Image from KUOW weekdayRecently I was invited to be a guest on Seattle’s NPR station, KUOW (94.9 FM). The topic: “The Future of Adult Entertainment in Seattle.” If you don’t want to spend the next hour listening to the entire program (I come in about 20 mins into the show) here’s a recap with some extra points that I didn’t have time for on the air.

Strip clubs are a point of contention in many communities in the US. Despite its liberal reputation, Seattle is no different. When the Seattle City council recently voted to lift a moratorium on construction of new adult businesses, familiar concerns began to be aired.

Across the US, arguments against strip clubs (and adult entertainment in general) tend to come in two or three forms:

  1. Strip clubs are bad for neighborhoods (i.e. causing increases in crime & declines in property values).
  2. Strip clubs are bad for families and children (creating inappropriate role models for children).
  3. Occasionally in these community debates, some also argue that strip clubs are bad for women  (For space purposes, I will take up #3 in later blog posts).

There are a number of rebuttals to these arguments. First, regarding the argument that strip clubs cause increases in crime and declines in property values:

  • Although many people believe that crime rates are higher around strip clubs and other adult businesses, studies have repeatedly found that this is not true.
  • More complex is the concern about declining real estate values. Many people believe that strip clubs actually “cause” declines in surrounding property value. While at times there is a correlation between the two, it is important to examine how developers and policy makers shape this connection. Real estate developers can be and are major players in adult entertainment regulation; in Seattle, real estate interests were crucial in the redevelopment of First Avenue (AKA “flesh avenue”).
  • Why are real estate developers so invested in matters related to commodified sexuality? Although real estate developers may not personally oppose adult entertainment, they are often faced with economic and emotional hurdles:  1) Zoning laws that prohibit adult businesses within a certain zone of single family homes, schools, churches (thus, if a developer wants to construct single family homes in an area, he or she has a strong economic incentive to oppose the existence of strip clubs in that area), and 2) The assumption that adult entertainment businesses are inherently sleazy, dangerous, scary places (which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy). By marginalizing adult businesses to lonely highway roads and industrial areas, this fulfills the expectation that adult businesses should be hidden. It also means that sexual businesses owners are not expected to contribute as community partners in civic matters.
  • There are examples in Seattle that defy the expectation that sex in the pubic sphere is inherently scary, dangerous, and mutually exclusive to a healthy community. Two well known counter-examples are the Lusty Lady (a peep show across the street from the Seattle Art Museum) and Babeland (a sex toy store). For many years, both have playfully, peacefully, and productively coexisted with other businesses, community groups, and high end condos.
  • In sum, the association between declining real estate values and strip clubs is neither obvious nor inherent, and certainly not causal. In some cases there may even be a positive relationship.

The second main argument against strip clubs – that these establishments are bad for families and children –assumes that adult business employees are hostile and harmful to minors (either specifically, or in general, just by their presence). One proposition I posed for the radio audience, and will pose for readers here as well, is the advantage of using the topic of strip clubs as a way to open up, rather than close down, conversation between parents and kids.

Sexual literacy and media literacy are both increasingly important in our media saturated world. Scholars in these fields consistently stress the need not to censor material simply due to sexual material, but rather to have thoughtful discussions.  Whether these discussions are on the radio, online, in the classroom, or at the dinner table, thoughtful policy comes from curiosity about the connections between personal morals and cultural, political, and economic realities.