An Ode To Stripperweb, The Beloved Sex Worker Forum
Rest in peace Stripperweb: 2002-2023.
We like to pretend that if something is digital, then it’s forever. But we know that’s not true. The latest casualty of the rapidly disappearing golden age of HTML forums is Stripperweb, a fever dream of hot pink and bubble letters that contained the crowd-sourced Bible for how to succeed and stay safe as a dancer from 2002 until last week, when it abruptly shut down.
Like the genesis of many an online community, Stripperweb has an unofficial lore – and it goes like this: The site was started by a man named Curtis Pryce who wanted to talk to strippers – but what it became was an online community that fostered burgeoning careers. Stripperweb threads provided tips for everything from which clubs owners would require a lap dance in order to get hired to how to do eye makeup for blacklight to simply giving people a platform in which to discuss how much their knees hurt – all of which was especially important in an era when sex work was majorly stigmatized.
“It maybe sounds corny, but I never had an older sister or anything and [revisiting] the threads in forum felt like getting in a time machine and going back to years ago when my friends older sisters were getting ready and talking bout beauty products before they went out,” says Lili, a dancer who found Stripperweb an invaluable resource for when they started stripping a few years ago. “I feel like I came to appreciate the history of something rather than trying to step into it and be like, ‘I’m here.’”
“People would just give you honest and bad advice, but it was great, that's what you go on a forum for,” says Minka Ashley, a former dancer who was a core member on the site from 2002 to 2009, and still looks forward to receiving a Stripperweb birthday email every year. “There'd be these waves of trends when we all discovered coconut oil and it was the era of it being the cure for everything. I think the thread that girls from back in the day remember the most is the thread about putting Monistat on your scalp to make your hair grow.”
Taja Ethereal started using Stripperweb a little over a decade ago, posting as @PhatGirlDynamite and serving as a mod for almost seven years. She offered to buy the site when its closure was suddenly announced via a banner ad at the top of the forum in January that read: “For over 20 years, Stripperweb had been one of the best resources for exotic dancers and welcome models on the internet. We’ve made the difficult decision to close Stripperweb,” the post read. “Thank you for everyone who has made this such an amazing community.” It also included a link to AmberCutie’s forum, which both Ethereal and Ashley said was not a super relevant space.
As online communities tend to go, Stripperweb wasn’t always a perfect one. Eventually, people started caring more about trying to sell their camgirl courses than about giving honest advice. There was a bit of a power struggle in 2009 between men and women moderators on the site, and a bunch of original accounts got banned in the process, which Ashley describes as “a mess.” There also became less of an urgent need for Stripperweb, partially because as sex work became less stigmatized – even a way to virtue signal – people could discuss it on other forums, or even Twitter (though if you’ve spent any time on that website you know it lacks the nuance necessary for any good advice.)
But what’s lost is a deep archive of knowledge for the people in the industry by the people in the industry – a well of information that not only kept its members looking pretty, but kept them safe.
“I know there's still a lot of problematic stuff in strip clubs, but they were a lot harder back in the day,” says Ashley. “A big thing was always the upkeep of being a dancer, all the stuff you have to do to maintain yourself physically and your appearance was so expensive. There's a lot of commiserating on that.”
But besides the dated beauty advice and cellulite cures, Ashley says there were two forums in particular that helped her career: Hustle Hut, which had all the tips on how to get more money out of people's wallets, and Club Chat, which helped vet which clubs were safe, which clubs were strict on your weight, or which DJs to avoid. There were also conversations about legalities, tips like which clubs would get raided a lot, which kind of licenses you need in Las Vegas, or where you could be arrested for taking your foot off the floor during a lap dance.
“You can't go on the strip club website and read an FAQ and know that the owner is a pervert or that so-and-so's going to rob you,” Ashley says. “It was really, really helpful in terms of safety because I feel like we didn't have this external network that exists now where you can talk about this stuff. You can't just out people, especially in the clubs.”
And while you can talk about sex work more openly on Twitter or TikTok now, Lili says they’ve found those platforms to be more glamorizing of the profession and less of a useful place for insider information.
“I have recently gotten on TikTok and I feel like Stripperweb was for dancers to read, not for other people to consume. It wasn’t content creation, it was people working. I think it’s really sad to see the forum go away because there was just an honesty about it,” they say. “I used Stripperweb as an archival thing more than a place to post. It was more a way to understand what I was stepping into from a place of respect for dancers that have been dancing for a long time.”
When she saw that Stripperweb was being shut down, Ethereal offered to buy it for $12,000 cash, delivered within 24 hours. “I know I was probably one of the first people to jump in there as soon as that banner went up and it was completely ignored,” she says. “It’s just cruel the way they’re doing it.”
It’s not the first time people have tried purchasing Stripperweb. Ethereal suggested a crowdfunding effort in March 2022, but didn’t get a response from the owners until June, declining the offer. “I think that's pretty cruel. It shows that you don't really give a damn about the people who contributed for 20 years,” she says. “Now it's like we're being erased. It's crazy.”
She speculates the users had too much power for the owners’ tastes.
“They don't like the way the site became a place for women to socialize, to unionize,” she says, citing grassroots work around a 2017 stripper strike in New York City. “They don't like it. So they want to burn it to the ground. They could very easily just sell it. But they refuse to.”
The ownership of Stripperweb at this point is murky at best. There’s speculation that Pryce sold it in 2009 or 2010 to two men named Bob and Wayne, who may have been early Hooters founders. But many of the mods are cloaked under usernames, engaging vaguely on threads on a site that no longer exists. And at this point, Stripperweb has been completely taken down.
Thankfully, much of the original site has been preserved on the Wayback machine, as well as by its many users who, as soon as Stripperweb announced it was closing, started building their own archives of posts.
“People are just like, "What? Oh, hell no,’” Ethereal says. “We're a family, we're a team, we're a community. Even though people fight sometimes and whatever, all kinds of little tiffs or whatever. When it came down to it, people are coming together and it makes me happy. But it also makes me sad because I know there's a lot of people who don't have somebody they can talk to about what they do.”
Ethereal says the closure of Stripperweb isn’t a shock, in hindsight. She always knew on some level the site was unstable. It’s why she started the forum Cam Model Web, which she hopes will be a haven away from the misogyny she feels like was taking over Stripperweb, as a backup in 2018. She described the male mods on Stripperweb in recent years as “rude and dismissive” saying that some male mods would bully other users. “It was really difficult and it seemed really obvious that they didn't have a whole lot of respect for us,” she says.
“We were always inclusive on StripperWeb. We have trans models and so forth, escorts and all that. That's going to be the same way in Cam Model Web,” she says. “But we’re clamping down. We're not going to be doing no male mansplaining and all that crap that they were letting them do on Stripperweb for years. I want to do the same vibe minus the misogyny.”
But that doesn’t stop the ache a lot of Stripperweb members have for the site – which was snatched away so abruptly without an explanation.
“It didn't have to go away,” Ashley says. “I think that's the saddest thing. Whatever happened with it and whatever is going on behind the scenes, it just didn't have to be like that.”
Ashley and some of the original members held a virtual wake last week.
“There were only five of us because we were the older people, but it's a lot of people that are really prominent journalists now and activists and people that have done a lot since then,” she says. “It was pretty solemn because nobody knows what's going on.”
She reminisced about original posters – people like a poster named Melanie Charm who was known for having big boobs.
“I think she's retired now because she was older, but she was super into finance stuff. [People were] always going to Melanie Charm for investing advice and stuff,” Ashley says. “And we're all reminiscing, like where do you think Melanie is now? She definitely has NFTs or something.”