Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin – John Green.
Amsterdam. What a city. There will be more posts coming about what we got up to throughout the week, but I want to focus on what everyone talks about after visiting – or rather, the second thing everyone talks about. Sex. You only have to cross a couple of bridges from Centraal Station to get to the promiscuous Red Light District. It is an art of seduction, because no matter what age (appropriate) or sex you are, what orientation or background, your intrigue will get the better of you. Perhaps it is because sex is a topic that is kept hush hush, especially when it comes to talking about women and sex. Sex workers and prostitutes are talked about behind closed doors, referred to in the past and present as hookers and whores; they are represented in TV shows and films as either cheap or nasty, or both. Unless it’s Pretty Woman in which she gets her happily ever after, after meeting a nice, rich man. In reality, these girls are doing a job, making money and paying their rent. The girls that pose in their lingerie along the rows of red lit windows are as normal as any other woman; they just get paid for sex. The normality of the sex workers is incredible. We saw girls posing in underwear, but we also saw them scrolling through their phones, eating their lunch and having a laugh with their colleagues. How any normal working day goes, in every kind of career.
The Red Light District is open all hours, not just after dark. Women pay 150 euros per day for their window, so they have to make sure they can earn a profit in order to take money home too, especially if it is a slow night, four to six days a week. They can work up to ten hours a day, seeing between two and one hundred clients in that time. The average length of one appointment can be anywhere from six minutes to twenty. There is so much information about the Red Light District in the Red Light Secrets, a museum dedicated to the women who work as prostitutes, especially those who have lost their lives during working hours. There, you will find confessions of the women who have worked in the Red Light District, some of those women who were promised a better life, only to end up as sex slaves to the men who they thought were their saviour. You learn about the legalities of prostitution in The Netherlands, as well as the business itself – the money, the terms, the people who run the show. The Museum of Prostitution is open from 11am until midnight. It is the world’s first prostitution museum in its original state as a famous brothel, located in one of the oldest monuments of Amsterdam. It is famous and infamous – a place where a murder took place in 1956 that has never been solved. Even if you have never taken an interest in prostitution, or the lives of prostitutes, this place is somewhere that you will learn some shocking truths, and discover the world of the Red Light District.
As for the history of sex, there is no other place than the Sex Museum, and the entire place costs just five euros. It is extremely tongue-in-cheek with ornaments collected from across the globe, some of which I really wish I hadn’t seen, some that are amusing and some that reveal a little bit too much of what goes on behind closed doors. The museum has its own kind of timeline: you follow it up the stairs to the top of the building, before descending on the other side. Sex through the ages is what you find, with segments of various memorabilia, including pornography from the nineteenth century, to the late sixties – both public and private collections – as well as statues that make you think who on earth thought to create that. There are live mannequins of sex symbols from various decades, with the obvious one at the very forefront of the spectacle: Marilyn Monroe. In fact, she features twice in her mannequin form. There are not just items that make you giggle or squirm, there is artwork with a sophistication that should be hung in galleries. There are pieces of history that have been collated in one place to give an insight on the cultural definition of sex from all corners of the world: American, European, Asian and more… as far back as Greek mythology. Of course, it is a museum full of fun, with moving mannequins that show way too much, some even making people jump out of their skin as they walk past, including me. It is a place that cannot be missed on a trip to Amsterdam, whatever your age (sixteen and over) and whoever you’re with.
The Museum of Prostitution, Sex Museum and Red Light District are the only three places we visited in the context of sex, but I think that is all you need to see in order to understand more about the topic. Sex is still a word that people don’t speak of too often. We are getting better in this day and age, but it can still be very much in the closet. So when you visit a place that celebrates sex and is proud of a totally normal thing that people do every single day, it is liberating. Sex education is something that we learn about in school, but, in reality, we don’t learn about what we should be learning about when it comes to sex. We don’t need bananas or cartoon videos; we need to learn about respect and responsibility. In its own way, Amsterdam shows that respect. It is clear that you cannot take photos of the girls, and you cannot obstruct their working way. Despite the callous nature we perceive sex workers to have, they have respect for themselves and in turn, tourists and locals alike have respect for them in the Red Light District. It is an unspoken rule that should be expanded to men and women alike worldwide.
Have you visited Amsterdam? What do you think of the sex trade there?
Love, Faye xo