Sky’s city centre flat is beautiful. There are house plants everywhere and the attention to detail in every room is impressive, but particularly in the bedroom.
On one side, there is a table covered in makeup products and the opposite wall is occupied by a full-length mirror and a pink, velvet chaise longue.
A clothes rack covered in expensive lingerie is next to it, with lingerie boxes and stripper shoes covering the floor on that corner of the room.
However, the main focus of the bedroom is the mannequin wearing pink, detailed lingerie.
Sky (not her real name) became a stripper in 2018, having always been curious about the sex industry.
“When I found out I was coming to Bristol as a university student, I thought it would be a good time to try,” she said.
“I ended up just popping into Urban Tiger [one of the strip clubs in Bristol city centre] and asking if I could see the manager and they said to come in the following day.
“It was a Thursday in December and it was really busy with Christmas parties, but I came in half way through the shift.
“I remember wearing a dress I could not get in and out of easily and feeling so awkward.
“They had me on stage right away and it was a weird, but fun feeling.”
Sky – who is from Wales and has been living in Bristol for four years – said that at first she struggled with the technicalities of the job such as getting dressed and undressed quickly as well as speaking to customers and trying to get them to spend money on her.
The stripper described her dancing when she started as terrible, but said she felt this was a job she could do straight away.
‘I do not know why I was so intrigued by it’
“I did not care at all about being naked – it just didn’t bother me,” she continued. “When I first started, it felt like something that I had been so curious about even though I had never been to a strip club before.
“I do not know why I was so intrigued by it, I have always been curious about anything to do with sex.”
The sex worker – who is on her 20s – said that at first she felt like a fish out of water as, for instance, she was wearing mismatching underwear.
Describing herself as an introvert, Sky said that initially she was scared to talk to customers, especially if they were in a group.
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“I really had to force myself,” she added. “I can not sit down or otherwise I will just stay there all night.
“It has forced me to be social and, when I get in that situation, I switch into a bubbly persona – the environment brings it out of me.
“I think my stripper persona is just me, but in a more social, flirty and dressed up kind of way.
“I do not put on a fake personality and my hook is being a girl next door kind of woman.”
‘This is my favourite job’
Sky said working as a stripper was the best financial option for her, adding she would not have that kind of money available to her otherwise.
The stripper said she was not able to finish her degree due to her mental health but that, even if she had finished it, she said she doesn’t know if she would have been able to find a job that paid her as well or offered her that much flexibility.
The sex worker said she tries to earn as much as she can and that, when the clubs reopened in the Summer, they were really busy and she was earning double.
She tries to save as much as possible, she continued, and since the Summer she has been able to save a large chunk of money towards a house deposit.
Sky said: “I have done cleaning, retail, office and hospitality work and this is the best.
“This is my favourite job that I have ever done.
“You do not have to work that many hours to be able to sustain yourself and have a comfortable life.
“When I first started, it took me a while to get into the swing of it – but now that I am making good money it is wonderful to be able to look after myself and save.
“It means I do not have to scrutinise the groceries I am buying or stress about bills.”
Inside Bristol’s sex industry
Over the past few weeks, we have been telling the stories of several people who are involved in the city’s sex industry:
These stories come as Bristol City Council is looking into proposals to ban sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) in Bristol.
So far, no decision has been made on the new policy on SEVs, which is currently out for public consultation until December 19.
The sex worker said that a couple of years ago she struggled with anxiety and depression and had to take quite a lot of time off.
Sky said that she had had jobs in the past where she needed time off but was not able to get it.
She continued: “In my old jobs, I would always find myself having to go to the bathroom to cry.
“Now, if I am feeling overwhelmed, I can just not go in for a week.
“It [stripping] has definitely been good for my mental health.
“I was working a full-time job over lockdown and that was really draining, so it is really nice to have that freedom back again.
“My mental health is a lot better now, but I am not completely out of the woods.
“Being able to choose how often I work is extremely valuable to me.”
Sky – who at the moment is working up to four nights a week – said that her strategy is normally to pick one person and spend as much time as she can with them.
She said that older customers do not tend to like her, adding most of her clients tend to in be their 20s, 30s or 40s.
‘It can be emotionally draining’
The sex worker said that lately she has been having quite a few customers who take her to the VIP for a while but don’t get any dances, instead spending the time talking.
“I try to find things that we have in common and go down the very relatable route,” she continued. “I enjoy talking with them, but it can be emotionally draining.”
Sky said that most of the customers are men, but that a couple came in a month ago as the woman was confused about her sexuality.
It turned out that the woman was bisexual, she continued, and had the time of her life after having 10 dances with different women.
“A lot of the time the female customers we get are a bit disrespectful and try to touch you,” she added. “They do not tend to want to spend – if you are a straight girl, there is only so much you can get out of it I suppose.
“They [female customers] sometimes try to get naked or go on the stage.”
