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Red Light District

17 Things You Didn’t Know About Amsterdam Red Light Windows

Posted on: March 1, 2023

a red-lit alley in Amsterdam Red Light District

17 Secrets About Amsterdam Red Light District Windows

Amsterdam’s red light windows have become an iconic feature of the city, attracting millions of visitors each year. But beyond the intrigue and curiosity lies a complex world of sex work, regulation, and controversy.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the history of Amsterdam’s red light windows, what goes on behind the windows, the experience of visiting as a tourist, regulation and controversies, and the ongoing debates about the future of the red light district.

Get ready for an in-depth exploration of this fascinating topic.

1 | The History of the Red Light Windows

Amsterdam’s red light windows have a long history dating back to the 14th century when sailors would come to the city looking for female companionship.

Amsterdam Red Light District in 1968 showing the most narrow alley of the city with a man in suit walk through, with two prostitutes in clothes in window brothels on the right side.
Amsterdam Red Light District, 1968.

In those days, women would offer their services from behind curtains, which eventually evolved into windows with red curtains or red lights to indicate their profession. The tradition of sex work behind windows continued to grow, and by the 20th century, it had become an established industry in Amsterdam’s red light district.

Black and white picture of Amsterdam Red Light District in the year 1905 showing two prostitutes in white long dresses in front of a brothel
Amsterdam Red Light District, 1905.

In the early days, sex workers had few legal protections, and many were vulnerable to exploitation by pimps and other criminals. However, in recent years, Amsterdam has taken steps to improve the working conditions and rights of sex workers, including providing legal recognition for sex work and creating a union for sex workers.

Black and white picture of Amsterdam Red Light District in the year 1969. It shows an older couple walking on the Oudekerksplein, while the man looks at a window prostitute on the left.
Amsterdam Red Light District, Oudekerksplein, 1969.

Today, sex work is a legitimate profession in the Netherlands. No longer do sex workers have to offer themselves in window brothels perse. Nowadays sex work is a broad concept and can be done in many other ways. There are escorts, strippers, erotic masseurs, webcam sex workers, porn actors, etc. And, sex workers are protected by law and have access to healthcare, social security, and other benefits.

In the past, the red light windows were mainly filled with Dutch ladies. Since worldwide travel has become more accessible and the formation of the European Union, mainly foreign prostitutes work in the window brothels of Amsterdam.

2 | What Happens Behind the Windows?

a red-lit window brothel on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal in Amsterdam Red Light District

Working as prostitute is a unique experience, and it’s not for everyone. Sex workers sit behind a window, waiting for customers to approach them. When a customer is interested in their services, they negotiate the terms and price of the encounter, and if they come to an agreement, the customer is invited into the sex worker’s room for the encounter.

All window brothels in Amsterdam are quite small. There is a bed, a sink, a mirror, a table and other simple amenities. The client is generally asked to sit on the bed. There, the customer and the sex worker can immediately proceed to have sex. Or, if desired, a conversation takes place to put the client at ease and perhaps foreplay.

While sex work is a legal profession in Amsterdam, it is still stigmatized by many, and sex workers face many challenges, including harassment, violence, and discrimination. However, there are many organizations and support networks for sex workers in Amsterdam, including the Prostitution Information Center, which offers information and resources for sex workers, and the Red Thread Foundation, which provides support and advocacy for sex workers.

3 | The Experience of Visiting the Red Light Windows

people walking through the Oudekennissteeg in Amsterdam with red-lit windows on the left and right.

Visiting the red light windows can be a unique and memorable experience, but it’s important to be respectful of the sex workers and their profession. The red light windows are located in the heart of Amsterdam’s red light district and can be easily identified by the red lights above the windows.

When walking down the streets, visitors will see rows of windows with women inside, dressed in lingerie or other provocative clothing. While it’s common for visitors to take photos, it’s important to remember that these are real people, and they deserve to be treated with respect. Visitors should never touch the windows or harass the sex workers, and they should be mindful of their behavior and language.

tourists walking through an alley in Amsterdam with red light windows on both sides

The window prostitutes try to attract the attention of men on the street by knocking on the window and then gesturing invitingly. These sex workers prefer to work daily in the same window brothel. This is because they have a reliable business relationship with the landlord, because of the agreed rental price, the location and because they have regular customers who can find them so easily.

4 | Regulation of Sex Work in the Red Light Windows

People walking on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal in Amsterdam while looking at window brothel on the corner of the street

Sex work in the red light windows is legal and regulated in Amsterdam, and sex workers are protected by law. The Dutch government has taken steps to ensure the safety and rights of sex workers, including requiring sex workers to register with the Chamber of Commerce, free health checks, and pay taxes on their income.

Additionally, the government has set up a system of licenses for brothels and sex businesses, which must meet certain health and safety standards to be eligible for a license. This system has helped to reduce the amount of exploitation and trafficking in the sex industry, and it has given sex workers greater control over their work.

