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A friend of mine left his girlfriend after a long (~5 years) relationship. To cheer him up a little bit, we decided to go to Amsterdam, as they have liberal prostitution and drug consuming laws.

We're planning to get him laid every day while over there. But we're not really used to bargain with hookers and assessing the quality.

red light block in Amsterdamneon lights of an entrance

I have a set of important questions:

  • What price level are we talking about?
  • Is it considered rude to ask a hooker for references?
  • Is there a chance to get into trouble? How can I avoid that?
  • I also heard that there are a lot of illegal sex workers practicing in Amsterdam. How can I differentiate between the legal and the illegal hookers?
  • I really care for my friend, and don't want him to get any STDs or STIs. How common are they in Amsterdam?

EDIT

I added a bounty to encourage everybody to share their wisdom about the prostitution business with me.

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17  
I would say yes. This is a controversial topic, perhaps a blunt way of approaching it but the reality is a) it's legal b) a subset of travellers actually want this. Authoritative, sensible answers will be useful to many travellers. –  Ankur Banerjee Nov 25 '11 at 17:00
7  
Now it sounds like I'm looking for ladyboys or something like this. –  RoflcoptrException Nov 25 '11 at 17:32
27  
are you sure this is for 'a friend'? ;) –  Mark Mayo Nov 26 '11 at 11:08
10  
I strongly protest against this allegation. –  RoflcoptrException Nov 26 '11 at 11:14
7  
Seems like nobody wants to step up here with an answer that defines them as a definitive authority on hookers. Whoddathunkit. –  Ankur Banerjee Nov 27 '11 at 17:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Several non-authoritative points on the Amsterdam Red Light District:

  • Personal safety: most of Amsterdam (including the RLD) is generally busy and safe. Working girls normally rent the same room repeatedly, and are generally traceable in case of crime. Since prostitution is above-board, police are aware of common problems and ready to assist if necessary. The setup generally favors the provider, but as long as you behave well it's safe. Note that behaving well includes restraint in case you get of a bad session with a deceitful provider (which is common). Do not take photos in the RLD. While it's technically legal it would quickly get you into trouble with the pimps. Of course, if a provider agrees to photos (for an extra fee), then shoot away.

  • Legality: window prostitution in the Amsterdam RLD is legal and voluntary. As a customer, you don't need to care about immigration status, work permits and personal motivations of specific providers, that's the job for police and social workers. Obviously, some women who work there are happy with their choice of career, while others would prefer another job if their circumstances were different. Happy ones give better service.

  • Health concerns: condom use is universal, for all activities. Some STDs can be transmitted even when condom is used. Most providers are well-informed and take regular STD tests, although they are not mandatory. According to casual sources I read, STD incidence is low, but I could not find any authoritative studies. Risk of STDs is inherent to any sexual activity and real. However, they are usually vastly exaggerated by organizations with an agenda (especially in the USA). There is risk to every human activity, including crossing the street or riding a bicycle.

  • Procedure: always explicitly mention/negotiate everything that you expect from the provider, and get them to acknowledge it before entering the room. This includes things which seem obvious, like taking off all clothing, touching specific places, all sexual activities, any time limits, and of course, price. Make sure the provider agrees to everything in advance, once the door closes behind you, you're committed to the payment, no matter what the provider does. Many providers rely on you not being explicit during negotiation, and try to get you to pay more for various extras once you're in the room (including seemingly obvious ones like taking off a bra). It is a bad idea to pay for pesky upsells, since it encourages bad behavior -- after payment, the ripoff providers just bring on the next upsell, and never focus on satisfying the customer. If you encounter this, there's not much you can do except respect their boundaries (however silly) and stick to the basic service.

  • Prices: as of 2011 in the RLD windows, prices are in the 30-50 EUR range for 1-shot (usually ~15 min), and up to 100 EUR for special services. This is somewhat negotiable, but usually not by much. As a general rule, you do not get better service for the higher price -- providers have a base rate and normally stick to it. Did I mention explicitly negotiating everything in advance?

  • References: You can find reviews of some providers on internet forums, and if you're extroverted you can sometimes ask the previous customer upon leaving whether the session was worthwhile. Not sure what asking the provider for references would accomplish. If they're out to cheat you, that inquiry is worthless, and if they're honest, it's unnecessary.

Gratuitous tip: although Amsterdam is world-famous for the RLD, it is not a particularly good destination for commercial sex. FKK clubs in Germany and many spots in East Asia are far better when it comes to quality of the experience.

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Thanks a lot for this superb answer! –  RoflcoptrException Jan 4 '12 at 18:15
1  
Are swinger clubs in Germany really called FKK clubs? FKK is supposed to be about non-sexual social nudity, basically the German term for naturism. –  hippietrail Jan 4 '12 at 18:18
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I never heard FKK as synonym for swinger clubs. –  RoflcoptrException Jan 4 '12 at 18:18
    
re: FKK, judge for yourself (NSFW): fkk-villa.de/index.html –  nibot Jan 28 '13 at 23:23
1  
In general FKK really means naturism in German (as in “FKK-Ferien” or “FKK-Baden”) but “FKK-Club” in particular is often used by brothels, neither swinger clubs (as I understand it, in swinger clubs people don't pay each other for sex but I don't have any first-hand experience actually) nor a naturism venue (I once went to a FKK-Strand more or less by accident and there were no sexual contacts, of that I can attest…). –  Relaxed May 14 '13 at 22:25

As always the Wikipedia articles has some useful information. Firstly I'd note that the prostitutes are not required by law to undergo regular health checks, so it goes without saying to use precautions and good judgement. Secondly, sadly, even in countries with legalized prostitution you still get woman who are the victims of human trafficking, they should be avoid for the obvious reason and also because there is a higher likelihood of 'unwanted outside attention' like being shaken down or scammed by a pimp.

As with anything in life if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Ask plenty of questions - the last thing you want is for your buddy to end up with something he didn't want...

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To answer the last question: the HIV rate alone is about 7%. Source: RIVM 2005 (RIVM is the Dutch Public Health authority). Other STD's are also prevalent. Amongst tested female Commercial Sex Workers, chlamydia occurs in 7% of cases, gonorrhoea in 2%, genital warts 1% RIVM 2009.

BTW for future reference: the STI rates under males and transgenders are even higher.

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2  
How do these percentages compare to the general population or to other places? –  hippietrail Jan 3 '12 at 23:31
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Misleading. On page 33 of RVIM 2005, HIV prevalence among female CSW in Amsterdam is 3.1%. On page 32, the paper states "none of the clients were HIV infected" in a 2004 study sample. Regarding other STDs, for comparison, Chlamydia prevalence is ~3.3% among 20-24 y.o. US females (for general population, so 7% for sex workers is not terrible). Using condoms is always a good idea, but no need to panic. –  dbkk Jan 4 '12 at 17:53
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@hippietrail: From the same 2005 report, HIV is not generally tested. Blood donors are; HIV prevalence amongst them is 0.03%. However, high-risk groups (including gays) are not allowed to donate blood so this underestimates the overall prevalence. –  MSalters Jan 4 '12 at 19:21
    
@hippietrail It makes no sense to compare that to general prevalence rates. Except the 2004 survey, those are percentages of people who consulted a STD clinic. –  Relaxed May 15 '13 at 7:36
    
@dbkk No client infected… in a very small sample from a pilot study. –  Relaxed May 15 '13 at 7:37

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