I visited Amsterdam's famous Red Light District. I thought about visiting it alone but decided a tour would probably be more fun so I signed up for this tour. Our tour guide was great. Very sex positive. Very supportive of the working girls. I highly recommend it. Here's some notes and thoughts.
Mark was a great guide. He's been in Amsterdam for years. He had an apartment in the Red Light District and made many friend with the girls. He gave us lots of info.
For those that don't know it the Red Light District in Amsterdam has all these buildings with small booths with glass doors and a red light above it. Behind the each door is a woman provocatively dressed. If you're interested you walk up to the door. She'll pop it open and you negotiate with her. Once you've negotiated you pay her and enter. Behind the booth she was standing there's another small room in with a bed.
He claimed in general the price is 50€ for each 15 minutes. He said if you're going to do it you should be very explicit up front what you want when you negotiate. Some of the women will charge you more for each specific thing. "You're not taking your bra off?" "That's another 10€ sir". "I can't touch your breasts?" "That's another 10€ sir" etc. He claimed there are websites which review the women so you can find out which ones are nice and which ones are mean. On the other hand since nowadays most of the clientele are tourists it's easy for the bad girls to prey on them since they're likely inexperienced and won't be coming back.
Mark mentioned him and a friend sat at some bar across from some booths once and timed how long people were in them. Even though they paid for 15 minutes the AVERAGE was only 6 MINUTES! That's from the time the curtain was closed until the guy came back out on the street which means it includes getting undressed, having the woman inspect and clean his junk, doing the act, and then getting dressed again.
Note in the Red Light District generally pictures are not allowed and if they catch you they can get very angry and it can end in confrontation and possibly a broken camera so NO PICTURES if their are working girls visible. You can search youtube for people that broke that rule which is kind of sad since it's disrespecting the girls.
He pointed out he felt like Amsterdam's style of booths was the safest form of prostitution. The girls rent the booths. Currently prices start around 70€ a night and can be as high as 140€ to 180€ a night for the prime booths in the most popular areas. Since the girls rent the booths for a fixed price though they are 100% in control. They choose their customers. They choose what they will or won't do. Contrast that to a girl working at a brothel. If they say no to a customer or no to a request the owners of the brothel may tell them to leave as there are plenty of other women willing to do the job. As such at a brothel there's pressure to do things they might not want to do.
The rooms come with panic buttons. If the girl hits the button sirens go off at the booth and on the street. The cops will come very quickly as will the girls in nearby booths. Mark claimed it didn't happen that often fortunately.
Pimping is illegal. The girls have to be registered and get the proper paper work. When renting a booth the owners of the booth risk losing their license if they don't verify the girl's registration. The police come by from time to time to check that each woman has the proper documents, especially when they see a new face.
Girls can apparently make 10000€ a month. It wasn't clear if that was an upper limit or an average. That assumes 10 customers a day 20 days a month 50€ per customer so I'm guessing it's on the high end but regardless it's pretty good money.
Mark said the current government are trying to shut down the red light district. They've done several things. They've started "Red Light Fashion" where they go in and turn a set of booths into a store that sells clothing removing a few booths at a time. In one area they put in a cafe which not only changed the building that had booths into a cafe but they put out tables in the day to serve the cafe which effectively destroys the market for the booths on either side of the cafe since no one wants to go into one with people at the outside tables at the cafe watching. The government is apparently planning to "move" the booths on the west side over to the east side as a first step and then after that they're planning to move everything out of the city to some "sex complex" place near the airport. He said a couple of years ago there were 500 booths. That's down to 407 and supposed to be 350 within 2 years.
Clearly Mark didn't feel like this was a good idea. As pointed out above he claims the booths are safer than anything else. He also felt like they were part of the history of Amsterdam. I wonder if they could get them all declared as "World Heritage Sites.
He also mentioned a few years ago they changed the legal age of prostitution from 18 to 21 saying someone under 21 isn't mature enough to choose this type of work. He said that might be true but what 18 year old is going to go "oh, ok, I won't do this until I'm 21 because it's illegal". He mentioned some illegal brothels that were recently raided and it turned out 80% of the girls there were 18 to 20. See above for his opinion of brothel vs booths and you can see how this change the law isn't actually helping 18 to 21 year old girls that choose this line of work.
Mark mentioned (and showed us) the Prostitution Information Center (PIC). It's run by a former prostitute who feels this is a legitimate career choice for women and runs the PIC not only to give visitors information but more to give women information on what really happens so they can decide for themselves if it's something they want to do or not. She also gives lots of advice for how to be safe, what do with customers, etc...
Speaking of which Mark pointed out there is no requirement for the women to get checked regularly. On the other hand, the girls themselves are at the biggest risk and none of them want to get sick so they are very careful and strict. For example they'll require condoms for everything.
Mark mentioned that the woman who runs PIC, Mariska Majoor, advises "if you don't enjoy it don't do it" to current and prospective prostitutes. Or maybe a better way of putting it is "If you don't enjoy it you probably shouldn't be in this line of work". She's also fairly politically active and an advocate for prostitutes. She's got an e−book out, "When Sex Becomes Work" all about the experience in Amsterdam.
Apparently she was once asked why there weren't men for women booths which prompted her to try it. She put out an ad, something to the effect of "male prostitutes wanted" and got zero responses. She changed the ad to something along the lines of "get paid to have sex with women" and got more responses than she could handle. There was the question of if men could actually do the job. Girls often have 8 hours shifts. She decided the guys would have 4 hours shifts. She picked 4 guys and on the first day they got 9 customers. But apparently the whole thing was such a media circus it only lasted that 1 day. No customers are going to come if there's a bunch of news crews watching.
It was interesting walking around the area. It's pretty large, several city blocks with lots of small alleys and Amsterdam's famous canals. There are lots of sex toy shops, restaurants, bars, video booths, peepshows, live sex shows, even a couple of sex museums. It feels very safe and actually much less sleazy than most of Japan's red light districts, at least to me. Maybe because it's in a historic and beautiful European style city instead of crappy back alley type areas.
Mark mentioned they only run the tour 7pm to 9pm which is a slow time for the area and he also did his best to keep the group from blocking walkways and blocking girls. He doesn't want the tours to ruin their business. Unfortunately he said there are lots of tours later at night run by less considerate people. They'll have groups as large as 70 people and the guide will walk the entire group right up and stand in front of some girls booth effectively blocking her business while his group oogles the girl. Sad people can be such jerks.
Who knows if it will still be there in a couple of year's. It could be close to your last chance to see it.