was, in fact, a woman of ill repute -- and be thoroughly excited and entertained while at it.
Perhaps we could learn something. I know I did.