Exterior of a sex shop in New York City that also provides a peep show

A peep show or peepshow is a presentation of a live sex show or pornographic film which is viewed through a viewing slot.

Several historical media provided voyeuristic entertainment through hidden erotic imagery. Before the development of the cinema in 1895, motion pictures were presented in peep boxes, such as the kinetoscope and the mutoscope. These remained relatively popular for erotic and pornographic films, such as What the Butler Saw.

In contemporary use, a peep show is a piecewise presentation of pornographic films or a live sex show which is viewed through a viewing slot, which shuts after the time paid for has expired. The viewing slots can be operated by a money box device, or paid for at a counter.

Pornographic peep shows became popular in the 1970s as part of the developing pornography industry. Until home video became widespread, peep shows made up a major part of the way in which video pornography was accessed. In 1986 a US Presidential report into pornography said that peep shows were making significant earnings which were often undeclared or untaxed, and in some US locations peep shows were subsequently suppressed.[1]

For live peep shows, booths can surround a stage upon which usually a female performer performs a striptease and sexually explicit poses. In Barcelona female performers at times also perform sexual intercourse with male performers on stage. In some cases, booths include paper towel dispensers[2] for customers who engage in masturbation. A customer and performer can mutually agree on a fee for a "private dance", which can take place in a peep show booth with a clear window and seating space for only one spectator.


The former Lusty Lady in San Francisco, California

Research on peep show establishments in California[3] examined the hypothesis that neighborhoods surrounding sex businesses such as peep show establishments and X-rated movie stores have higher rates of crime. The researchers compared 911 calls in peep show and control neighborhoods in San Diego. Although peep show neighborhoods had approximately 16 percent more calls, the researchers concluded that the difference was not statistically significant. Other researchers reanalyzed the data and concluded that the difference was significant.[4]

Regal Show World

Regal Show World was an adult entertainment business on lower Market Street in San Francisco, California.[5] The company's slogan was "Where you are king".[6] The business had a peep show and an adult video arcade.[5][7][8] The peep show had performers working in an enclosed round room with viewing booths surrounding it and sometimes had a "double in the bubble" show in which two performers worked simultaneously.[6] During the winter of 1997 to 1998, the business had thirty-five performers.[5] At this time, over 80% of performers there attempted to unionize and "signed union authorization cards for representation by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 790".[5]

The business was owned by Bijou Group, Inc., a privately held company in San Francisco that was founded in 1990.[9][10] Bijou Group owned similar businesses in San Francisco such as New Century Theater, Market Street Cinema, and the Campus Theater.[5][11] Bijou Group, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization c. 1994.[11] In November 1998, management of Regal Show World announced that the peep show would be closed on November 30 of that month due to "economic reasons".[5] At the time, some performers in the industry stated that closure of the peep show was done as a retaliative measure against attempts for performers to unionize.[5] The company declared bankruptcy after performers made a second attempt at unionization, whereby the performers "signed cards calling for a union election", and the theater was closed.[12]

Lusty Lady

The former Lusty Lady peep show in San Francisco, California, entered the news in 1997, when it became the first U.S. sex business to be unionized. In 2003 it was bought by the employees and became a worker cooperative. It closed due to increased rent in 2013.[13]


In Las Vegas in the early 1990s, city authorities began to move peep shows and other sexually oriented businesses away from the city centre. The last peep show in Las Vegas closed in 2019.[1]

New York

Times Square in New York was famous for its peep shows up until the 1990s. Female performers would stand undressed on a small semicircular or circular stage surrounded by individual booths. By inserting a token into a machine, a patron could open the opaque partitions separating them from the stage. He could then choose a performer and, for the payment of a small tip, summon her and fondle her sexually or ask her to perform sex acts on him. After taking office as mayor in 1994, Rudy Giuliani waged a legal battle to shut down the Times Square peep shows. Following a major legal decision in Giuliani's favor in 1998, the peep shows mostly closed.[14]


The marquee for the Lusty Lady peep show in Seattle

The former Lusty Lady peep show in Seattle, Washington, was, unlike its namesake in San Francisco, not unionized. Similar to the Lusty Lady in San Francisco, however, the Seattle peep show was deemed an iconic local landmark by the time it finally closed in 2010. Its closing was attributed to being unable to compete with pornography on the Internet.[15]

In popular culture

American singer Madonna plays a peep show dancer on the video for her song, Open Your Heart.[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b Kelly-Leigh Cooper (28 September 2019). "Showgirl Video: The last peep show in Las Vegas". BBC News.
  2. ^ Jon Griffin Donlon, "Peep Shows," St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. According to Dr. Elliot Chiu, "At first, small booths with a seat, a lock, and a roll of paper towels were made available for individual viewing of 8 or 16 mm stag loops or for access to a usually circular 'stage' with living performers."
  3. ^ Daniel Linz, Bryant Paul, and Mike Z. Yao, "Peep show establishments, police activity, public place, and time: A study of secondary effects in San Diego, California", The Journal of Sex Research, May 1, 2006.
  4. ^ Richard McCleary and James W. Meeker, "Do peep shows 'cause' crime?", The Journal of Sex Research, May 1, 2006.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Exotic Dancer's Alliance - Winter 1997–1998". Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b Lilmissnever (2007). "Live Nerd Girls". Archived from the original on 14 June 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2015 – via LiveJournal.
  7. ^ Davidson, G. (2012). Queer Commodities: Contemporary US Fiction, Consumer Capitalism, and Gay and Lesbian Subcultures. American Literature Readings in the Twenty-First Century. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 159. ISBN 978-1-137-01123-7.
  8. ^ "Spectator. The Voice of Erotic San Francisco Vol. 33, No. 1; Issue 834, September 23-29". Alta-glamour.com. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  9. ^ "Bijou Group Inc". Manta.com. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  10. ^ "Bijou Group Inc". Findthecompany.com. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Erotic Dancers Receive Cash Judgments for Wages in Oregon and San Francisco; Mitchell Brothers Next?". November 17, 1995. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  12. ^ Dank, B.B.M.; Roberto Refinetti, P.D. The Politics of Sexuality. Sexuality and Culture. Transaction Publishers. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-4128-3142-0.
  13. ^ Roberts, Chris (21 August 2013). "SF's Famous Lusty Lady Peep Show to Close". NBC Bay Area. NBC. Retrieved 9 August 2021.
  14. ^ Friedman, Josh (2007). Tales of Times Square. Feral House. ISBN 978-1-932-59528-4.
  15. ^ Kaste, Martin (21 April 2010). "Marquee Lights Dim At Seattle's Lusty Lady Strip Club". National Public Radio. NPR. Retrieved 9 August 2021.
  16. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20180923164556/https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/express-yourself-the-making-of-madonnas-20-greatest-music-videos-140803/open-your-heart-1986-68324/

Further reading

Regal Show World