The Red Light District
Though all forms of sex work except streetwalking are legal in the Netherlands, the windows in Amsterdam’s Red Light District are perhaps the most notorious face of the country’s prostitution sector.
The area is dotted with over 300 windows lit with the hazy red lights that give the district its name. The sex workers hanging out in these windows can’t be fully naked (that’s considered indecent exposure), but they’re dressed provacatively in hopes of attracting the eye of a potential client.
When someone is interested, they approach the sex worker directly and negotiate a price. The transaction itself takes place in a (usually very) small room behind the window, which holds a bed, table, small bathroom, and a panic button.
If a client becomes violent or aggressive, the sex worker can push the panic button to engage a loud, flashing alarm. The safety of the sex workers is taken very seriously, so when that alarm goes off a whole host of people immediately respond: anyone working in the building, other prostitutes in nearby windows, and the police who are patrolling the streets.
The Sex Workers
The prostitutes in the Red Light District are self-employed; they rent windows in eight hour shifts and make all their own decisions, such as who to accept and how much to charge each client. They work independently and have a great deal of professional autonomy.
For those seeking the “girlfriend experience”, you’ll definitely want to look elsewhere. You can find escorts in Amsterdam if that’s what you’re after, but window prostitution is all about the quick orgasm. In fact…
The sex workers in the Red Light District are highly selective when it comes to accepting clients. They won’t see anyone who hasn’t bathed recently, but most importantly they won’t accept a client who is visibly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
People who are drunk or stoned tend to have highly unpredictable and erratic behavior, plus narcotics dull sensation so it’s more difficult to reach climax in a timely fashion. For sex workers who are looking to move through clients quickly, this obviously presents a rather annoying problem.
Most tourists are automatically eliminated from the client pool due to sex workers’ ban on narcotics, so contrary to popular belief window prostitutes actually tend to see more locals than foreigners.
Prices vary, but the minimum fee for 15 minutes of vanilla sex is €50. Fifty euros for fifteen minutes of fun! Of course you can negotiate, but odds are you won’t want to haggle too aggressively. That just seems… counterproductive.
Anything beyond super basic sex (standard intercourse or oral) will increase the price, sometimes substantially. If a client wants to have sex without a condom, for instance, they might be charged up to four times the basic price.
Each sex worker ponies up anywhere between €85 to €185 to rent a window for the eight hour shift. In eight hours a prostitute can see up to 30 clients, so at €50 a pop (heh) that means she could be making at least €1300. Each shift.
Working in the windows of the Red Light District can be very lucrative.
In the words of Aretha, it’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Our society has a lot of contention around the issue of prostitution, and unfortunately when it comes to sex work I hear too many people say “Well, *I* could never do that!” with an air of self-satisfied moral superiority.
Cue my extremely dramatic eye roll.
I mean, that’s great and all, but just because YOU can’t doesn’t mean others feel the same. Sure, I couldn’t work in the windows of the Red Light District, but I also couldn’t be a construction worker, or a professional basketball player, or a surgeon (ugh, blood).
In Amsterdam sex work is legal, and it is a viable occupation. Is it an easy job? Nope. Is it a job that doesn’t carry any stigma? Definitely not. But it’s a legal job, and sex workers deserve respect and rights like everyone else.
Want to learn more about the Red Light District? Check out the PIC!
The Prostitution Information Center (PIC) is a fantastic place to learn about this fascinating and historically rich area. The PIC is located right in the heart of the Red Light District and is run by a former sex worker, Mariska.
You can check out their museum and informational displays whenever you get the chance, or take the one-hour walking tour that’s offered every Saturday at 5:00 P.M. No (respectful) question goes unanswered!
In additional to educating ignorant-but-interested tourists like us, the Prostitution Information Center also answers questions for folks considering sex work as an occupation or looking to pay for sex in Amsterdam.
Mariska and her team are knowledgeable, non-judgemental, and incredibly nice! For those heading to the Red Light District, the PIC is well worth a visit.