In this episode of Good Girls Talk About Sex, we talk with Kate, a cisgender white woman in a monogamous heterosexual marriage who is 37 years old. Kate is a stripper in Portland, Oregon.
I met her one afternoon when I visited Sassy’s with a friend of hers and she sat down to chat with us between sets.
The first thing I noticed about Kate was that even though I had just seen her dancing naked on a pole, she was one of the most articulate and intelligent women I’d met in a long time. She forced me to come face-to-face with my own judgments about sex workers.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT (CLICK TO OPEN)
LEAH: Hi, I’m Leah Carey and this is Good Girls Talk About Sex. This is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. Before we get started, I want to tell you this. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with the things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!
LEAH: In today’s episode, we’ll meet Kate, a cisgender white woman in a monogamous heterosexual marriage who is 37 years old. Kate is a stripper in Portland, Oregon. I met her one afternoon when I visited Sassy’s Club with a friend of hers and she sat down to chat with us between sets. Kate immediately debunked every myth I’d ever heard about strippers.
So I asked her to sit down with me for an interview. Our conversations went on for 90 minutes and it’s fascinating. There’s so much we couldn’t include in this episode so you’re going to want to hear the whole thing. Now is the time to head over to patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex to access all the full, uncut interviews featured in this show. I’m so pleased to introduce Kate!
So Kate, thank you so much for joining me today.
KATE: Yeah, I’m happy to be here. This is interesting.
LEAH: So the first thing I want to ask you is about your first memory of sexual desire.
KATE: I should probably ask myself that question too.
KATE: I had a crush on a boy that was maybe 2 or 3 grades ahead of me from an early age. I’m trying to remember. I must have been 5 or 6 years old and I had a crush on him. And I already had a sense of, I don’t really remember where I got it, but what sex was or kind of what it involved. I don’t think I understood any specifics but I wanted that with him. He was maybe 8.
KATE: I was like 5. That’s the first crush I remember. His name was Jason.
KATE: And he had three brothers. He was the oldest and the third boy was two years younger than me and he had a hopeless crush on me. This went on for a few years.
LEAH: And did anything come out of it in any interaction?
KATE: No, nothing, ever, never once.
LEAH: So that sort of like school year little girl crush, was there a sense of was that real sexual desire?
KATE: I thought what I was kind of feeling was normal and everyone was that way, maybe. It was only when I was a little older perhaps like a teenager I guess that I realized that some of my feelings might have been a little bit more visceral than other little girls.
Like I said, I’m not quite sure where. I guess it must have been some sort of observation of sex, seeing it on TV, hearing it across the hall from my parents or something. I had some sense, well I don’t really recall how I knew what it was, that I wanted it but I did understand that. I mean I remember that it wasn’t, “Oh, I want to go just hold his hand or something.”
I remember kind of not wanting people to know about it too. Not only did I know what sex was and what the tone of that was as opposed to, “Oh you’re cute. Let’s hold hands on our bicycles.” I understood the tone of it and I also understood that I should not say anything about it or I should not have done it or any of that already at 5 years old. I just knew that somehow as well.
LEAH: Interesting. What was the conversation at home about sex? Was it a sex positive home?
KATE: So my parents split up when I was really little and my mom after a pretty bitter battle with my dad gained full custody of me so I predominantly grew up with her. She remarried fairly soon, my stepdad Brad, they’ve been apart for years now. And my mom was weird.
So by 5, we hadn’t had any talks about anything like that. We had the potty talk and wipe your butt and all that kind of stuff but we hadn’t had anything that resembled a sex talk that I can remember. That came when I was maybe 7 or 8 but in a weird way and like I mentioned, my mom and dad had a really bitter custody battle over me. And my mom, she never really hid anything from me to a point that I would say was invasive.
Some of my first knowledge of what sex was, she took it upon herself to let me know that he had herpes. And that he had dressed up like a woman. And my mom has changed some over the years or maybe she just keeps her mouth shut, but she’s actually quite bigoted when it comes to homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender is just another fucking universe for her I think. But sex was introduced in this weird way where it was like, “This is normal, healthy sex” and this is what it is but there was also an opportunity to really dig at my father. And so when I look back on it, it was a really fucked up thing to do to a kid.
