Red Light District in Amsterdam
Photo: Shutterstock / Anna Belkina Sbp.
Coronavirus

How Sex Workers Are Dealing with Coronavirus

"I need to find a different way to make money as soon as possible, or I’ll end up on the street."
24 March 2020, 2:00pmUpdated on 24 March 2020, 10:26am

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands on the 16th of March.

As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks global havoc and governments are forced to shut down services in order to save lives, workers across all industries are feeling the effects. While healthcare workers fight on the front line of the crisis, many governments have ordered non-essential services to close, leaving hospitality staff (among many others) in the lurch, while those in the creative and performance industries also face uncertain futures.

In the Netherlands, sex workers are struggling as well, with sex clubs forced to shut their doors for the time being. The government's restrictions, while less drastic than neighbours Germany and France, currently require people to keep a 1.5-metre distance from each other – which excludes many forms of sex work.

When asked, a spokesperson for RIVM, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, said there was no specific health advice for sex workers trying to navigate the pandemic. “But if we advise people not to shake hands, we of course also advise against more intimate forms of contact,” they said.

It’s a tough new reality for sex workers who don’t have alternative income streams. We called four people in the industry to ask what impact coronavirus has already had on their business, if they’re worried about their health and how they plan to make money in the meantime.

"Gang bang sessions usually attract about 40 men – the first week of March I only had 11"

This is a very difficult time for us. We’re barely making any money, because lots of private clients are canceling at the last minute. One of my revenue streams is organising a bi-weekly gang bang, but since early March, when we found out the number of infections in the Netherlands was on the rise, I’ve canceled them all.

I had already started to notice the effects in the past few weeks. Gang bang sessions usually attract about 40 men – the first week of March I only had 11. I understand why I had to cancel, but it’s also frustrating: the same people who opted out of a gang bang at the time were still taking the metro and the bus.

The effects on Amsterdam’s red light district are disastrous. It’s completely empty at the moment. Lots have decided to close up shop, but the women who rent their little private rooms still have to pay 720 euros a week in rent [Foxxy Angel has since told VICE that rent has been put on hold in the red light district]. These same sex workers are often from Bulgaria, Romania or Italy and can't go home at the moment.

At the Prostitution Information Center, we’re working on solutions for sex workers who are ending up on the streets, but we’d very much welcome support from the government. I hope an emergency fund will be established for sex workers, but I’m afraid that people will just resort to saying that we should have chosen a different profession.

I’m currently rationing my supplies: I bought food in bulk so I can freeze some and that way, hopefully I can keep paying my rent. I’m also applying for different jobs in the sex industry and I hope something will materialise. I need to find a different way to make money as soon as possible, or I’ll end up on the street. Foxxy Angel, sex worker and Prostitution Information Center (PIC) spokesperson.

"The whole community has been very understanding"

I’m in the leather scene, but also organise meet-ups for people who like to dress up as toddlers. I was supposed to throw a toddler party early March, but I canceled it. Amsterdam was meant to host Amsterdam Bear Weekend (from 19 to 23 March) with parties all over the city, but that was canceled as well.

People who throw these parties pay big deposits up front and are feeling the hit right now. Still, the whole community has been very understanding. That’s what sex and fetish parties are mostly about: a sense of community.

I can do a lot of stuff online, like share photos and maintain my personal site that people pay to use, but a big part of my work in the kink world happens offline. We’re still allowed to organise private parties and get-togethers for less than 100 people [this policy has since changed in the Netherlands], but I don’t think it’s the responsible thing to do right now.

As for my health, I already had lots of sanitary supplies like gloves and antibacterial gels at home – you’re much more aware of personal hygiene when you throw sex parties. I find it pretty funny that everyone is finally starting to wash their hands properly. Emma, throws kink parties and meet-ups.

"Not everyone cares about the rules. I still get phone calls asking if we are open"

As one of Europe's bigger sex clubs, we host people from all over the world on a daily basis. We throw parties, run a large restaurant and also have a lot of rooms where couples have sex – both with each other and with others.

We closed earlier than other clubs. It was a difficult decision to make, but it made sense: the health of my staff and guests comes first. We already offered hand sanitiser in our rooms, but washing your hands before getting intimate with a bunch of people won’t make a difference.

I had already started noticing a decline in visitors before the restrictions. You can tell that people are scared. But weirdly enough, not everyone cares about the rules. I still get phone calls asking if we are open. Bobby Groenteman, owner of swingers club Fun4Two.

"As soon as I log in, there’s a virtual line of people who have been sitting inside all day and are super horny"

I work as a go-go dancer or stripper for events and private parties. It's a pretty physical job – when I greet someone, I usually kiss them on the cheek and when I perform a lap dance, I get closer to people than is considered safe right now. I’ve been very careful – when I’ve noticed a customer sweating a lot or coughing, I’ve stepped back and politely asked if they have a cold. I don’t want to overreact, but I have to be careful with my health. My son is only five years old and I don’t want to take risks.

The coronavirus has had a massive impact on our profession. All the parties I was booked for have been canceled, which is to be expected. I’m very lucky that there are always things you can do in erotic entertainment that don’t require being physically present. I’ve been doing webcam sessions for a while and I’m so relieved I can fall back on that. And demand has increased, because everyone has to stay at home. As soon as I log in, there’s a virtual line of people who have been sitting inside all day and are super horny.

Other than that, I’m afraid we’ll have to sit this one out. There’s no point in inviting strippers to your party just to financially support them, because it puts them at risk, too. Mandy Slim, go-go dancer and stripper.