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Definition of Prostitution

(Last updated: 27 June 2021)

Prostitution is a curious combination of work, character, environment and morality. It is therefor difficult to define an acceptable description of its essence. Scientifically speaking, multiple disciplines are mixed together. The phenomenon is a fringe phenomenon of various areas in which we divide reality into our thoughts. It is certainly not labor in the strict sense.


In what sense can the “oldest profession” still be called labor? “Surrender of the body…” is at the heart of most definitions, which further describe some of the traits. Basically it’s a moment of passive surrender of the own body, but given the further aspects, the sex workers show enough activity, apart from that they try to avoid the moment of passive surrender. The client wants to indulge and the prostitute realises this through various ways, sometimes passively, sometimes actively.



That is why the definition of prostitution could be: “Prostitution is taken in a broad sense as active-passive surrender of one’s own body…” Sex workers do not sell themselves by complete surrender, but remain the lover of the situation; the client is often a rather unwilling object of her/his actions and her/his fancy.

amsterdam red light district reddit
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Oudezijds Achterburgwal.

“The separate sex work act can be described with the traditionally listed traits of surrender of the body, the intention to make a profit, the arbitrary of the partner.” In this definition there’s a further distinguishing between prostitution as a “separate sex work act” and “prostitution as a social phenomenon”. This social phenomenon is described as follows. “Prostitution is a socially accepted and patient institution in societies built according to class and status … “; the rest of the definition brings up heterosexual and homosexual prostitution, monogamy and polygamy, as well as power groups.

Definition Prostitution

The purpose of a prostitute is to provide satisfaction to the customer for a monetary fee. Only according to a purely naturalistic economic view, in which the client is measured against no other standard other than business, can this be regarded as acceptable wage or price formation. For tax purposes, this concerns income derived from labor in the economic sense. (Source: dr. J.W. Groothuyse – De arbeidsstructuur van de prostitutie)

Prostitution Synonyms

Different words can be used for prostitution, as has happened in the past. The Google line charts below show the popularity of synonyms in English-language books.


The word ‘whore’ was mainly popular between 1530 and 1665.

prostitution synonym whore
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The word ‘hooker’ was much used in the 17th-century but has become increasingly popular in recent decades.

prostitution synonym hooker
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As the picture below shows, the classy word courtesan was mainly used between 1520 and 1600.

prostitution synonym courtesan
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Sex worker

In 1933, the word “sex worker” first appeared in a book. It has really been more popular since the 1980s. This term is seen worldwide as non-stigmatizing, making it widely used by journalists and the media.

prostitution synonym sex worker
Click to enlarge it.

Prostitution in Holland

Prostitution is legal in Holland as long as it concerns (paid) sexe between adults. Forced prostitution is a criminal offence. Although the vast majority of sex workers in Holland exercises their profession freely and voluntarily, forced and illegal prostitution also occurs.

Abuses such as sexual violence and rape occur in prostitution. The Dutch police focus on detecting and combating this. To prevent abuses in the sex industry, there is a new law for treatment in the Dutch House of Representatives that obliges brothels, clubs and escort agencies to apply for a permit from the municipality. (Source: Dutch National Police website)

Prostitution in Holland
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Oudekennissteeg.

Sex workers in Holland can practice their profession in the following ways:

✦ Window brothels
✦ Sex clubs or brothels
✦ As an escort
✦ Strip clubs
✦ Massage salons
✦ At home

Window Prostitution In Holland

The Netherlands has 1272 window brothels where prostitution is practiced. Amsterdam has 378 window brothels and the Red Light District (de Wallen) has 288 window brothels.

amsterdam red light district prices
Window brothels in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

20% of all prostitutes in Holland work in window brothels. Other cities in Holland where window prostitution takes place are: Alkmaar, Almelo, Den Haag, Deventer, Doetinchem, Eindhoven, Groningen, Haarlem, Heerenveen, Leeuwarden, Maasbracht, Nijmegen, Rotterdam, Sneek & Windschoten.

Landlords of window brothels must obtain a permit from their respective municipality, a prostitute must have a residence permit and should be at least 18 years old. Amsterdam however is an exception to this prostitution law. In Holland’s capital prostitutes have to be at least 21 years old.

Prostitution in Holland facts

Amsterdam Window Brothel Prices

Prostitutes in the Netherlands are self-employed and usually determine their own rates and working methods. Some have certain specialities like S&M,  bondage, oral sex, erotic massages, etc. This makes them more unique than others, which gives them the option to charge more. The starting price for visiting a prostitute in Amsterdam’s Red Light District is around 50 euros.


Once a customer starts talking to a window prostitute prices can be negotiated at the door of the window brothel. The payment usually happens inside and upfront.