LEAH: What’s your first memory of sexual shame?
KATE: It was pretty far back. So I was in San Antonio, my mom’s sister, my aunt and her family were there and I had two cousins, the younger one which is 3 years younger than me, and I was tiny. I don’t even know, I barely remember this.
But he took me out, past their property, the other yard, and he wanted me to touch his penis basically to play with him. He was a little boy himself and I’d just remember him being mean about it and I didn’t want to. It’s mostly emotions I remember. I can kind of remember this scene and I didn’t want to and I remember realizing I had to basically and not say anything about it.
And I didn’t think about that for years until fuck, I must have been in my early 20s. There were all these pictures and some of them were from a trip to San Antonio. And all of these photos in my aunt’s front yard and down the driveway and then I had this pink jumpsuit on. And I saw the pictures and it was like I just remember the pink jumpsuit and the way that fucking asshole treated me throughout my whole childhood, I know now why he was fucking mean to me.
Yeah, I guess my first memory is coming back to the house from that and knowing I couldn’t tell anybody what happened and at the age I was at, I don’t think I could really have articulated that well either. But I knew it was wrong. It was really wrong. And I don’t ever recall it specifically it ever happening again actually. I don’t know if it did.
LEAH: It sounds like you didn’t hold that as a conscious memory. Do you think that it affected you as you got older?
KATE: I don’t know. I’m not sure. Honestly, there were other things along the way that did so I don’t know. I always remember having an inherent dislike and kind of fear of Chris throughout my childhood. My aunt and my mom when they would come to visit, I remember them talking about, “Why is he like this to her? I don’t know what to do about it.” It was a fucking thing.
And I never really thought about that at another point in my childhood, it was only when I saw those pictures, I saw kind of, “Oh it’s the little jumpsuit” because I remember looking down and trying to put my hands in the little pockets of it. And I remember it was cold and I remember it was just all that and I just was like, “Oh my God.” I don’t think it ever did affect me until later.
LEAH: So what about your first sexual experience? When did that happen?
KATE: It was the summer between 8th and 9th grade is kind of when I got out into the world a little bit more I guess. And we moved to this little town called Estes Park, Colorado and I was hanging out downtown. And there was this girl. Jennifer and I became friends and she was a year older than me and she was dating this sleaze bag named Steve. Steve. Yeah, he had a mustache. He was an asshole.
KATE: He was. And Steve was hot shit and one day somehow it was just downtown where all the hood rats hang out. And it was just me and Steve and he had this shitty apartment across town and it was like I had to walk back home, so I pretty much had to walk by it to go home.
So he’s going to walk me so he offered. It was a hot day I remember and he’s like, “Oh do you want to get some water?” Maybe it was even a beer I don’t even remember. And he told me I was pretty and kind of like started flirting with me which I thought was odd and I remember being concerned with Jennifer being a friend and all that. And somehow or another I don’t know, he kind of persuaded me and then we made out for a little while and then he went down on me, which no one had ever done before, not even close. And I really didn’t know how I felt about that but I left there, I remember after he did it, he acted like he had kind of done me a favor and I remember saying something like, “Well I didn’t ask for it.”
KATE: I didn’t say that. I don’t remember what I said. And I left and it was such a shitty apartment. It had a shared bathroom in the hall way.
KATE: He was walking out with his toothbrush as he walked me down the hall. And I remember walking all the way home just being confused about what had happened. As it turned out, Jennifer never got upset with me or anything. She thought the whole thing was kind of funny. She was cool like that.
KATE: She was ahead of her time.
LEAH: Did you have any pleasure?
KATE: No, really, I found it a little stressful and I was confused about what I was supposed to be experiencing. I just was confused. I knew what was going on. I’d found a copy of Penthouse Forum at some point in there but before that, but I remember the anxiety about Jennifer also being a part of it. And also not really being attracted to Steve and kind of wondering how this even happened.
