Prostitution in the Netherlands: what is really happening here

So about prostitution in the Netherlands…

Legal prostitution is one of the most famous things in the Netherlands, along with coffeeshops. Yes, another thing that is legal here and not in your own country. Hence, why sex tourism is also quite important and why it is a very profitable business here – in 2010, sexual transactions were estimated as 100 millions US dollars. Yep. Let’s have an in-depth look at prostitution in Netherlands. Is it all pragmatic and smart? Or does it remain a dirty business?

The red light district

Let’s start with the red light district, aka one of the most famous neighborhoods of Amsterdam. It’s also a neighborhood in which you can find coffeeshops, museums of sex, weed, and thus plenty of tourists. And just so you know, it’s not only famous for prostitution but is is also one of the prettiest areas of Amsterdam. So do not miss out even though you don’t want to see half naked women in windows – tip: during the day/morning there is not much happening. It is very much in the city center, five minutes walking from Amsterdam Centraal, so you really can’t miss it. Historically, it was close to the harbor, hence the development of prostitution in that area for centuries.

prostitution in the Netherlands
Why is it called the red light district? Here is a clue. Ps: it has something to do with lights.

Anyway the red light district, also walled de Wallen, takes its name from the red neon above the windows in which you can see, as stated before, half-naked women. There are approximately 300 one-room cabins in the area, that can be rented by different women who can shift, and 140 brothels.

Independent-owned brothel

This year will also open the very first independent-owned brothel: a group of sex-workers decided to rent a place on their own and become auto-entrepreneur. Not only do they take care of themselves in the business aspect, but they also said that the money they will organize workshops about health or entrepreneurial skills with the money they make. And those workshops will be open to every sex workers.

Other cities also have a red light district, it is not just in Amsterdam. In Utrecht for instance, there used to be one which was closed in 2013 because of human trafficking concerns. The women then moved to boats, but the red light district will reopen this year with around 160 rooms.

De Wallen is also a very pretty neighbourhood of Amsterdam

Prostitution in the Netherlands: Legislation

On the practical side, prostitution in the Netherlands has been legalized since 2000. Also prostitution is considered as a regular job. Sex workers have the same rights, protections and obligations as any worker in the Netherlands. Since 2011, they even pay taxes on their earnings. That’s also the Dutch practical side: if there is a way to tax it…

Jokes aside, women working in prostitution in the Netherlands are also eligible for unemployment and invalidity benefits. As with any other job.

In green: where prostitution is legal and regulated. Blue: prostitution legal but not brothels. Yellow: illegal to buy sex but legal to sell sex. Red: everything is illegal

The law

The Dutch being pragmatic as always, decided to legalize brothels. Yes, brothels, because prostitution was actually not a crime as long as it was voluntary. After 2000, it became legal to run a business in which you hire sex workers. As long as you get the license, otherwise it is still not legal since there are some conditions to respect. It was legalized to fight human trafficking and to protect the sex workers. There also were some debates about the legal age to work, which is 18 but the government considered 21. This was dropped because the girls would feel more secure to ask for help if they are not doing something illegal. Very smart Dutchies…

However, pimps do face prosecution for hiring someone younger than 21, as well as clients.

With regards to health, medical checkups are not compulsory, because the Dutch government didn’t want to reinforce the idea that sex workers transmit infections. Also, medical checkups can be used as an excuse for unsafe sex, hence why they decided not to make it mandatory. Again: smart. However, the sex workers do have access to medical care which is also facilitated by the government, and they have to do regular checkups. Brothel owners also need to get a health certificate before being able to employ and start a business. And there are several police controls to check if any abuses are happening. Yes, everything is under control.

Or so we try to think, because unfortunately some abuses are happening. BUT the controls are here to check IF everything is under control, which is already trying to protect the people as much as possible.

Prostitution in the Netherlands: how people can feel about this

Now on to some personal opinion. The first time I went to the red light district, it made me very uncomfortable. Because it is still prostitution. I was in this naive state of “prostitution in the Netherlands is bad, we have to fight it and not embrace it!”. But let’s just think about it. The Dutch do have a very pragmatic approach, and I don’t think they are wrong. The men and women get to choose their clients safely, they do have legal protections, they have access to health care… It is really much better for sex workers than to risk being prosecuted yourself if you want to report abuses. Also the police does check for human trafficking, so it does limit that.

the oldest profession in the world?

I will however admit that seeing alive women in windows selling, well, themselves is a bit disturbing. Also, on a side note, do not take pictures of the women. You can’t really do that and the owners might get very angry. Anyway, but just as for drugs, it is easier to control what’s happening in the outside rather than illicit hidden traffic. So before judging based on our moral, we really should consider the pros and cons and how much safer it actually is to legalize and/or tolerate.

Marianne Chagnon
History and political science graduate from France, now living in Utrecht to study Human Rights. Enjoying (too) many things related to History, Politics and Culture.


  1. You can’t possibly write an article like this without noting that the Amsterdam authorities are slowly breaking up and killing off The Wallen by buying up properties and letting for other uses

  2. I kindly need to do an in dept research on how prostitution in Netherlands has assisted the government to make earnings via income from tax on the same.If Netherlands has succeeded,why not Kenya.??

  3. What will you legalize next… murder and tax them too! It is very sad to see women in the windows selling themselves… you have made this option legal so they think it is ok! Instead of them realizing they are worth more and getting a job that is respectable to themselves and society. Same with drugs! You are saying it’s ok in your eyes as a country. I know because our country now wants to legalize it too! But it is somehow profiting the government and NOT our children! Sad…

  4. I agree with the legalisation and protection. However, clients’ rights should be protected too, otherwise the regulamentation would be subject to abuse. Their prices should be transparent, so that the sex workers (SWs) stop trying to exploit or scam naive tourists.
    There are way too many reviews and/or complaints from first-timers who decide to leave the SW’s room because the SW kept asking for more and more money for basic services that should have been contractually agreed in advance.
    The Dutch Law has too many flaws in this regard.


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