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A walk round De Wallen: has Amsterdam altered my opinion on sex work?






*Trigger Warning for sex work, trafficking and abuse*

On my recent trip to Amsterdam I made sure to stop by the Red Light District. 

That's probably a statement that comes as little to surprise to anybody who knows me. It's known that I'm a sex geek who can speak fluently about matters of the groin and that sexual health is one of my biggest feminist crusades. So while the Red Light District is an area of Amsterdam of which piques curiosity, for me it was a chance to get geeky and philosophical as I walked through streets decorated by legalised sex work. 

To put something on the table before we go any further: I'm a sex-positive feminist. I support legalised sex work and have zero issue with bonking-for-profit. Consent and respect is all I preach. Aside from that I believe humans should be able to touch each other in a way that feels right for them. Obviously, I know that legalised sex work carries with it issues: underage sex, sexual health, stigma, trafficking etc and I'm still not sure how society should iron out these kinks in practice. Thus, witnessing how the Netherlands navigates these issues was on my bucket list. 

Obviously you can simply just walk through the De Wallen streets to get a feel for how its run, however there's two places within these alleyways where you can learn more about the day-to-day life of this profession. First is the Prostitute Information Centre and the Museum of Prostitution. I wasn't able to step inside the first as I always walked past at the wrong time however I managed to stop in by the latter on my final day. 

I'm not going to re-hash the entire tour. It's not long and is only eight euros so you can take it one day yourself. But what it does do is takes you through what it's like to be a sex worker in Amsterdam. You get a tour of various rooms: a private sex workers room, a reconstruction of a fancy brothel room, and an S&M room. There's also the chance to sit in a window yourself. Both a real one and another with video footage which shows the kind of reactions you receive.



What this museum does not do is glamorises sex work. The Museum of Prostitution does not deny that trafficking or abusive partners forcing the profession on their girlfriends happens. These issues are not dusted under the rug, and you can donate to an anti-trafficking charity on your way out. The window of the Prostitute Information Centre also has their windows framed by campaign posters reminding tourists that sex workers have the right to do their job without being photographed, just like any other job. The fact that these posters still exist shows that sex work still has a long way to go before it's seen as just another legitimate profession and not something to gawk at.

(I also stopped by the Sex Museum and Erotic Museum, neither of which went into any great deal about sex workers but were still highly interesting, but probably part of a different blog post. I'd still recommend them). 

Stepping back onto the streets, and I admit that the sex work that surrounds me isn't the kind that takes place in the sexual utopia I strive for. The girls almost all fit the standards of conventional beauty and, well, it's all women with a few trans-identified girls with purple lights above their doors. Megan Ten Eyck wrote an insightful post on not being catered to as a queer-women by Amsterdam's sex industry. It's still very heteronormative and my own research amongst the sex-positive feminist community is that it's bullshit only old pervy men are clients of sex workers, though I don't think De Wallen does much to dispel this myth. The reason why sex work is still aimed at the stereotypical heterosexual male eye is a lot more complicated than "men feel entitled to sex, and will pay for it while women would never do such a thing". Some sex-positive feminists I know are so because they want the sex industry to start recognising that they exist as a legitimate target market and would like to be consumers too (so much for pervy old men).



In short: my trip to Amsterdam did little to sway my opinion on sex work. I still support it. I do, however, think the Netherlands has a while to go before it represents the kind of the sex work the sex-positive feminist community campaigns for. Saying that, I still maintain that the country's decision to legalise sex work in 2001 was a step in the correct direction. 


P.S. I know this a sensitive topic for people. Debate, and even respectful disagreement, is encouraged, However ridiculous comments and nasty words will be deleted. 
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