KATE: But you learn from those things.
LEAH: I remember the first time someone went down on me and I was a very late bloomer so this wasn’t until the end of college.
LEAH: But he went down on me and I did enjoy it. And then he had treated me like he had done me this massive favor.
LEAH: “And I didn’t ask you for that!”
KATE: “What just happened?”
KATE: I was 14 so yeah I was just totally confused about it. Now I look back and I was like he could have been arrested for that. Okay, well, cheers.
LEAH: So what about your first sexual experience where you were like, “Hell yes, I’m in”?
KATE: Yeah, so I actually didn’t really come for me until I had had sex quite a few times with a number of people. But I guess the first time I was really able to get any pleasure from it, I was in high school. I must have been about 16 and I was dating this guy Zack and we didn’t sleep together for a long time in our courtship I guess or relationship. But he was the first person I ever felt pretty comfortable enough with and I had a couple of orgasms throughout but even prior to that, I was into it and I found it enjoyable and I was figuring things out. He was one of the only people that I felt I had gone after. And think that has something to do with looking back on it.
LEAH: That you were all in because he was your choice?
KATE: Yeah. I had been decidedly the pursuer and I mean it’s not that I haven’t had a crush on anyone before or anything like that but the pressure had always been kind of the other way. And when the pressure was off, I don’t know, I finally found out what it was like to be somebody that wasn’t just trying to have sex with me. And so that made it easier for me. Something about it, in those days, turned me off. Now it’s not so black and white but back then, there was something more valuable about that for me.
LEAH: When you say that was easier, what does that mean to you?
KATE: It was easier for me to let my guard down. It’s different when you’re in the position of the pursuer. You’re the one that’s going after somebody and so then when you kind of get what you want, it’s something you’ve been wanting.
But when somebody’s kind of more pursuing me as a kid, it’s not this way anymore, as a kid in the beginning of my sexual experience it felt more like giving in. And it’s different now but then, that’s what it was. And when you give in, in most of the time in life, when you give in to something like that, it doesn’t mean you surrender completely, you just let this thing happen. It doesn’t mean you’re fully relaxed.
LEAH: During those experiences, were you “gave in”, do you feel like you had pleasure in those?
KATE: Yeah, sometimes. The first time I had sex with somebody, it was with this guy. His name was Isaiah and it was in a park in this little town that I was staying in Colorado. And to this day, I don’t know if I would really describe it as rape, but it was coercive.
And when I say coercive, I mean I think that some of the other people that were in the house at that time they knew that his goal was to have sex with me and it didn’t really matter that much if I wanted to do it. And that was fucked up and so after that, it was just difficult to look for anything.
This guy, he decided that he wanted to date me and I think he just went through some kind of cursory dating courtship stuff with me just in order to have sex with me. Did I fight him off away from me? No. Had we been going out for a minute? Yeah, but based on what happened afterwards and everything, it was pretty clear to me that he planned to fuck that night and that was what was going to happen so it’s just good that I didn’t really have much of a fight. Does that make sense? When I look back on it, it was really messed up and I knew it and there was a bunch of drama that happened in my peer group after that because he went around fucking a bunch of girls and stuff. He was kind of an ass and so yeah, he was a real piece of shit. I bet he still is.
KATE: And yeah, so it wasn’t really positive. I had kind of a bad view of sex after that for a while.
LEAH: Yeah, I can understand why. I think there are still a lot of women who don’t understand coercion like that there’s this idea of it is rape because I said no or it wasn’t rape because I didn’t say no. So can you, if you’re comfortable, talk a little bit about what that coercion looked like?
KATE: Yeah in that specific situation, okay. To set up the setting if this was a movie we were starting or something, it’s January. It’s in a small Alpine mountain town in Colorado. The weather is horrendous. Everyone is basically stuck where they are and I am at the home of my new “boyfriend” and there are a number of other people there and there’s nowhere to go because it’s a blizzard outside. And there’s booze and there’s nowhere to go and he wants to have sex with me.
