DO YOU STOP AT RED LIGHTS?
Everything You Need To Know About Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
As an American, I think it’s normal to be curious about the Red Light District in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a bit of a curiosity all the way around, with its legalization of drug use, prostitution and other carnal pleasures that aren’t legally allowed in the glorious US of A.
Amsterdam, seems to me the epitome of Liberalism, although I don’t believe that is what they call it. When you go to Amsterdam there are a number of sayings that you will hear the locals say. “As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else, go ahead and do what you want.” “I see you through my fingers”, which means that they know what you are doing, but don’t really care.
The thing about this type of attitude, is that it seems to work. While the prisons and jails in America are burgeoning, in Amsterdam and throughout the Netherlands, it is just the opposite. They are nearly empty, and some have actually been closed down and turned into other uses, such as hotels.
All of Amsterdam, due to the water and canals, is mostly made up of buildings 4 stories tall. You will see an occasional 5 stories, but most of the 5th stories are made up of just one room. Narrow streets, divided down the middle by a canal. One narrow lane going one direction on one side of the canal, the other direction on the other side of the canal. The sidewalks are even narrower, so many of the pedestrians walk in the traffic lanes. Add to all of that THOUSANDS, literally THOUSANDS of bicycles, and it’s a bit of a clusterfuck! Then you have small “alley like” streets that run perpendicular to the main streets. These are equal to one narrow lane, and many don’t even have sidewalks.
Charming. That’s the way to describe Amsterdam. Completely charming. The architecture is beautiful. Most every building made of brick. Due to the quagmire it is built on, many buildings tip a little to the left, to the right or a bit front wards or backwards. Some may tip 2 or 3 of the direction that I mentioned. No one seems too worried, as they are 200, 300 or 400 years old and haven’t gone anywhere yet!
The amazing thing though? You don’t see aggravated drivers. You don’t see aggravated pedestrians. The bicyclists, for the most part are pretty calm weaving to and fro between it all….. Again, the Amsterdam attitude of you do your thing and I’ll do mine. Let’s all just get along.
The Red Light District
So, back to the Red Light District. What is it like? The streets look basically the same as other parts of Amsterdam, except there are a plethora of sex shops & erotic shops (which are just a sex shop with a different name!), sex “museums”, and a number of bars which have some sort of sex show or porn show. It kind of reminds me a bit of Bourbon Street in New Orleans- just missing the jazz music.
The biggest difference that you see are the Red Lights, and the windows which accompany the Red Lights. Some blocks may have none, others may have 2, 4 or 12. So what does that all look like? Picture your typical front porch light. With a red bulb placed in it. Then, next to, or under the light will be a window, and the window usually has Red Velvet curtains in it. When the light is on, and the curtain is closed, that means the lady (the prostitute) is busy with a customer. When the light is not on, you will usually see the curtains closed. No one is working in that window, at that time.
An Open Curtain – Means Open for Business!
And then the thing that we Americans find SO fascinating……….. when the curtain is open, and there is a girl in the window. What do you see then? Most of the women you see are in their 20’s. They are wearing some type of lingerie. Most often a bra and panties with heels. It can vary of course. I was really surprised that I never saw any type of “bustier”, stockings and garters. I would assume that look would be prevalent. I also never saw any “nighties”. There were a few with the “school girl” look of a short pleated skirt. One had her nipples only covered with a couple of (ouch!) star-shaped stickers.
There are areas, evidently, where one can find some more “mature” women, larger women or even women-who-might-not-be-women. Those areas are a bit off on their own, not on the main drag.
The women are in their little “window” area. Many of the windows are groups, usually 3 together. Those windows are about the size of a typical front door. There were a few other windows, even smaller- typically set down about 2 feet below street level, and they were about 3 ft. by about 4 ft. then, there were other larger windows, about 6 or 7 feet wide. The wider windows actually showed you the whole room- bed and all. All of the beds were covered with a dark blue vinyl. Most of the rooms you could see were very clinical, not too “homey” and unattractive. We never saw a shower, and seldom a sink in any of them.
One of the larger “rooms” we saw in the main area had the usual vinyl covered bed, but also on display were numerous sex toys, wigs, whips and other BDSM equipment. The woman in this window was a bit older than the average girl we saw in other windows. (Darn it, I snuck a photo of her room, but can’t find it in my camera!)
