las vegas souvenier

Can a place associated with gambling, magic shows, strip shows, too much alcohol, all bachelor and bachelorette party movies, the third-to-last episode of every reality show ever and waking up in what you can only assume is water at a hotel you have never been to…wait, what was I asking? Oh, yeah, can that type of place be the most romantic city in the world? Can a location so filled with illusion and grandeur be genuinely helpful to your love life?

To me, the answer is yes. It will not be an answer I share with many people for a number of reasons, but then, I can only tell you my own opinions on romance, as I am not good at guessing nor explaining anybody else’s.

Everyone I know will say Paris or Rome, New York City or São Paulo. Most magazines’ lists will top off with Buenos Aires or Kyoto, Copenhagan or Vienna. They cite the architecture, the history, the overall atmosphere. Each person can recount how many romantic movies have been set there and all the sweet love songs that sing about it. But I can’t help it: I absolutely love Las Vegas, and in just my few trips there, it has managed to make me understand considerably more about what I want and don’t want out of my love life, sex life and youth (whatever that means).

When it comes to sex, I am somewhat closed off to certain things. Despite being very open-minded regarding other people’s wants, needs and questions, I feel silly having my own. Though I discuss certain aspects of my romantic life online, it’s fairly obvious that I’m doing it, in a way, behind a mask. Yes, you can Google my name and see what city I live in, what social media networks I use, and even what I look like. But if you hate my stories, I just have to live with your angry comments (I think I got called a “slutty bisexual” four times before breakfast today, no exaggeration). A barrage of pissed of people on the Internet may hurt sometimes — actually, probably more than I’d care to admit — but it doesn’t cut nearly as deep as when people shoot you down or call you weird in person.

That is where Las Vegas steps in. In Vegas, you can not only be whomever you want to be, you can also be yourself.

I personally love strip clubs. Love them. But the majority of my friends in high school or college either (A) saw strip clubs as dirty, disgusting places with dirty, disgusting employees serving dirty, disgusting customers or (B) for misogynists and lowlifes or (C) a place you only go for bachelor parties, whereas bachelorette parties are supposed to be at a restaurant and involve penis-shaped lollipops.

However, I think strip clubs are rather fantastic, and have been to a great deal of them where the women are happy to be employed there, not simply because of the money, but because it is enjoyable to them. Though people often assume they know everything about women employed at strip clubs simply by looking at them, they’re often mistaken and just feeding into stereotypes about daddy issues and depression and that they’re all just waiting for somebody to save them (our own Cathryn Berarovich, who writes the beloved Harlotry series, has elaborated on these types of attitudes). But there are plenty of women and men who simply enjoy the line of work, and particularly since being in Portland, I’ve encountered dozens of people at strip clubs who say there’s nothing they’d rather be doing.

And yet being a female and enjoying strip clubs is difficult; many people, as I mentioned, find them seedy and find those who enjoy them, particularly women, as “weird” in some way. In general, I’ve always thought exhibitionism was fascinating — just so long as it remained respectful — but never really knew how to seek it out in some way. After I went to my first strip show, detailed here, despite feeling extremely conflicted about the experience, I eventually realized that Las Vegas is about experiencing the fantasies you never got to explore at home, like so:

Yes, I may never again be surrounded by a bunch of ridiculously muscular, tanned men from Australia, but it did give me this weird piece of knowledge about myself regarding what I’m attracted to as I get older (not necessarily fitness models, but people who are physically much stronger than myself — something I have deeply feared since I was 13). And upon going to other strip shows and exotic clubs, I realized that I had been holding back my urges to both enjoy others’ sexual exhibitionism, as well as my own desires.

I get that this sounds strange and kind of like I’m feeding in to some weird aspects of my personality that don’t really need exploring, but honestly, being able to at least have an awareness of what I am attracted to has given me such a huge insight into things that have happened to me long ago, as well as how they affected me in ways I never, ever realized.

Not only did I enjoy my own experiences, I’ve also seen others have their own come into focus because of this most ridiculous of cities. A close friend of mine had been trying to explore BDSM with her partner for a while, but he had discouraged her quite a bit and insulted her desire to pursue it, calling it degrading, revolting and weird. As a result, she felt more shame than happiness in both her relationship and sex life. During her first trip to Vegas, she met dozens of people who were openly interested in and practicing the same lifestyle she had so longed for. When she left to go back home, she was equipped with the confidence she needed to express her interest and find people who didn’t dismiss her sexual wants. Now, she’s extremely happy, free and totally comfortable with who she is.

When I see bachelorette parties full of 40- and 50-something-year-old women letting lose and dancing in a club, I get so stoked; in most cities, they might be considered “too old” because the world is stupid and ageist. There are plenty of people who have never had the chance to go dancing when they felt like it, whether they were too shy or constantly working or had kids who needed to be taken care of.

But whenever I’ve been to LV, I’ve always seen so many happy people who look like they’re having one of the freest nights of their lives, and that is incredibly invigorating to view. People who have never gotten drunk or played a game of poker before, sure, but also people who have never approached a stranger simply to dance or have never really gotten a chance to flirt with somebody. It’s beautiful to see humans try new things, particularly new things they love, because you can see the excitement and spark in their eyes.

And it wasn't just because of all the studded jumpsuits.

And it wasn’t just because of all the studded jumpsuits.

So why would these realizations help a person’s love life? Because in my opinion, it’s impossible to get what you want until you know what you want, and get a chance to experience it without fear of rejection (provided it’s safe and consensual and all that, obviously). Until we know what we desire, how can we obtain it? Sure, you may not have romantic sex in a vineyard in Italy or dance under the moon in Quebec City. You may not find your true love, but you may find what you truly love, and that is the best souvenir I can think of.

Photos: stevendepolo / Flickr, my 23rd birthday, Moyan_Brenn / Flickr.