“You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a stocky black transvestite banging his cock against a window in the hope you’ll part money for it”, my friend said.

It was a Thursday evening and we were in Amsterdam, beginning our maiden tour of the city’s Red Light District. We’d started in the transvestite section, hidden in one of the many side streets. The colour blue, not red, indicates these are not your average girls.

Here, large men grab their testicles and windmill their cocks in an attempt to attract punters. They hide in almost total darkness and only step forward as you pass by.

Breaking onto the infamous Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, things take a turn for the more stereotypical.

Girls pull shut the curtains when passersby try to talk a photo. On some occasions, if they see you, they’ll chase you down the street hurling abuse

On basement, ground and first floors, girls stand in windows bathed in electric crimson light. They gyrate with vacant expressions in fluorescent underwear. Many are either talking on their phones or smoking slim cigarettes. Most are gorgeous yet have the air of a severely pissed off Victoria’s Secret model.

Six years ago the government lifted the ban on brothels. However, since 2007, around 127 windows have been closed in an effort to ‘clean up’ the area. And it shows.

The walkways are crammed with packs of men – Americans, Brits, Germans and people from the Middle East are heard first then seen. They stand jeering, mouths open, pushing and shoving their way to sex shows, coffeeshops or standout girls.

Every 20 yards drug dealers offer ‘coca’. They carry checked man bags around their shoulders and hound like Egyptian market stall vendors.

Groups of men stand outside windows jeering each other on to make an approach

Mixed in with the lads are strings of confused middle-aged women. They’re often being led by an equally confused tour guide who’s desperate not to lose any of the entourage.

An hour earlier we’d witnessed a stag party throw the groom-to-be in a canal. They misjudged the launch and ‘Gay Lord Paul’ ended up bouncing off a moored dingy before hitting the murky water.

Sat outside the Old Sailor pub, we watched a group of Mancs scream ‘YOU SCOUSE TWAT, YOU SCOUSE TWAT’ at a lone figure pissing into the canal. The horde turned and headed towards the bench we were sat on.

I sensed then it was a good time to escape the mayhem.

From the corner of my eye I’d noticed a girl rapping on the door and pointing in my direction. She was dressed in lacy white underwear. I could be her clueless Hugh Grant, she could be my Romanian Andie MacDowell.

A man and a woman (unseen) negotiate with a sex worker. It’s not uncommon to see couples heading into a room together

As I approached her office she opened the door and asked “What you want baby?”

“How much is it?” I said.

The girl leaned into me grabbing my shirt and said: “50 for blowjob and sex. Ten minutes. One position.”


I entered and she shut the door then pulled across the curtain. The short corridor led into a modest-sized room.

There was a double bed in the corner; each wall was covered in a mirror divided into large square panels. On a shelf by the bed was an assortment of sex toys, from dildos to handcuffs.

Punters and tourists cram the red light district canals

As she turned around, her body looked the same, but her face was less attractive away from the red light. Her facial features were harsher and more pronounced than had been visible from two feet outside her window.

With four-inch heels she towered over me.

I said, “Where are you from?”

“I’m Salina, from Pussyland, in Romania. 50 please. Undress.”

I handed over the money and removed my clothes. She did the same, quickly, then snatched a condom from a bowl next to the bed.

I was barely ready but using only her mouth, she put the condom on and began.

A relief by an anonymous artist in the Oudekerksplein square in the heart of the red light district

After a few minutes Salina lay back on the bed and applied lubricant to herself. The sense of autopilot was overwhelming.

Before I entered she held one hand over around the base of my penis. “To prevent the spread of bacteria from your hair to me.”

Am I riddled with bacteria? I thought.

“Sometimes we use a sheet of paper”, she said. Her knuckles and rings were smashing into my groin with every reluctant push.

I tried to decide what was more pathetic: a sheet of paper as a cover, a hand covering herself or the necessity of lube.

We were interrupted by the siren of a police motorbike that had pulled up outside. It killed the mood stone dead and we sat up.

We shared a cigarette as she told me: “The police are present because a few drunk people – usually locals – think they’re the daddy and beat the girls. They take drugs and hit us.”

According to Salina, a few years ago a group of Americans had a bet with each other to see who could kill a prostitute first. Since then, and after a few separate beatings, the girls have been more cautious. There’s been a greater police presence and more CCTV cameras installed.

On the wall next to the bed was a list of three bullet-points:





The exclamation marks were written in dark red.

As I left a small man was being handcuffed up against a wall. According to a passerby, he’d stumbled out of the Old Sailor, casually vomited against a window, after which he’d tried to enter it thinking it was his hotel. The working girl had locked the door and he’d become more and more irate. That’s when the ‘Politie’ were called.

The next night, we ventured out once more. I’d heard that the basic ‘suck and fuck’ doubles to 100 at the weekend yet I was keen to have an encounter not interrupted by the Netherlands’ law enforcement.

We made our way to De Oude Kerk where we’d seen several alleyways with a collection of windows the night before.

Down one passageway a group of fifty-something-year-old men were hovering outside a room. They shoved one another forward, desperately trying to get one of the pack to go in.

With her black underwear and diminutive figure, the girl looked like a slutty Ariana Grande. She had the air of a girl who’d been messed around, in her time, by a large cross-section of mean-tempered drunks.

‘Somebody to Love’ was blaring out of Ziggy’s Bar, I took that as a sign and pushed my way through the mob.

As I approached her window she yanked the door open as if I was a cold caller, blew cigarette smoke in my face then said: “50 for blowjob and sex. Ok. You come in now.”

She disappeared up a flight of stairs and shouted to follow. Bewildered, I closed the door and pulled the curtain across. There was a cheer from the men outside.


As I reached the room I began to remove my shoes. Elena instructed me not to and instead took my shirt off and pulled my pants down slightly. She was covered in oil and as she sat on my shirt I knew this encounter would leave an impression.

After stretching a condom on Elena performed a blowjob with the look of a girl that had bitten a rancid lemon. Shame was not an emotion I expected to feel, but here it was.

This was followed up by an equally aggressive handjob: think frustrated girl and an almost empty Ketchup bottle.

The ordeal was tainted by the fact she kept repeating her mantra ‘all men are pigs’ throughout. Within five minutes of entering the room I was being told to hurry up.

I asked if we could have sex.

She laughed like Jared Leto’s Joker and said, “You getting sex. Blowjob is sex. Oral sex. You want vaginal sex, another 100.”

What followed was a five-minute argument during which we covered semantics but also touched on lying and the importance of transparency. The result of which was her continuing the increasingly aggressive handjob and me finishing to her laughing ‘you stupid man’ and ‘you don’t know English’.

She threw a tissue on the bed and told me to clean myself. My 50 euro note was safely tucked inside her purse. She hadn’t removed one item of clothing and we’d never made eye contact.


Exiting Elena’s, the men had gone. A group of Chinese tourists stood in their place. They immediately began taking photos and pointing; presumably at the arse print on my chest. Elena howled at them, yanked the curtain shut and I stumbled onto the street feeling like Marco Pierre White Jnr.

Back at the Old Sailor I explained to my friend what had happened.

In the end, their abruptness and clinical techniques create a distance between them and the punters. Twenty-seven-year-old Salina had talked of the ‘fake fucking’ trick. The girl explains she doesn’t want to exchange bacteria but in this case she makes a column shape with her hand at the opening of her vagina.

In certain positions the man is simply fucking her hand yet he’s none the wiser.

At the end of it all, I can’t help thinking that the clinical, robotic nature of the trade can be best summed up by the off-putting realisation that without the necessary lubricant, fucking – fake or real – wouldn’t be happening at all.



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