Some sex workers offer threesomes services. The minimum price for a threesome with prostitutes in Amsterdam is a 100 euro. Some of window workers allow couples, but rather do a threesome with another prostitute.

Prostitution in Holland Amsterdam
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Dollebegijnensteeg.

Amsterdam Window Brothel Cost

Prostitutes need to pay rent to work in a window brothel. The cost of renting a window brothel in Amsterdam ranges between 130 and 200 euros for a night shift et 80 to a 110 euros for a day shift.

Usually a shift is between 6 and 8 hours, depending on the day and the number of people in the Red Light District. A day is usually divided into two shifts. The busier it is, the more expensive the rent for the window brothel. The rental prices include security, cleaning and maintenance.

Window brothel alleys

Prostitutes are allowed to determine the prices that they want to charge to customers. This usually starts at 50 euro. A big misunderstanding is that sex workers have to accept every customer. They work for themselves and can therefore also refuse customers – which they often do.

Amsterdam Red Light District Map

The Red Light District has 288 windows, 14 coffeeshops, hundreds of restaurants, dozens of hotels and bars.


Window Brothel Benefits For Prostitutes

amsterdam red light district windows

✦ Prostitutes can work independently.
✦ They can set their own prices.
✦ They can decide their own working hours.
✦ They can refuse clients.
✦ They can press a panic button in threatening situations.
✦ There is a lot of social control.
✦ There are police officers nearby.
✦ Entrances of window brothels are monitored.

One of the disadvantages of working in window prostitution is that there is still quite a lot of competition even with the standard rate put in place. The competition is usually focussed in the smallest and the most busy area.

Interview With (Former) Amsterdam Prostitutes

sex worker in another world

Mariska Majoor

We go the extra mille in doing research. We speak with the best experts in the business. We also interviewed Mariska Majoor. She was a prostitute for four years and has been a sex worker activists for decades. She founded the Prostitution Information Center and the Dutch union for sex workers.



Caja van Tolie

We also interviewed Caja van Tolie – a Dutch sex worker who worked in Amsterdam and in Utrecht for 16 years. We asked her many interesting questions about her work and prostitution in Holland.


For years, there used to be a prostitution area in Utrecht where sex workers worked in houseboats. Customers could drive by and could park their car if they found a sex worker of their choice. The municipality of Utrecht recently decided to close this prostitution area and all prostitution houseboats.

Sex work in The Netherlands
Amsterdam, Red Light District, Oudezijds Achterburgwal.

Street Prostitution In Holland

There is no street prostitution in Amsterdam and almost no street prostitution in the rest of the country. Only a few municipalities in Holland allow street prostitution in designated areas called ‘tippelzones’. Most prostitutes working here are addicted and / or homeless. The few Dutch municipalities that offer these places do this to keep some control and to offer a somewhat safe workplace.

There used to be street prostitution in Amsterdam. In the 1950’s, prostitutes stood next to the Old Church (De Oude Kerk) in the heart of the Red Light District to pick up customers. But those times are long gone.

Sex Clubs In Holland

amsterdam prostitution houses
Amsterdam, Brothel LV.

A sex club often has a space where clients and prostitutes meet, socialise and drink. The customer then chooses one of the ladies and she takes him to a room. Sex clubs in the Netherlands must have a permit from the (local) government. Prostitutes should have a residence permit and should be at least 18 years old, which soon might be changed into 21 years countrywide. Prostitutes work as an entrepreneur in a sex club. They aren’t employed by the owner, but they rent the facilities that the sex club offers. There are approximately 400 sex clubs in Holland.

Amsterdam counts a total of 16 sex clubs, like Club LV et Club BonTon and there are 25 escort agencies in Amsterdam. The sex clubs differ quite a lot from each-other ranging from very simple to extravagant. In general, prices in sex clubs are higher compared  to private homes or window brothels.

Sex work in The Netherlands Amsterdam
Amsterdam, strip club BonTon.

Benefits Of Sex Clubs

✦ A sex club must comply with certain regulations.
✦ Prostitutes can determine their own prices.
✦ Prostitutes can work fairly anonymous.
✦ The workplace is contains surveillance and social control.

One of the main disadvantages of working in a sex club, is that there is a lot of competition among the sex workers.

Amsterdam Prostitutes STD Checkups

amsterdam red light district area

Prostitutes in Holland are not required by law to do STD checkups. However a lot of them do checkups frequently and voluntary. There is a special STD clinic of the GG&GD (Dutch public health services) in Amsterdam where prostitutes can go for anonymous health checkups concerning venereal diseases. Health services stress that consistent condom use is more important than frequent or compulsory health checks.

Become An Amsterdam Expert

Learn more about Amsterdam, Dutch culture and prostitution with the Amsterdam Audio Tours app. It features real stories from 22 experts, including sex workers. Listen to at home as a podcast, or in the Red Light District of course.




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