The Red Light District of Amsterdam

No man should see a woman who is not his wife or girl friend naked. Today I walked through the red light district of Amsterdam and saw just that. I’d seen the Soho area of London and the Bourbon Street area of New Orleans with all their excesses, so I thought Amsterdam’s Red Light District would be about the same. I was wrong! Never did I expect to see naked women lined up in window after window on the public street personally beckoning each passerby to enter. These are the famous window prostitutes in the red light district of Amsterdam. Anyone strolling down the street can see these girls not more than a few feet away as they walk by these viewing doors. Prostitution in the Netherlands is legal, so here it was in all it’s naked glory. The pun is intended. What you see are rows of small glass doors along the street and behind each door is a naked woman who smiles at you and raises her hand inviting you to enter. If she’s busy with a client an inside curtain covers the door. In addition to these girls you can find rows of legal cannabis shops selling seeds and marihuana. There are also coffee/pot house that allow the smoking of marijuana. Compared to the US the Netherlands is a radical society. Compared to the rest of Europe the Netherlands is a liberal society. Europe in general is much more liberal than the US. Yet the Dutch approach to human vice is a work in progress and they are constantly refining the laws. I am told that in the last few years many of window prostitutes have been shutdown and many of the cannabis shops and cannabis-coffee houses have also been closed. It was getting out of control. Today Amsterdam’s red light district is primarily a tourist area with shops and cafes, but I found the feel of the place to be sleazy and even though it was interesting to see I felt relieved to leave the neighborhood. It’s an interesting place to visit…

Over the last few days I’ve spoken to a dozen or so Dutch residents about their social experiment. One lady at my hotel desk was happy that all these vices have been permitted. She was proud to be Dutch and to live in an open and highly liberal society. She saw the Netherlands as a model society for other countries. Another lady who worked in the museum bookstore was a little less happy about it, but still she agreed it was a good policy. She told me that countries adjacent to the Netherlands object to their liberal policies and that it causes tension, but overall it’s a good thing. I spoke with others who told me it was not a perfect system, but a better solution than banning these things outright. Some said prostitution and cannabis was mainly for tourism. Surprisingly no one objected to the openness of Dutch society and many mentioned education as the key. Without question the Dutch seem happy with their country and its liberal policies. They say such things are going to happen regardless of banning them, so why not accept it, regulate it and tax it and through education the vast majority of citizens will not pursue it. However legalization is not a final solution to the problem. The Dutch find that even though they have legalized it they still have to work to keep it from getting out of hand. This is why in recent years many of the window prostitutes have been shutdown. It’s like allowing a ‘junk drawer’ in your house. You still have to control the junk from spreading to other drawers and every so often you have to throw everything away and start over. Without a doubt this is a well educated and, in relative terms, an affluent society. The baseline here is way beyond the baseline of United States. It’s difficult to say how this model would work in United States which is a much larger society and one that is nowhere near as educated and disciplined as Dutch society.

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