And he’s my “boyfriend” and why shouldn’t I? And so after a while, yeah, there’s really not much of an option in a way. I mean everyone’s wasted. What do I do? I mean when the situation is such that I can’t walk away. I can’t walk out into the environment and I can’t get anyone to take me because we’re up on a hill. It’s just physically impossible for me to get out. And there’s 8 hours left until morning and there’s speed there and booze, no one’s going to sleep. This is what’s going to happen.
LEAH: Do you remember what he said to you?
KATE: It started out with very not pressure-y kind of line of reasoning like, “Hey it’s a blizzard baby. We might as well.” It kind of started as an innocuous, “Well, we got to stay warm kind of thing.”
KATE: To pretty soon it was like, “Well, when are we going to get another opportunity like this?” Then it became, “This is the only time we can do this.” And then, there was the general peer pressure from the other people in the house. His asshole friend Justin was there and then why can’t I remember anyone else at this point? It’s been so many years ago but there were maybe 2 or 3 other kids there.
And it was difficult to avoid because it goes from, “Oh, this is a great idea and we get this opportunity” to “We’re not going to get this opportunity again.” And I remember the last few things he said. He was talking about how other girls would love to have sex with him kind of thing. And I’m not really sure why I let that work on me but it did. And it was the first and the last time now and I didn’t really give a shit after that.
And this was all combined with while sort of making out and being in some sexual activity throughout the evening and it just kind of getting I don’t want to say forceful but maybe pushy, deliberated, continuous. I remember feeling like he was just breaking down the barriers but kind of slowly. You have to understand I was heavily intoxicated to while I have memories of it.
The terrible irony of this whole situation was that after all that happened, our partying woke up his adoptive parents and they came down there and even in that blizzard, they offered to take me home right then. And I said, “Okay let’s go.” And I got home that night, that was the real fucking kicker that one. If we had just been a little louder out there partying or something like that, I would have just been able to scoot.
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LEAH: I guess I want to ask you the obvious questions to get it out of the way which is that I think a lot of people assume that if somebody ends up as a dancer, it’s because they don’t have any other options or they’re so damaged that what else are they going to do? So would you like to answer that?
KATE: I don’t know. It’s like I’m’ not sure I’ll answer it. I’ll say my piece on it. I would also be like what the fuck happened to you that you want to be a cop? What the hell happened to you that you want to be a marriage counselor? What fucking shit happened to you that you want to work for our government? What the hell happened to you that you want to be in the army?
KATE: I mean what the hell happened to all of us in this fucking world? And so as far as that goes, I’d like to answer this in an empirical evidence kind of way but I don’t know if I can because I talk to my dancer friends and because of the nature of our work, we talk pretty openly. Maybe more openly than the way I talked because I’ve done other things for a living. I’ve worked as a bartender. I’ve worked administrative jobs. Those jobs don’t always facilitate talking about things like this so sometimes to me it does look like the people I know as dancers have had more proximity to sexual abuse or physical abuse or just parental abuse of various sorts. And that we’re these damaged people. But I know a lot of fucked up people that aren’t dancers. I know a lot of people who have survived far more sexual assault than I have that have never worked in the sex industry.
LEAH: How did you get into dancing?
KATE: I had been working for my dad. My dad owned a huge night club in Seattle for about 17 years so I was helping to manage it. I was doing all the jobs, I was kind of working towards a career in that field that maybe I might open up my own place up someday. And so I was kind of getting all the experience and then it just tanked.
My dad made some really stupid decisions. Some things happened in Seattle City politics that made that neighborhood develop less after it and businesses in the neighborhood started dropping. There’s a number of factors that made us just lose our assets massively. And so with the Phoenix, that was the name of it, unable to rise again.
KATE: I found myself fairly embittered with the idea of opening up a place. I saw what happened when business partners break up. I lost a whole bunch of money in that, even at a young age, a whole bunch and I thought, “Well fuck this, I’m going to go to college.” So I went for a while and I was piecing it together, bartending shifts here and this kind of shift and every corner of my schedule would change I was like, “Goddamn it I just can’t do this. Something’s got to go.”
