Sex, Drugs and Rock & Soul

I spent this Mayday Bank Holiday in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Now “Da’am” is known (in)famously for two things (well, maybe three) – architecture, weed and the “red light district”. Spending the time after business was taken care of on brick watching (which really is not my thing) and not being a (weed) smoker left one other option on the night out… Check out the red light district!

What I discovered when I arrived was far from what I had imagined. Women, some VERY beautiful, standing/sitting in house windows dressed in minimal (easily removed) clothing trying to attract & maintain eye contact with you as to entice you to part with some of your money.

With the group of guys I was with, we were like tourists and rightly so. It’s a tourist destination combined with the palpable sense of the unhealthy beginnings of a seedy underworld. At 2230, I did not expect children to be walking around with their parents or elderly groups to be getting a guided tour around the canal front and alleys.

I’m going to be as frank and crude as I can here so please forgive me if this offends. The first 10mins were like… WOW! As aforementioned, some of the women were VERY beautiful. This was only a handful – probably about 5/6 out of the 60/70 we saw. At a price rate of €30 for 12mins, the women strike poses; some even occasionally open their doors to try and further attract your attention and lure you into their rooms.

After the first 10-15mins of touring the canal street and subsequent alleyways, I noticed a distinct shift in my perceptions. As certain areas had some older looking females and some just about legal looking females too; I began to think… That’s probably somebody’s mother, somebody’s sister, aunt, daughter… I observed the rooms they stayed in – they were all about two thirds the size of your average university halls of residence with a toilet/bidet, shower & bed. I also noted that some rooms were vacant (with a letting notice) which drove home the reality of what really happens. This was a live sales environment, there were targets to meet and rent to pay.

As we continued down the district, I found myself pointing and comparing women with the others previously seen, commenting on their clothes (or lack of) and for lack of a better description… Window shopping!! We were being tourists and actually behaving like tourists. Perhaps it’s the British mentality of having sex as a taboo… We got the distinct feeling that everybody else but us was used to it and did not seem to kind so much.

Upon discussing further during our travels, we started to wonder what would happen if u ran into one of them at the local grocery store, what they did when they weren’t working, if they had partners, what the partners thought, etc. A lot of different suppositions, propositions and assumptions were thrown about as we made our way through the streets and we thought about the situation beyond the rooms and the women.

The hardest thing to explain about the Red Light District is the atmosphere… It’s like tourism meets the underworld. It’s a tourist attraction BUT there’s a feeling that despite it being legal, most of the operations are run by criminal syndicates. We then started discussing the possible background processes involved in making this operation run – the chances of the rooms being video monitored (for the women’s security), the idea of being watched as you handle your business, the back-story to these women’s lives… If they are sex slaves, chose this lifestyle or got roped and trapped into it.

With this kind of knowledge, how could one in good conscience still pay for sexual favours? Not to mention the horror I felt when I discovered that the UV lights that seemed enticing at first actually served a dual purpose – to demonstrate that the women are clean (semen shows up under UV light so I’m sure you get the idea)! We spoke about whether we could pay the women to just sit and talk about their lives and how they arrived there (assuming they spoke English, of course) or if their “handlers”, “pimps”, “managers” or whatever you want to call them would mind.

All in all, what the Red Light District did for me was to shift my focus on how I look at women. After spending the better part of an hour objectifying women and unconsciously treating them like merchandise; I felt a disgust at myself for first of all, allowing myself to look at women that way and secondly, to imagine that the Dutch government thought it appropriate that such a thing should be made legal for the sake of (in all likelihood) taxes. It reinforced the idea that just because it’s legal does not make it right…

The Red Light District, for those who know what they are looking for serves its purpose excellently but I PERSONALLY felt perturbed by the concept of tourism meeting the seedy underworld that is prostitution. There are far too many underlying factors involved in what goes on in Amsterdam for me to take a walk through the district and walk into one of those doors…