I’m something of an accidental strip-club frequenter. I’ve patronized clubs from Vegas’s Spearmint Rhino to a Detroit 8-Mile staple called the Coliseum to the tin-roof patchwork, double-wide glory of the Beehive in Western PA. I’ve seen a myriad of dancers and calibers from bottle service and burlesque to misspelled pubic tattoos and bullet holes in the bathroom.

When I was a teenager the only place that would serve my hell-bent underage self was the club where my friends worked as dancers. Being thirsty and bored I spent a lot of my misguided youth at The Stable. Before topless joints became my premier YA hangout I’d never really seen a naked chick, save for the bush-heavy group showers at Christian camp when I was nine. Blame it on the whiskey, but I learned to feel really comfortable in a strip-club environment. Being a girl myself and having friends in the industry granted me ingress to the workings of a club and the grievances of the dancers.

Whether there of their own accord or at the request of a male companion, girls spectating in strip clubs are a trend. Wherever you fall in the female demographic — initiated, disdainful, or inquiring — here are a few points of reference for the American strip club.

Preliminary Questions

Who should go to a strip club?

The experience isn’t for everyone, and unless you can walk in with deep pockets and an open mind it’s probably best to stay at home. If you’re curious, confident, and have an appreciation for the female form and the fine art of the twerk, go. Alternatively, you might hold a feminist stance on the dangerous correlation between gentlemen’s clubs and the objectification and commodification of women. Duly noted and respected; you’re entitled to your opinions, but it’s best to keep yourself and your discourse out of the club. No one likes a vegan at a pig roast.

Why would I want to go to a strip club?

You want to see a show, you like hot naked girls, or maybe Grey’s Anatomy is a rerun this week. On a purely gymnastic level stripping can be extraordinary. I’ve seen performances in a club that rival anything Cirque du Soleil has spat out. Take Savanna from the Stable, mom of three and a dead ringer for early-’90s-era Stephanie Seymour. I once watched her ascend a pole upside down using the sheer force of her leg muscles only to invert and land in a split to the bass drop of Tommy Lee’s oft overlooked opus “Get Naked.” She’s the sole reason I took up pilates classes. Or the chick in Key West, naked save for a gigantic Chinese dragonhead on her shoulders, who spun fire poi to the grievous beat of “Hells Bells.” One in four dancers is a college graduate, and Theatre and Studio Art degrees are expensive, copious, and rank low in career utilization, so it’s fitting that your local Suicide Girl can throw down something bordering on performance art.

Should I go to a strip club with my partner?

Patronizing a strip club with your partner can be exciting for both parties and add intensity and intrigue to your sex life. But it can also be a colossal failure. If you’re going with your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife, have a conversation beforehand about expectations and conduct. He/she is going to receive flagrant female attention, but so are you. Every time I’ve visited a gentlemen’s club with a boyfriend (who may or may not have been a gentleman) the dancers always approached me first, complimented me, and gave the courtesy of asking if it was ok to dance for/on him. If you’re prone to insecurity or jealousy or opposed on principle to dancing naked women, stand up for yourself and tell your partner to devise another way to keep it interesting. Like a gimp mask or furry costume perhaps.

If you go to the strip club in spite of your own convictions to please your partner it will not end well. You’ll be angry, sitting with crossed arms while he’s confused, smiling weakly as you throw death glares at the nice girl in a fishnet onesie just trying to make her car payment. Sidebar, her car is most certainly nicer than either of yours. Said dancer will feel uncomfortable and likely pissed that you and your domestic are taking up prime paying real estate. No one has a good time.

Practical Information

Common strip-club misconceptions

No one wants to sleep with your boyfriend. It’s a stripper’s financial prerogative to feign interest. To her the most attractive thing about your partner is their wallet. If you’re concerned about your significant other cheating, he’s likely a slimy bro to begin with, or you’re insecure. Either fact has little to do with a strip club. The girls are there to hustle and get paid not homewreck. On the other side of the spectrum, the stripper in question doesn’t want to sleep with you either. She’s not there to manifest your bi-curious fantasy or the drunken promise you made four drinks ago to finally have a threesome. Don’t make it weird.

Drop your assumption that every dancer is a drug-fueled, glitter-and-booze-soaked train wreck whose dad left when she was seven. Show me a person and I’ll show you an issue, and drugs and single parents are kind of an equal-opportunity epidemic, so let’s stop pretending strippers are the only girls on earth who do blow and hate their dads.

If you’re thinking exotic dancers do what they do out of desperation or an unslakable need for attention, allow me to share some facts and figures. The job market for young people is bleak, and there’s a strong chance the stripper you’re judging makes way, way more money than you. A recent study estimates the average salary of an exotic dancer to fall anywhere from $40–130,000 per year. Additionally most dancers spend far fewer hours on the job than those with mainstream careers, freeing up time for travel, additional education, and not moving back in with their parents. Exhibit A.

What to wear

Make the effort to wear something you look and feel good in, whatever that may be. Keep your breath fresh; a customer’s rank mouth is the most common complaint amongst dancers. Avoid anything so provocative it’ll read as competitive to the entertainment. While we’re on the subject, if you happen to be visiting a club with a man, don’t allow him to wear sweatpants, athletic shorts, or any other creepily thin material he’s hoping will enhance his experience. Just no.

Conduct and tipping

Dancers, like bar staff, valets, taxi drivers, and your manicurist, rely on discretionary income to support themselves. Depending on the venue dancers are also responsible for tipping out the bartender, DJ, bouncers, valets, and make-up artists in addition to paying a flat fee to the house. Come prepared to tip. Whether you’re there as a solo patron or the cohort of a man, you’re still privy to the show. Put up some cash, but make sure you hit up an ATM before you get to the club. Strip club ATMs are notorious for exorbitant surcharge fees.

If this is your first time in a strip club, take it slow like a vintage R.Kelly song. Odds are it’s going to be dark inside and heavy on the black lights. There doesn’t exist a body that can’t benefit from black lighting. This includes you. Teeth look whiter and asses look tighter, fact. Start at the bar, try not to scoff at the ridiculous price of your drink, and tip your bartender well. Survey the scene from this position of relative safety. Don’t begin to nervously text — most clubs have a cell-phone restriction of some kind, and looking bored or distracted while naked people are around is kind of rude and reserved for Fiona Apple videos.

If a dancer approaches you at the bar, be friendly and courteous. If you’re not interested in a private dance, decline politely and don’t be afraid to let them know it’s your first time at such an establishment, and maybe throw out a compliment. People like to hear nice things, especially when they’re naked. They don’t like rolled eyes or indifference. Maybe a dancer sits down, and after a little small talk you decide the stripper and you have SO much in common you’re destined, through a shared love of George A. Romero films and American traditional tattoos, to be besties. You start fantasizing, wholesome or perverse, about having a slumber party and going to book club together. That’s sweet, but time is money so make sure to be a gentlelady and buy her a drink and tip her for her company.

If you feel comfortable or inclined enough to make your way to the stage, be forewarned that you’ll receive more attention and are expected to tip for the privilege. There are lots of ways to surrender this cash. Most commonplace is to slide the bill under a garter or pulled G-string. If you’d rather not touch a stranger’s G-string, you can always place your dollars on the stage in front of you. Industry standard is one dollar per song, but if you’re receiving lots of attention and have recently had your face pressed between someone’s tits, a stronger tip is in order. Provided you have the means, take your tipping cues from Rihanna.