Sunny Days in DC

Jack of All Trades, Master of 3-ish.

Is It Still Prostitution If We Don’t Screw?

on October 24, 2013

When my guy and I moved to Ireland, one of the terms and conditions was that if he was going to restart his life, so would I. That meant writing and giving a shot at burlesque. Not like a, “sure, lemme take a class here and there,” but legit performance.

Have I written about this before? I can’t tell. It’s late and I’m trying to do a brain purge so I can finally go to sleep.

But it occurred to me: burlesque is dancing, a strip tease, for an audience. What’s really the difference between that and pornography? Or art, for that matter. I’m not slut shaming, I’m asking a legitimate question. When people go to see Dita von Teese, many go for the performance, for her costumes, for the excitement of seeing someone famous… but she GOT famous because of lust… how is performing on a stage by riding a giant pink mechanical bull any different than filming a porno? You’re not having sex with the audience in either case, and in either case you have no control what your audience takes from the show. Either way, the come back for the sexual high.

Part of me is asking this because if I DO really want to get serious about this, then eventually photos will be taken and they’ll find their way to the internet. So I have this dilemma: what do I say to my son when he gets old enough to see photos of mommy stripping? How do I tell him that sex isn’t a game, when there I am, playing by my own rules? How would I feel if he told me he wanted to be in porno, and what could I say to him as someone who would have done burlesque?

The flip side of this is, of course, you can’t live your life trying not to offend anyone, trying to be what you think others MIGHT want. Well, you can. Just ask me; I’ve done it for years. But eventually, you make a choice, even if you do so by NOT choosing one path. In school, I chose NOT to study writing because I was worried I wouldn’t make any money and be poor. Well kids, over the past three years, I’ve been about as close to that as I ever want to get… so what have I gained by following what I thought would be the easier path? Maybe the lesson *is* to leap, and hope that a net will appear. Maybe there is no net, and the illusion is that there ever was to begin with.

Eventually, I will have to justify my decisions to my son, whether that’s to say, “I chose security, stability, and to swim with the rest of the fish,” or, “I chose me. And it wasn’t a popular decision, and maybe I chose it later in life than some others, but I did it. So your lesson is that you can make a choice, realize it’s not what you want, and decide a new path.” Maybe that’s what I tell him, and hope that he understands. Who knows? Maybe one day, when he’s older, he’ll read this blog post and realize that one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, was figuring out whether to take a shot at living my passion, or crush myself in hopes of stability.

27 responses to “Is It Still Prostitution If We Don’t Screw?

  1. Sex is nothing to be ashamed of – and doing what you love and loving your body is certainly no warrant for shame. It shouldn’t be so taboo. Follow your passion and be strong. Of course there will be criticisms, but be proud of what you’re doing and raise your son to not shame others for doing what they love 🙂 Good luck.

    • H. Stern says:

      So, I think this is my problem: I’m NOT ashamed of sex. I really enjoy it (not every time, but not every chocolate cake is going to be the best you ever have). I have zero hangups about my sexuality, and I think that might be another thing that draws me to burlesque… I’m not scared of it, but I like that other people might be. It’s NOT something everyone can do, and it pushes boundaries.

      But I do think it’s about following a passion. That needs to be the example I set for my son. It may not be popular, but if it’s safe and it makes you happy, and it doesn’t fuck up your life… do it.


  2. I think the best parents are ones who are fulfilled and happy themselves. Obviously nothing that would endanger or harm your kids counts, but performing doesn’t count as harmful. And no, it’s not prostitution. Is it racy? Sure. Your kid won’t be watching your performances — maybe ever — but so what? The good news is, he’s not a teenager. And you’re in a foreign country. This is indeed your opportunity to explore things you might not feel comfortable exploring on your own turf. Reinvent yourself. Do it while you are young! I have a friend who lives in Paris who performs in a burlesque troop there and in the US and she’s not even slightly slutty. It’s considered performance art. Only extreme prudes equate it with stripping. Though, BTW, if pole dancing is at your local Y now…!!!!

