Learning About the Business at Amsterdams Prostitution Information Center
We were a diverse group assembled that warm Friday evening for a tour of Amsterdam's Red Light District; a mother and daughter from South Africa, a youngish couple from Scotland, a service man on leave from Morocco, plus a smattering of Canadians and Americans. Our common denominator was curiosity.
As darkness fell, the red neon lights reflected across the murky canal, as they have for decades, beckoning all comers with a promise of perfectly legal nightly ecstasy, or, for many tourists, glimpses of the forbidden.
Prostitution Information Center was engraved on the front glass window as if it were nothing more extraordinary than an accountants office. Considering this was Amsterdam, perhaps it was nothing unusual, but for us non-Dutch, the sign might as well have read, "Sex Education Center!"According to our guide, Mariska Majoor, a former prostitute, founded the Prostitution Information Center in 1994 to provide support and information to prostitutes and the public. We quietly filed in. I can't speak for the others, but I was feeling awkward.
Wasnt this off-limits? Illicit? Illegal? The corn-fed, conservative Hoosiers from my home state of Indiana would certainly look askance at this! But here, prostitution, like marijuana and hashish, is perfectly legal, quite well organized, government regulated and even socially acceptable. Dorothy, were not in Kansas, anymore!Mary Ann (Mirjam), our hostess, offered drinks of beer, wine or juice. Since there were only a few seats, most people stood. Still, I wouldn't say we looked like a relaxed group.
The guys looked nervously over their shoulders or unconsciously flipped through some of the many pamphlets they had picked up upon entering, and the women tried not to stare in fascination. Mary Ann proceeded to discuss "the business," as she called it. Her talk was casual, yet informative. The center was meant for everyone, she explained, the girls themselves, their clients, the public, or anyone with questions.
Twenty minutes quickly passed and our visit was over. The young man from Morocco bought a T-shirt from the gift shop rack next to the condoms, fridge magnets, and other souvenirs, we finished our drinks and filed out again.
As we walked back, the word "attitudes" kept sticking in my head. Whether it's marijuana or prostitution, the Dutch have a straightforward, no-nonsense attitude. I found this both strangely refreshing and disturbing at the same time. Though we are all the same under the skin, our attitudes can make a world of difference.
On Sunday mornings, Mariska leads a guided tour of the Red Light
District and reveals more about the business. You can even get a
behind-the-scenes look at a peep-show. Study groups are also welcome.
Read more GoNOMAD stories about the Netherlands
Check our listing for budget hotels in Amsterdam
Check our listings for discount flights to Amsterdam.
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