Womens Support Project

"Adult entertainment" / Lap Dancing

"Adult entertainment" / Lap Dancing | Prostitution | Pornography |

The Women’s Support Project takes the view that ‘entertainment’ is not an appropriate term to describe commercial activities that make money out of portraying women as sexual objects. Nevertheless the term "adult entertainment" is commonly used to describe activities such as stripping and lap dancing.


‘Adult entertainment’ is part of a spectrum of commercial sexual exploitation  and contributes to a culture in which women are viewed as objects available for the sexual gratification of men. These activities are based on gender inequality within an environment of predominately male power and control and play a part in normalising sexual violence against women.  Download our leaflet - "Adult Entertainment or exploitation?"

Forms of ‘adult entertainment’ include:

  • Lap dancing
  • Pole dancing
  • Table Dancing
  • Stripping
  • Peep shows
  • Web Cam workers

The Adult Entertainment Working Group (AEWG) was formed by the Scottish Government in 2005 to research, review and scope the impact of adult entertainment activity and make recommendations on a way forward for Scotland. This followed concerns expressed about the lack of controls on adult entertainment activity.

The AEWG agreed on this definition of adult entertainment:
" The performance in a public place of any activity that a reasonable person would, in all the circumstances, consider to be for the purpose of providing sexual gratification and/or titillation.”

See here for the full AEWG report.

Glamourising exploitation

The sex industry has pushed to glamorise adult entertainment, particularly lap dancing, and promotes it as exciting and lucrative ‘work’ for women. Media reports of visits to lap dancing clubs by well-known faces, such as Robbie Williams and Sophie Dahl, contribute to the sex industries efforts to give lap-dancing clubs an air of respectability and acceptability. Large companies and financial institutions such as The National Westminster bank have had corporate accounts with a lap dance club, as do other city firms in London, with a corresponding negative impact on women’s equality in the workplace...more

In reality all the above activities share common features, particularly the fact that in ‘adult entertainment’, unlike all other forms of entertainment, the audience is overwhelmingly male whilst the performers are overwhelmingly female.  Unlike other dance performances where the audience members pay for a ticket, in adult entertainment the women have to pay the club in order to perform, and then the men pay the women directly.  This puts pressure on the women dancers, and increasingly men expect explicit sexualised behaviour and full nudity.  A variety of dances are offered in clubs and are performed both in the main public areas and in private booths or areas that are curtained off.  Scottish research with 110 men who had bought sex in prostitution found that 31% of the men had accessed prostitution through a lap dancing club...more

Over the past ten years lap dancing has increasingly featured in the media, with storylines in soap operas, newspapers, documentaries and films. A 2007 Lilith Project report stated that, “When East Enders ran a storyline featuring a lap dancer in 1998, the actor was sent ‘sackfuls’ of mail from men asking her to do private dancing for them and requests from Sunday tabloid newspapers asking her to do ‘glamour’ modelling.” ...Download the full report

Clubs are advertised on flyers, in magazines, on local taxis and on larger billboards. Promotional staff hand out flyers in shopping areas, high streets and in pubs / clubs with large poster adverts driven round town centres.  Some clubs offer lessons to women. marketed for those who want to dance for their partner. This increasing presence in mainstream culture normalises activities that are based on gender inequality, exploitation and objectification.

Scotland is promoted as a culture grounded in human rights and equality for all but the licensing and presence of venues contradicts the stance that commercial sexual exploitation is a form of violence against women.

Licensing legislation

Within the industry itself, there is denial that lap dancing is linked to the sex industry. None of the club owners or customers interviewed for the Lilith Project research 2007, Inappropriate Behaviour (Format: PDF, Size: 934kb) -  defined the clubs as part of the sex industry.   Venues which are classed as sex encounter establishments have to pay much higher fees for a license – therefore the current public entertainment license is a cheaper option.

Clubs offering ‘adult entertainment’ have to apply to the local authority Licensing Board for a public entertainment license in order to legally operate.  Although current activities are much more explicit and sexualised than even stripping was previously, the legislation has not been updated to take this into account.  Furthermore most people do not realise that lap dancing and similar activities are licensed in the same way as non-sexual, non-exploitative activities, such as comedians or karaoke.

Entertainment licenses in Scotland are currently regulated under Section 41 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982

The Licensing Board of each local authority has to make objective decisions on applications, based on this legislation.  There are a limited number of valid grounds for objecting, e.g. premises are not suitable for sale of alcohol or proposed use, or undue public nuisance or threat to public order and safety. Currently it is not possible for a local authority to object on the grounds of the nature of the entertainment in itself.  This means that it is not possible for a Local Authority to impose a blanket ban on lap dancing and similar clubs, even if the Council holds policies that identify these activities as sexual exploitation and as contributing to gender inequality.