    • H. Stern says:

      And I have to believe you’re right. I have to believe that I will be a better mom for going after my dreams with my family to support me. My husband supports this (for now), and like you said, we’re in another country… great time to give it all a shot! I’m not really concerned about being perceived as “slutty,” it’s more that I just don’t know how I can tell my son that sex should include feelings toward the other person, if I’m engaging in sexually charged performances on stage. I don’t know. It’s gonna take more consideration.

      And dude, I TOTALLY wanna take a pole class!!

      • Hmm…I don’t think performing in a sexy way sends a message that sex and love are separate. If you write prose that is erotic does that uncouple sex and love? I mean, I see what you are saying but let’s hope you don’t have to have that conversation with him for a few years yet!!!! Enjoy your youth. You deserve it.

      • ekgo says:

        Dude, you totally do NOT want to take a pole dancing class. I will show you why on FB.

        • H. Stern says:

          OMG I’M EXCITED NOW!!!!

          • ekgo says:

            Yeah, but, was I not so incredibly correct? Did you SEE that bruise??

            • H. Stern says:

              I saw only hilarity. Oh, yes, saw the blood now that I think about it. Did I tell you about the time I took at 20 foot faceplant into a net while doing trapeze. Everyone was like, “OMG! Weren’t you scared?!” But honestly, it happened so fast that I had no idea really until it was over. My hand slipped, and then I was in the net. I had WICKED bleeding hands though. Felt TOTALLY badass!!

  3. OK, Gypsy Rose, I have to comment just because I can’t resist the opportunity to call someone Gypsy Rose. You have read enough of my blog, maybe, to know that my thoughts on the subject of burlesque or stripping or even pornography are clouded by what I was taught to believe what a Christian thinks and what I really think.

    I like women. I like seeing a woman who is comfortable with her body and who can make me lust without having to show me all of her, without a single sexual act.

    But I do not like it when I lust. It’s a dark feeling to me. Lust can control me so easily, take me over. And that is why I do not allow myself near any situation — stripper, titty bar, video. Really it’s not about whether it’s right or wrong, but more about how it makes me feel.

    How are you going to teach your son about sexuality, about the human body, about women? If you teach he the right way, what he thinks about his mother when he finds out she was or is a burlesque stripper will be a non issue.

    Time for some ice cream. Caramel sauce tonight, please.

    • H. Stern says:

      That sounds very confusing. I don’t think lust is wrong; I think putting lust above the other priorities in your life (family, community, etc) is where the trouble is… but my opinions are neither here nor there.

      I *am* comfortable with my body… but when I really think about why I want to do burlesque, it’s less about turning someone on, and more about making them laugh. It’s more about taking something that SHOULD be so sexy and serious, and giving people the opportunity to giggle at it all a bit. I would be lying if I said I didn’t like the idea of sexually charging up an audience and being found attractive, but when I think of routines, they’re almost always funny ones.

      How will I teach my son about women? That’s a good question. I would like for him to feel that women can be both good and loving moms, and performers. That we can be both sexual creatures, as well as save certain aspects of ourselves for our family. But I don’t know if that’s possible. It ties back to the whole: can women really have it all? Of course, for me, the “all” would be erotic performance art, and a soccer mom.

      …..break out the cookie dough ice cream!!

  4. Kids naturally love their parents. It is the parents who mess with this natural relationship. It isn’t what the parents do in the world that counts, it’s the love and trust that they demonstrate to the kids. Do what you want and continue to love and nurture your child. You can’t lose.