I was living in Seattle, I had a few friends that worked at the Lusty Lady, the old peep show, the Lusty Lady, and they said, “Well, why don’t you give it a try?” And I had already done some pole dancing classes and stuff like that. And I was kind of curious about the world of it.
But the Seattle strip club scene is very skeezy compared to what is here and especially then, I was just uncomfortable with it. But there seemed to be some form of safety at the Lusty Lady because there was glass between you and your customers at all times. It was like a peep show. Put money in the slot, the window goes up, there’s dancing ladies on the other side that kind of thing.
And if I knew then what I know now, I would have realized that glass is not a barrier of any sort at all. It might be a physical barrier between you and that person but it’s not any sort of emotional barrier or barrier of the knowledge of the human condition that you’re just about to be thrown into. So if I had known, I never would have even gotten into it. But I did and I lasted several years there until it closed.
LEAH: So how do dancers fit into the world of sex work?
KATE: Okay, yeah. So there are facets, degrees of sex work. I feel like what we do at Sassy’s for instance or like what the girls do at Lucky Devil, Devil’s Point, Mary’s a lot of them are more like reticent to say upscale strip clubs but that a lot of strip clubs is very minor sex work. It’s super vanilla. We have sanctions in place and laws in place in the State and our clubs so you can’t touch us. It’s not that people don’t do it but we can say, “No, it is against the rules you can’t do it.”
One thing that dancers have in common with all other sex workers is that we are selling a fantasy and people always say that, and sometimes they don’t really understand what they’re saying when they say that. It’s my job to try to figure out what this man or woman or couple is wanting from this experience and to give that to them. Now, they can tell me. A man can come in. They can be obvious like, “I love feet. I want to touch your feet. I’m going to give you money. “But it almost never happens that way. We love them but it almost never does.
What really happens is you’re dancing and you have to notice where their eyes are wandering. And I’m up here for one song and he’s looked at my feet three times. So now, you conduct an experiment so they have something in their mind that they want and you or maybe one of the other girls working can make that happen for them. But it’s up to us to facilitate that in a natural feeling way for that customer. And that’s the fantasy that you’re selling. Sometimes they like for it to be your idea, sometimes it needs to be their idea and you just have to plant the idea of would you like some dances in their head.
But that’s what we have in common with everyone else. What they get at Sassy’s is me kind of sitting on their lap, and talking with them, and being sexy, and dancing for you. But what you might get from a high priced escort or something is it’s really the same process. Now it’s many degrees less extreme, severe than being an escort and actually having sex with somebody because it’s a lot more risk. There are bodily fluids exchanged. It’s private. There’s a much higher risk or physical harm. There’s a longer time commitment. The fantasy is more evolved.
So the fantasies that I sell, guys are worse than women, but these guys, when they’re looking at me, they’re seeing whatever they want to see. They’ll get me mixed up with some other girl that doesn’t look anything like me because people see what they’re looking for. You have to see what they’re seeing when they look at you and try to be sort of in line with that. And it’s a different experience when you’re doing that in a public place like Sassy’s and when you’re meting someone in their hotel room. The fantasy is much more involved. It’s going to cost more, it should fucking cost more. And then what I was doing in the Lusty Lady was somewhere in between. I did live one on one masturbation shows with people where there was glass between me and them, but we could talk and everything like that.
LEAH: And you were masturbating for them?
KATE: Oh yes. They masturbated for me too. Hell yeah.
KATE: When I came from the Lusty Lady and came here to Sassy’s and started making good money. And I was kicking myself in the ass so hard. It’s not that I wouldn’t do what I did in the Lusty Lady again but I would never do it for that.
KATE: I had no fucking idea girl, never again. I was at a level of sex work that I wasn’t being compensated properly for because the fantasy I was doing for people was several degrees further out than what I would do for people at Sassy’s. So I learned all kinds of things about the culture of sexuality all around the world and what kind of men would be drawn to me and stuff like that. I just learned so much about sexuality by just the people that would come in and tell me what they were into and also, some of it was not even cultural type stuff. Some of it was just like every powerful looking guy in a suit that I see nowadays, I just expect him to have lacey purple underwear underneath.
