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A Sexy Geography Lesson: Strip Clubs and the Politics of Space

Geography doesn’t seem like a sexy subject but a 2008 article in Progress in Human Geography,tells a different story.

Geography doesn’t seem like a sexy subject but a 2008 article in Progress in Human Geography,tells a different story. Strip clubs and schools don’t mix or at least that’s what most municipal governments say when determining where sex-related businesses get built. Cities use zoning laws to regulate sex-related businesses outside of areas deemed family-friendly or residential. According to the authors, the bourgeiosie values of middle-class residents and property owners determine what businesses get deemed public through a politics of concealment:

Through this politics of concealment, the state upholds the liberal principle that adults have the right to consume sexual performances and materials, yet maintains its insistence that obscenity threatens public (urban) order if it becomes publicly or freely available (Leonard, 2005). This politics of concealment has an obvious spatial corollary in the strategic isolation of sex-related businesses in locations where they excite least opposition.1

Urban gentrification helps facilite the politics of concealment in that developers, civic workers, and womens’ rights groups use the politics of respectability to push certain venues out of urban space, replacing them instead with more corporate friendly entertainment like gentleman’s clubs. Therefore, the politics of concealment ensure that the sexual proclivities of straight white men get privileged over women and people of color.
Magic City, Atlanta, GA
The article claims the spaces of sex-related businesses in an urban landscape reveal insights about the sexual values of various social contexts. The shifting attitudes toward sex-related businesses lead to the commercialization of some industries. As urban areas get gentrified, some forms of sex-related businesses get deemed necessary for the entertainment economy while still others continue to face stigma. Ultimately, the commercialization of adult entertainment maintains boundaries around what society deems sexually appropriate behavior, leading to the marginalization of working-class people and women.

Mapping the Shifting Sexual Landscape

Geographers first started to examine sexuality and place through queer scholarship on gay and lesbian residence, which allowed them to scrutinize hegemonic heterosexuality. Much of the research on the geography of sex work focuses on street prostitution. Nevertheless, sex work happens in numerous other establishments as well as virtually.

So, how did your local strip club end up in its specific spot, tucked away from prying eyes? Adult industry Venus contribute significantly to the entertainment economy but the visibility of certain sex-related businesses depends on corporate investments.

Historically, society characterized the naked body as obscene. The middle-class men who legislate the naked body regulate this perceived obscenity with various forms of censorship.They are aided in part by the activism of reformers that claim women should be saved from exposure to sex work.

Miss Topsy

For example, during the 20th century, reformers targeted the burlesque industry. This form of entertainment working-class women who sought employment in the dancehalls in early industrial America. Reformers claimed the working-class male audience members endangered women passing by and that burlesque encouraged them to chase sex and drugs rather than start families. Indeed, in the liberal world of burlesque, the performance of drag artists also troubled reformers, who alleged (without evidence) such venues would increase same-sex relations.

How Corporate Interests Shape Sex Work Place

Court battles over the sex industry increased during the 1970s, leading to greater law enforcement of where these venues could be spaced. For example, a California mayor in the 1970s introduced adult business zoning laws due to pressure from the Hotel Employers Association and women’s rights groups. In response, entrepreneurs converted their businesses into X-rated video-rental outlets. Once again, bourgeoise ideology shapes the political economy of the sex industry through the implementation of zoning laws.As a result, these venues get regulated away from residential and family areas.

Middle-class residents and property owners typically fear proximity to sex-related businesses. Nevertheless, the sex industry is recognized an aspect of growing consumerism. The mainstream sex-related bussiness is now a recreational space where male consumers commodifies women’s bodies. As the saying goes, “Sex sells,” and this results in the mainstreaming of sexual commerce.For those who the law privileges, sex work has officially corporate. As a result, certain sex-related businesses seen as integral to urban geography.

Why Your Neighborhood Strip Club Might Get Rezoned

The more liberal attitudes toward sex-related business has led to a rebranding of a place once regulated to the margins. Once known as “vice,” commercial sex-related businesses are known as “adult entertainment.” However, with these newer definitions come new rules, defining whose sex-related business gets to be where and how visible that business will be.

Legislation of adult entertainment varies locally and nationally. Businesses get regulated based on the extent they promote ‘a moral panic’ or defy a community’s sense of propriety. Affluent residents distance themselves from awards where adult entertainment gets located.People ascribe respectability and value to these neighborhoods, while developers label neighborhoods containing sex-related businesses as obstacles to ‘reinvestment’ (gentrification) that should get removed. Ultimately, gentrification replaces sex-related business with corporate development.


  1. Page 366 in Hubbard, Matthews, Scotland, and Agustin (2008) 

CC BY 4.0 A Sexy Geography Lesson: Strip Clubs and the Politics of Space by Blackfeminisms.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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