  5. Sofia Leo says:

    Follow your dream and be happy. That will be the single most important lesson to teach your son after Be Kind. Burlesque is not porn, IMHO, because you don’t actually get naked and there’s no sex act, real or implied. It’s a Tease, titillating, rather an exercise leading up to the Money Shot. Big difference in fact and in spirit. Besides, by the time your son is old enough to find YouTube footage of you he will not be shocked because all music videos will be classed as p0rn, judging by the direction we’re headed 🙂

    • H. Stern says:

      HA! This really helped me draw that mental line in the sand, so thanks for that! I think I need to look at it as more of, like you said, titillating performance art, like the follies, but not REALLY about sex.

      Thanks for this!!

    • FreeRangeCow says:

      I sooooo agree! I would have rather seen my mom in videos with no clothes than watching her tear herself down.

  6. Real Burlesque isn’t stripping. Burlesque is a lot more difficult and it has style.
    So many “average moms” do pole dancing now, it shouldn’t be such a big deal.
    Since there’s kids, just be careful with the still shots.
    Give it a chance. Might be a big giggle.

    • H. Stern says:

      Real burlesque involves stripping, and it’s not that I have an issue with that… I’m actually surprisingly fine with it. What concerns me is, how can I set an example for my son if I’m a performer? What does it say? What example am I setting? Maybe a good one… I don’t know. This blog post was just me working through these thoughts before I move forward… and move forward I must. Not to sound dramatic, but I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time trying to fit in with what I thought I wanted, and it turns out that not only do I not really want this, but I can’t fit in even if I try.

      I don’t know if burlesque is for me, or if I can fit into that world either. I don’t know if the mommy-side of me can find a place there.

  7. Dancing and strip-teasing on a stage isn’t having sex for money, but there will always be those who think it is. Following your heart and embracing things you’re passionate about will set a better example for your son than anything else I can think of. There will always be a possibility that he may have some social issues from his friends due to your career choice, but keep in mind that it will likely be due to their parents being in your audience.

    Suppressing your dreams and settling for less is a poor way to live, and most of us parents set that bad example on a daily basis.

    This aint no dress rehearsal!

  8. FreeRangeCow says:

    To quote the brilliant Ben Harper in “Burn One Down:”

    “my choice is what I choose to do
    and if I’m causing no harm
    it shouldn’t bother you
    your choice is who you choose to be
    and if your causin’ no harm
    then you’re alright with me”

    I say stop where YOUR line is; even if that is on one side (or another) a glory hole…as you shake your ass…and pour melty wax on your nipples.

    • H. Stern says:

      I don’t like melty wax there, but thank you. Also, I am now completely in love with that Ben Harper line, and would totally get that tattooed on me somewhere, except for the whole Jewish-and-doesn’t-tattoo thing…. but if I did, I would get THAT. Because YES.

      But yeah, I think I’ll have to figure out where my line is. Thankfully, there was a panel this year at the BurlyCon in Seattle on this topic, so I am CLEARLY not alone. Good to know.

  9. ekgo says:

    Right now, before I read anyone else’s probably more empathetic and brilliant responses, I want you to know I’m giving you the “Are you listening to yourself? Why are you creating obstacles to put in your back pocket to throw out later to give yourself a reason NOT to do something?” look.
    But to answer your question: No, it is not prostitution if you do not screw. The definition of Prostitution, courtesy of Merriam Webster Online is:
    : the work of a prostitute : the act of having sex in exchange for money

    : the use of a skill or ability in a way that is not appropriate or respectable

    Now, you could try to argue that burlesque is not appropriate or respectable and if you are doing a strip tease in order to gain some sort of favor, say like from a police officer who is about to issue you a ticket or your son’s teacher because you don’t want your kid to get a bad grade, then that is neither appropriate nor respectable and you are a prostitute, you whore.
    But if you are learning an art in order to express yourself, regardless of society’s real or perceived views on said art form, then, no, it is not prostitution. It’s just expression and everyone expresses him or herself in one way or another. You get to choose the form.
    But it IS pornography.
    The problem with pornography is that we have turned it into a negative term when it actually isn’t. It’s the same as seduction. Also from MWO:
    1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
    2: material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
    3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction

    And even then, you can see there’s a negative connotation to the word even though this is supposed to be all non-biased.
    But why is it bad?
    It’s not. It’s an act intended to cause arousal. Is causing arousal bad? Well, again, if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, then yes, it probably is. But it doesn’t sound like you plan to lure men into back alleys with your seductive strip teases in order to have your husband bash out their brains so you can then steal their wallets (and if you do do that, do NOT mention this comment when you’re in court)
    Which leads me to ask: Just what are you planning to justify to your son?
    You don’t have to justify any of your actions. You might have to explain them, but you don’t owe anyone a reason as to why you do the things you do (unless, again, you’re in court. Then they make you do just that)
    I don’t think you’re going to raise your son to be afraid of, ashamed of, horrified by sex. I’m guessing he’ll grow up thinking it’s a healthy exercise between people who share affection, love, even just the same sense of adventure and that if it is consensual and all that jazz, then it is good stuff. If these wind up being his views, or even partially his views, I’m not sure he’ll even care if he sees pictures of you.
    And, dude, to be honest, he’s either going to be grossed out because that was his MOM or he’s going to tease you because you’re his mom. Unless he’s older and married with his own family, in which case he might just think you were one progressive chick back in the day.
    What would you do if you found racy pictures of your mom?

    Also, do these people look like they’re regretting their burlesque decisions:
    (the photographer is Gabe’s best friend so I’m kind of buoying you up while also pimping him out, as it were)

    Actually, now that I think about it, your biggest worry should be coming up with a good stage name. That’s where I’d be tizzying.

    • H. Stern says:

      See, I’m usually on the GIVING end of those “are you listening to yourself” looks. Ahh yes, now I see what it looks like from here. Well, yeah. I’m surprisingly good at finding reasons why things might not work out. It’s why I’m such a good project manager; I find all the roadblocks ahead of time!!

      But I think you’re right. I think part of the issue is that, to me, I’m going into it for a sense of power and for the art of it. Some of the acts of thought up are more funny than sexual, but at the end of the day I can’t control what people take away from it… and I think that’s key. The line between pornography and art is a well-disputed one, and I think this walks that line. My BIG issue about it all was really more, would I be able to take a stance on telling my son in 18 years that he couldn’t appear in porno films, if I went ahead and did burlesque. But I think you did a good job of teasing out that line between the two…

      …and it makes me want to print out this comment and take it with me everywhere I go.

      Also, does Gabe’s friend do shoots in Ireland?? 😉

      Also also, I PROMISE not to lure men into a back alley and have my guy bash them over the heads. That’s both messy and unpredictable.

      I mean, uh…. wrong? It’s…. wrong?

      • ekgo says:

        Stealing internet is wrong, too, but that doesn’t stop people. So stick with the messy and unpredictable because those have way more stopping power.

        Do most Jewish men find their way into porn? Because I’m not sure this is a typical conversation mothers plan to have with their sons, though I can’t say for sure. Besides, Game of Thrones is pretty much softcore porn; in 18 years, there will be no distinction between porn and HBO TV shows. Would you be sad if your son had a starring role in something like that? Probably not since you’d get to meet famous people and go to award shows. Because, I mean, who else would he bring as his date, right?

        Oh, Gabe’s friend could totally be lured to Ireland but you’d have to finance the trip and put him up. And maybe let him bring his kid who is about your kid’s age and I’m not sure you’d want those two together because I can only imagine all the oohing and aaaahing they’d cause. There’d be riots of baby-loving weirdos in the streets.

        • H. Stern says:

          I don’t know why my head goes straight to porn (there’s a joke in there *somewhere*), but yeah. Good points.

          Gabe’s friend is more than welcome to come over… I will sponsor one beer at dinner; the rest is gonna have to be up to him. But yes, Max LOVES playmates, so we’re all good on that front. Saccharine photos on the instagrams would follow.

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