5 | Criticisms and Controversies

Despite the efforts to regulate and improve the conditions for sex workers in Amsterdam, there are still many criticisms and controversies surrounding the red light windows. Some argue that the industry still enables exploitation and trafficking, and that sex workers are not truly empowered in their work.

Dutch Christian Political Party

Gert-Jan Segers, former party chairman of the ChristenUnie in the Netherlands, wants the cabinet to start an investigation into banning prostitution, he said during a show on BNR radio. He wants to look at the ban in Sweden.

‘We have to learn from Sweden. In the Netherlands, many victims fall into prostitution,’ says Segers. ‘With a ban you have to consider two things. The importance of people who do their work voluntarily and freely, and people who are forced to do so. To protect the freedom of the latter, you could limit the freedom of the former.’

Others argue that the influx of tourism to the red light district has led to an increase in crime and nuisance in the area.

However, advocates for the sex industry argue that sex work can be a legitimate profession, and that the focus should be on improving the rights and working conditions of sex workers, rather than on attempting to eliminate the industry altogether.

Dutch Social Liberal Political Party On Prostitution

D66 has come into serious conflict with coalition partners CDA and ChristenUnie about policy towards sex workers. D66 MP Anne-Marijke Podt believes that the stigma of sex workers should be removed by recognizing, among other things, that prostitution is “just work”.

“Abuses in the sex industry get worse when you keep it a secret,” Anne-Marijke Podt said during a debate in the House of Representatives.

There are ongoing debates about the best way to support sex workers and reduce exploitation and trafficking in the industry, and the future of the red light windows in Amsterdam is still being actively discussed.

Quote Former Sex Worker Mariska Majoor

Mariska Majoor – former sex worker and founder of the Prostitution Information Center – said in 2020 during a Dutch current affairs programme:

A sex worker can decide for him or herself whether sex work is contemporary or not. Others have nothing to say about that. Some may have ended up in prostitution from difficult circumstances, but many today opt for it from an economic perspective, as so many working people do. And that is their right.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are tourists allowed to visit the red light windows?

Yes, tourists are allowed to visit the red light district and the red light windows. It’s a public area. However, visitors should be respectful of the sex workers and follow the rules of De Wallen area.

An app is available for tourists to explore this area. It features an Amsterdam Red Light District tour with 22 experts who provide insight into the area within a two-hour timeframe. The app includes a GPS-guided map, virtual tour, and images. It’s currently the only Red Light District tour available due to the ban on guided tours.

How do the red light windows work?

The red light windows are small rooms with a large window facing the street. Sex workers stand or sit behind the window, and potential customers can approach them to negotiate a price for their services.

Is it safe to visit the red light district?

While the red light district is generally safe, visitors should be aware of their surroundings and take appropriate safety precautions. It’s a good idea to stay in well-lit and crowded areas, and to avoid walking alone at night.

What should I expect when visiting the red light windows?

Visitors to the red light windows can expect to see a wide variety of sex workers, ranging from women to men to transgender individuals. Visitors should be respectful of the sex workers and not take photos or videos.

How is sex work regulated in Amsterdam’s red light district?

Sex work is legal in the Netherlands, but it is heavily regulated in the red light district. Sex workers must be at least 21 years old, have a valid work permit, and undergo regular health checks. They also have the right to refuse clients, and are protected by the law.

What are the hours of operation for the red light windows?

The hours of operation can vary, but currently do the red-lit window brothels only have to be closed between 6 am to 8 am. From April 2023, the prostitution windows must close at 3 AM instead of 6 AM.

How much does it cost to visit a sex worker in Amsterdam’s red light district?

The cost of visiting a sex worker can vary widely depending on a variety of factors, such as the type of service and the location of the worker. Visitors can expect to pay around 50 to 100 euros for a brief encounter. Detailed prices, services and associated costs can be found in the Amsterdam Prostitution Menu.

Can I take photos or videos in the red light windows?

No, taking photos or videos is strictly prohibited in the red light district. Violating this rule can result in fines and even confiscation of your camera.

Is prostitution legal in Amsterdam?

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, but it is heavily regulated. Sex workers must be at least 21 years old, have a valid work permit, and undergo regular health checks.

Are there naked women in the red light windows?

No, all window prostitutes wear clothes when they advertise themselves in the windows. They are scantily clad, several parts of their body are visible. The sex workers always have clothing over their private parts.

Why are red lights used in window brothels?

The use of red lights in window brothels likely originated in the red-light districts of Amsterdam and other European cities, where sex work is legal and regulated. In these areas, sex workers often work in storefront windows, and the red light is used to signal to potential clients that the establishment is open for business.

The use of red light has several potential explanations. One theory is that red light is associated with eroticism and sexuality, and thus is a natural choice for sex work establishments. Another theory is that red light has a practical advantage in that it is easily visible from a distance and stands out against the dark background of the street.


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