The World’s “Oldest Profession”
So…….. How does it work you wonder? The women are behind their windows. Some are very actively interacting with the crowd, giving a cute wink or smile, a “come hither” look. Others look bored beyond belief. Some look plan ol’ scary and like you’d better not bother them. Some were on their cell phones. When someone has an interest, they motion to the lady, she opens her door, and negotiations are made as to the services offered or desired, and the price. We were told that the typical price is 50-75 Euros. That is for the “service” not for the time, and most sessions are considered about 15 minutes long. Evidently, if you want a specific time period, that is negotiated up front. Don’t ask me what happens to the poor gal who gets a guy who lasts forever and a day……….. I guess they have provisions for that!
Rules of the Red Light District
There are certain “rules” that everyone is supposed to abide by. Pictures of the women while behind their windows is strictly forbidden. There are a number of plain clothes police walking around, and they don’t take kindly to rule breakers! It is also said that the girls have been known to come out, grab your phone, and throw it in the nearest canal, or stomp on it and break it!
There is actually a “10 Commandments” on how to behave toward the prostitutes which is expected. You can find it posted in the area.
They are as follows:
- Do not take photographs or film
- Do not tap or spit on the window
- Be respectful toward the women
- Do not peek through cracks in the curtains
- Do not stand in front of the doors or windows
- When visiting, pay in advance and discuss beforehand what is and is not permitted
- Never have unprotected sex
- Be Hygienic (clean and well groomed, not intoxicated)
- When you suspect force or coercion, call the police on 09008844
- Aggression is not tolerated.
There are a specific number of licenses given for the Red Light district. No new licenses have been issued for quite a number of years. One person can own more than one “window” which they rent out by shift. There are approximately 300 of the windows, or “prostitution rooms.” The ladies pay a specific amount per “shift” which is typically 10 hours. Most of the rentals are 150. Euros per shift, but some, depending on the location, day and time, could rent out for more – or less.
It is said that most of the ladies are “independent”- they work for themselves. But there is still some amount of “pimping” “managing” or as they call it ”lover boys”. Evidently, “pimping” used to be illegal, but in the past few years it was deemed to be legal. However, things are closely watched, to make sure that sex trafficking is not going on. In theory, in Amsterdam, everyone who is working as a prostitute does so of their own free will. Local authorities continuously investigate and inspect the working conditions of the prostitutes. It is also encouraged that if any customers suspect that someone is being forced into prostitution, they should report it, so the woman can be helped. There is an anonymous phone number that can be called to report issues, and that number is prominently displayed around the Red Light District. The safety of the prostitutes is taken very seriously in Amsterdam.
Taxes are filed by the women, in fact we went past a Tax Accountant’s office- and he advertised that his specialty was filing taxes for the Prostitutes. There are also required routine medical test to make sure they aren’t passing on any diseases.
In Amsterdam, there are also brothels and individual escorts. All must be licensed. The brothels are located all around, not just the red light district. It is the responsibility of the brothels and the owners of the “windows” to make sure that the women are properly checked out, and that none of them are being forced into work by anyone else.
Museums, Museums…….. Everywhere!
Another interesting fact about Amsterdam is that it seems you can call just about anything a “museum” and charge people to enter. In the Red Light District there were The Sex Museum, The Eroticism Museum and The Museum of Prostitution, among others.
We visited The Museum of Prostitution. It was interesting, but I wouldn’t say we picked up any astonishing information, or learned any big fact about prostitution in the Red Light District that we hadn’t picked up by talking to someone we knew who lives in the area.
Obviously, we weren’t the only ones a bit curious about the famous “Red Light District.” It is estimated that over 6 million people visited the Red Light District of Amsterdam in 2017, and that over 60% of all tourist go to see it personally.
So, let’s see if we have this right. Prostitutes are licensed, taxes are paid, diseases are kept to a minimum, things are policed for everyone’s safety, the jails aren’t filled beyond capacity- and the rest of Amsterdam basically feels like “live and let live”- basically not caring if someone partakes or doesn’t partake.
Can someone explain to me why in the world our country is so antiquated and doesn’t do the same thing? If people want to participate in prostitution on either end of the spectrum, they are going to. Filling our jails with adults who have both consented to a sexual act doesn’t make sense to me. People involved in that act shouldn’t have to worry about their safety, whether it is the woman, or the man.
I’m all for the Amsterdam attitude of “live and let live” and “as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else, go ahead and do what you want.”
I hope this little article answers some of your curiosity about the Red Light District!