Conditions can be applied to the license– such as workers conditions, the advertising and promotion of the venue, it’s outside appearance and customers behaviour.  These conditions are regularly breached with clubs licenses suspended; see for example, Lap dancing venues and pub fall foul of licensing laws  Bindel 2004 also found this was a regular occurrence with none of the clubs in the study adhering fully to license conditions...more

The current legislation also sets limits on who can oppose licenses; ‘relevant objectors’ being only the police, the Local Authority and people who live or have businesses beside the proposed club. Other individuals or organisations do not have a right for their opposition to be taken into account in the decision-making.

The Scottish Government’s Consultation on Regulation of Sexual Entertainment Venues ended in September 2013

What are the impacts of adult entertainment / lap dancing?

Advocates of lap dancing say that it is purely entertainment; that women choose to work there, that the dancers make a lot of money and that working conditions offer flexibility to women that other employment does not.  It is also suggested that this is empowerment and a way for women to gain control and express their sexuality.  This does not take into account the objectification of women, and ignores the fact that many of these women would not be involved in lap dancing if they had better economic prospects.

Women dancers are often featured in ‘lads mags’ on late night TV and through ‘tours’.  Obviously a few women do make money and for a while appear to lead a glamorous lifestyle, but these women are not representative of all women involved.  Research undertaken with women involved has found that the realities of their working conditions are often far removed from that promoted by the sex industry.  For example:

"If you`re masturbating someone through his trousers with your arse," she says bluntly, "then that`s definitely a sexual service. It`s outrageous that lap-dancing clubs are offering that kind of experience when they only need the same licence as a cafe ... No matter what the owners tell you, these places are 100% sex industry."
Jenni as quoted by Libby Brooks, Lap dancing clubs are not cafes The Guardian, 2009

“As someone who has worked in the industry in recent times, I know that the vast majority of women who do this aren`t happy doing it at all (no matter what the smile on their face says as some complete stranger puts money down their knickers!). They eventually end up trapped to the industry, controlled by others (usually violent men) and emotionally screwed up and loathing themselves for many years to come. Make no mistake, this isn`t a glamorous industry where adults just have a bit of `fun` - sure, we kid ourselves it is just to take the guilt of doing it or going to it away and to make us feel better about it all but, but it`s far, far, far from it. Women choose to go into the industry not to please themselves (many will tell you this because it sounds like they are in control) but sadly deep down it`s to please men.
Natalie, London, 2008 as quoted in the Guardian comment. Don`t license them, shut them down

“It explodes the myth that it can be likened to, and regulated in the same way, as karaoke, live music and cabaret. These establishments are not providing benign and harmless fun. Make no mistake this is sheer exploitation of women – sexual and financial. These are sleazy strip clubs and no amount of talk of being ‘up market’, ‘elegant’, and ‘top end of the market’ will change that”
Councillor Jim Coleman, Deputy Leader of Glasgow City Council, from the foreword to Profitable Exploits 2004 - Profitable Exploits (Format:PDF, Size: 436kb).

Harmful impact recognised by Employment Tribunals

Women who have worked as lap dancers, and women who have been adversely affected in their employment by ‘adult entertainment’, have won cases at employment tribunals.

The Profitable Exploits report highlights the experiences of the women dancers within a culture of discrimination. A former head waitress at Spearmint Rhino, London, was awarded £60,000 by an employment tribunal for sexual discrimination, breach of contract and hurt feelings.

The culture of corporate entertainment at lap dancing clubs has been challenged through tribunals.  It has been common to have business meetings, entertain clients and celebrate deals at lap dancing venues, with some establishments offering unmarked receipts for expenses.  See for example City `strip club culture is rife`

A female employee of investment bank, Schroder Securities, took the firm to an employment tribunal on the ground of sexual discrimination. Part of her case against the bank was the regular trips by male colleagues to lap-dancing clubs, resulting in the firm having a “laddish or sexist air”.  See `Sexist` Schroder

What can I do?

If you are concerned about the sexual exploitation of women through ‘adult entertainment’ and want to make your views known, you could write to your local Councillor, the leader of your local council, and to your MSP.  Most importantly though is to write to the Scotish Justice Minister calling for new legislation which would enable local Councils to set a local level for provision of lap dancing and other similar establishments.

  • Tell them why you object to lap dancing style clubs, including any impact on your every day life, and your feelings of safety.
  • Where appropriate include personal examples.
  • Where appropriate include concerns about children and young people.
  • Highlight any links you see to other areas of violence against women.
  • Ask them to lobby the Scottish Government to amend licensing legislation to allow for objections on the grounds of the nature of the activity, and to enable local Councils to set a local level for provision

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