Prostitution in the Netherlands

One of the reasons the Dutch are known for their tolerance is their relatively lenient policies towards prostitution. However, according to a lot of sex workers, there is still room for improvement. This has caused them to start My Red Light, the first Dutch sex workers collective. But how did the Netherlands ever become the front runner for legal sex work?

History of prostitution

Prostitution is known as the oldest profession in the world and the tolerance towards it in the Netherlands has an equally long history. In the Middle Ages prostitution was already accepted in the Netherlands. Though people didn’t approve of it, there was a general consensus that if there was a choice between rape and exploitation of women and a more controlled branch of sex work, the latter would be preferable. However, prostitution remained technically illegal for a very long time.


In the year 2000, brothels were officially legalized in the Netherlands, in the hope that prostitution could be organized in a more controlled manner. In 2009, the government passed a bill that was even more focused on the wellbeing of sex workers, with regulations that said, amongst other things, that sex workers should register themselves at municipality and that they should be at least 21 years old. Though these policies put the Netherlands way ahead of other countries, there still wasn’t a complete satisfaction concerning the rights of sex workers.


This dissatisfaction has led to the latest development in prostitution: in Amsterdam’s red light district, the first window brothel run by sex workers themselves is being built. In the nineties, sex workers have already voiced their wish to be able to manage their own businesses, rather than being dependent of a pimp. Finally, this dream has become a reality. In 2017, the first sex workers collective will open for business. This means that a group of sex workers will rent out rooms together, independently. Next to endorsement of the independence of sex workers, this business will provide workshops to sex workers about health and safety.


The creation of this business is a big step for sex workers in the Netherlands. More and more improvements are being made when it comes to their rights and independence. However, one of the biggest concerns that remains is the image that prostitution has. Many people still consider it a lesser profession and a lot of stigmas are still attached to it. Both sex workers and the mayor of Amsterdam, Van der Laan, hope that the creation of this new business and the information they provide will help in the normalization of prostitution as a profession.


Learn more about sex work on the website of My Red Light.


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