Sky said that the initial hook of a strip club is the naked women, but that a lot of people go there seeking companionship.
She said that, if people go to a strip club on their own, someone will offer them company.
The dancer said there are aspects of the job she doesn’t like such as having no say over the house fee, the cut the club takes or how many dancers will be working one night.
She gave the example of a recent weekday night where there were seven dancers working but only four customers came in, adding that the strippers that didn’t get any dances would still have to pay their house fee.
The sex worker said that during the pandemic she turned to adult website OnlyFans to make a living, but hated it as she found it to be 24/7.
She was constantly on her phone and it ended up taking a toll on her mental health, Sky added, as she was up until 4am sometimes messaging people trying to sell them things.
With OnlyFans, Sky said she was making enough to cover her bills and have a bit of money leftover, but she hated it so much she ended up getting a full-time job as a cleaner instead.
‘Women do not stop being attractive’
She continued: “I would like to do this [stripping] for a long time if it was not so unstable.
“There are women in my club who are on their 50s and they are earning more than I do – women do not stop being attractive, they are doing just fine.
“I like dressing up a lot – I really enjoy that aspect of the job. I like the lingerie and the outfits while stripper shoes are really fun.
“It does give me confidence to be wearing those things – just putting them on can make you feel powerful.
“I like all the girls as well.
“I like the job and, regardless of whether you like it or not, having it hanging in the balance like this for a year is pretty cruel.”
At present, there are two sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) in Bristol, both in the city centre, that would face closure if Bristol City Council’s licensing committee goes ahead with a proposal to withdraw licences for the venues.
So far, no decision has been made on the new policy on SEVs, which is currently out for public consultation until December 19.
However, if the new policy is adopted by the council, both of the existing venues – sister venues Urban Tiger and Central Chambers – would be forced to close or change their business.
The stripper said that, if clubs were to shut in Bristol, she would probably go to work to Cardiff, adding she isn’t sure how financially viable that would be if all the Bristol strippers were to go there.
‘I was struggling to assert my boundaries’
The sex worker said that she has previously worked in other clubs, including in Cardiff and in a pop-up strip club in the South West.
“In the pop-up one, there were no regulations whatsoever,” she added. “There were no bouncers to keep an eye on you and there were no cameras.
“There wasn’t a no-touch policy so the customers kept trying to touch you, it was just horrible.
“I am not a particularly aggressive person so I was struggling to assert my boundaries.
“If the clubs were to close, there is no reason why that would not happen here.
“I hate thinking about the strip clubs closing, it is a very scary thought.”
Sky said that the strip clubs in Bristol had recently seen a lot of new dancers starting, adding a lot of these new dancers have other jobs but these are not paying them enough.
The stripper said that she would not feel comfortable doing other forms of sex work, adding she would not feel safe in an environment that wasn’t a club.
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The sex worker said that her partner accepts her working as a stripper as he understands there are clear boundaries and that it is just a job to her.
“That does not mean he wants to hear all the ins and outs about my shift though,” she continued. “He is not a jealous person and he knows that I enjoy it and that it is good money.
“Stripping allows me to have a better quality of life – I would not be able to have the same quality of life without it.
“It gives me time to look after myself by resting and recharging.
“The most stressful thing about the job is not knowing if it is going to be around for that much longer.
“They keep making my job stressful by trying to get rid of it.”
The sex worker said that the proposals to shut down strip clubs in Bristol had taken a toll on her mental health, adding she is trying to save as much as she can at the moment as she is terrified.
Sky said she wouldn’t be able to afford living in Bristol if it wasn’t for stripping, adding that she is looking for stability in her life at the moment and that she is trying to save money to buy a house.
The stripper said that she isn’t ashamed of her job but that she doesn’t like people interrogating her about it, giving the example of an occasion where she went to have a wax and the beauty therapist asked her if there were trafficked women working at the club.
‘My mum asks me every time if the bouncers are still there’
“My family know, I told them the first day I started,” she added. “I thought it would be good to be upfront about it.
“They were worried about it at first because they didn’t know much about it, but then I told them about how regulated it is.
“My mum asks me every time if the bouncers are still there.”
The sex worker said that people who oppose strip clubs do not understand them and do not want to either, adding she feels they wilfully ignore them as they do not fit their narrative.
“I do feel like I have to justify my decision to other people, people want you to justify yourself and understand why you are doing it,” she continued.
“Closing the strip clubs will not stop the demand for them, as the amount of private events that were going on during covid shows.”
Sky said that she thinks closing the clubs would set a horrible precedent as it would be blaming women for men’s actions while infantilising men.
In September, the two strip clubs won the right to operate for another year despite the proposed ban in Bristol and dozens of objections from women’s rights campaigners.
To read the draft policy, with a summary of proposed changes, and to take part visit www.bristol.gov.uk/sexestablishment