KATE: I’m scarred. I’m scarred for life because the men I saw in suits always had on lacey underwear underneath their suits.
KATE: I’m sure lots of men in suits are wearing regular men’s underwear but just the cross section that I got to see of it.
KATE: Yeah and for some reason, all of the East Indian men, they just want to cum on your face. That’s all they want to do. That’s it. It’s like the only porn they have there or something like that I don’t even know.
LEAH: Before we let Kate go, let’s do the Quick Five. Five quick questions that we’d usually be too polite to ask anyone.
LEAH: Favorite sex toy?
KATE: I like just those little egg kind of little vibrator. It’s kind of like a stick with a little egg on the end. Those are very versatile.
LEAH: Oh, well normally I would ask sex during your period but how do you dance during your period?
KATE: I just recently started having periods again when I got my tubes tied in April because I’ve had an IUD for many years so I’ve only had to deal with it once and I just use a tampon but I just cut the string short and then fish it out.
LEAH: I’ve read that same story from friends in theater when they would do nude scenes.
KATE: Yeah, you just deal with it later.
LEAH: Some of these questions are not for people who dance professionally because I believe that you are significantly landscaped in terms of hair.
LEAH: I assume that’s a requirement.
KATE: Yeah, I mean everyone’s kind of got their own style and I like Sassy’s because they don’t try to dictate to you what you should do with your own pubic hair. But yeah, I’m fairly shaved somewhere between 75% and 100% all the time I would say.
LEAH: How much maintenance does that require?
KATE: It’s a pain in the ass. I wouldn’t say I shave every other day. I shave based on when I’m working like I worked last night so I shaved yesterday and then I work tomorrow. Oh God, I’ll have to shave on Thursday too. If I had no work until Friday, I’ll leave that shit right until Friday.
KATE: How much maintenance is as little as I can get away with.
KATE: That’s the answer.
LEAH: I love it.
KATE: So my answer. I can get away with it for a really long time.
LEAH: As little as possible.
LEAH: Do you prefer or have more orgasms from penetration or from clit stimulation?
KATE: I would say it’s actually more about penetration for me. I kind of need both but sometimes I can’t cum without penetration but it’s easier for me.
LEAH: And do you like to have your G-spot stimulated?
KATE: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a big part of oral sex for me. Most of the time in order for me to get there, I have to have at least even just for a minute.
LEAH: Kate, thank you so much for doing this interview. I have absolutely loved talking with you and I’m really grateful to you for just being so vulnerable and open. Thank you.
KATE: You’re very welcome. Thank you. It’s been a very interesting experience for me too. A lot of stuff I hadn’t thought about in years or maybe never even have sat down and thought about so thank you.
LEAH: It’s very much my pleasure.
LEAH: Thanks for joining me today on Good Girls Talk About Sex. If you have questions or comments about something you heard or if you’d like to record a voice memo for use in a future episode, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, let me know if you’d like to be a guest on a future episode. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at IamLeahCarey. Links to any people and resources mentioned in this episode are I the Show Notes. I’m Leah Carey and I look forward to talkingwith you again next week.
Here are some of the great moments Kate shared with us:
- 5:34 – The conversation in Kate’s childhood home about sexuality
- 16:19 – Why being the “pursuer” in a romantic relationship felt empowering for Kate as a teenager
- 28:55 – How Kate got into dancing
- 31:49 – The different degrees of sex work
- 35:15 – Why creating a fantasy is the larger part of sex work
- 36:50 – The different sexual proclivities of men from different cultures
- 38:00 – The Quick Five
In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:
My conversation with Kate went on for a full 90 minutes and covered a TON more topics – including how she balances a monogamous marriage with her career as a stripper. This is a conversation you DON’T want to miss! To hear it, join our listener community at Patreon for just $5 a month.
Editor – Gretchen Kilby
Music by – Nazar Rybak