Strip joints feature females engaging in provocative dance and titillating disrobing for a predominantly male clientele. Some strip joints do cater to females with male strippers like the Chippendales. Antecedents of the modern striptease include the auletrides of ancient Greece, geishas of Japan, belly dancers of Arabia, and a variety of singing and dancing "strumpets" found throughout history.
Dance is a self-conscious display of personal charms for excitation. Virtually all species of animals, birds, and fishes engage in conscious display to stimulate sexual excitement and attraction. Striptease adds simultaneous disrobing to the dance. Striptease costumes often use clothing associated with the mores and taboos of society, including religious taboos (the nun's habit and crucifix), sexual taboos (the school girl uniform and anklet socks), hunting fetishes (feathers and animal skins), and socio-economic symbols (jewels and furs). Removing clothes both flaunts mores and taboos associated with the clothes and leads to sexual arousal. The gradual revelation of nudity as the stripper's clothes are slowly removed evoke fantasies that lead to sexual arousal. The female breast has been the primary historic focus of striptease. According to Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape, the appeal of the breast is probably associated with the imprinting of the female breast on the male during early childhood resulting in a permanent sexual reflex behavior, in addition to the human erect posture and face-to-face copulation in which the female breast substitutes for the buttocks, which is the primary sexual stimulus of all other primates.
Modern titillation and tease was perfected in the 1860 music halls of Paris and London. After World War I, risqué nudity became commonplace in the cabarets of Berlin, reviews of Paris, and the nightclubs of the New York Bowery, where the term "striptease" was first used. With the sexual revolution, and the civil rights, woman's rights, and free speech movements of the 1960s, striptease became more mainstream and moved into the discotheques, theater districts, cinemas, and adult entertainment districts in most cities worldwide. As striptease became more widespread, it influenced popular dance by introducing sensual and erotic body movements.
In the late twentieth century, striptease evolved from titillating dance into more radical "show routines," "lap dances," "performance art exhibitions," and "sex shows." In the show routine, the striptease is continued to full nudity and to a full gynecological exhibition of the vagina, often with simulated or actual masturbation by the dancer. In the lap dance (and table dance) simulated sex acts are performed on the male observer as the dancer gyrates in extremely close proximity to the observer's body. Some criticize performance art exhibitions for seeking to exploit state and federal grants for arts funding and to avoid zoning restrictions by claiming to exhibit a more artistic and aesthetic rendition of many of the same acts performed in show routines and lap dances. In the sex show, found throughout Europe and the developing world but rarely in the United States, two or more performers engage in simulated or actual sex acts and copulation for the voyeuristic enjoyment of observers.
The strip joint, and its historic antecedents, have served a variety of social functions. The venue has maintained gender separation, providing a males-only retreat where affairs of business, politics, and sport could be conducted. This function was highly criticized by feminists who demanded access to those affairs. The strip joint also has provided an outlet for the male libido. Lewis Berg and Robert Street offer a typical warning in their 1953 marriage manual, Sex: Methods and Manners : "A woman should realize that all normal men are sexually responsive to the exposure of the female body. This is particularly true where strange women are concerned, since the male perpetually seeks variety. It accounts for the popularity of burlesque and girl shows in general, and for exhibitions of the strip-tease, bubble-dance, and fan-dance character. Few husbands, if any, are totally indifferent to these attractions." Thirdly, striptease has offered lucrative wages for female performers, some of whom lack the education, skills, or enthusiasm for other employment. Research has reported that many skilled and educated women abandon traditional careers for higher-paying and less demanding careers in striptease. Some strippers remain active into age 50 or 60.
Offering unconditional sexual stimulation, the striptease artist has functioned as a surrogate lover for noncompetitive men who fear rejection in the post-feminist social world. The striptease offers genuine entertainment and a ration of female companionship for males in military camps, gold fields, industrial centers, and other isolated locations away from opportunities for social interaction with females. Despite the contributions of strip joints and strippers, they are relegated to low social status. Indeed, the strip joint is occasionally a front for prostitution, substance abuse, gambling, and other illegal activities. To limit their impact on the larger society, many communities try to restrict strip joints to certain locations safely away from schools and churches.
Striptease has been used as a symbol of both feminism and anti-feminism. While striptease represents the female right to self-expression and control of her body, it also represents the male chauvinistic exploitation of women as purely sexual objects for entertainment.
—Gordon Neal Diem
Allison, Anne. Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Berg, Lewis and Robert Street. Sex: Methods and Manners. New York, McBride, 1953.
Jarrett, Lucinda. Stripping in Time: A History of Erotic Dancing. SanFrancisco, Harper Collins, 1997.
Langner, Laurence. The Importance of Wearing Clothes. New York, Hastings House, 1957.
Morris, Desmond. The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1967.
Scott, David Alexander. Behind the G-String: An Exploration of the Stripper's Image, Her Person, and Her Meaning. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 1996.
Wilson, Robert Anton. The Book of the Breast. Chicago, Playboy Press, 1994.
Zeidman, Irving. The American Burlesque Show. New York, Hawthron Books, 1967.