Illustrations by Craig 'Questions' Scott
I recently stumbled upon a website called the Amsterdam Diaries. Initially, it just seemed to be a chronicle of one British guy's visits to the city's red-light district—another coarse vaginalogue written by a creepy, monosyllabic regular. But I soon realized there was more to the site than the many others like it. There's a noticeable political slant; there's a wealth of research into the history, laws, and culture of prostitution; and the stories, written with finesse in the first person, actually contain more than faint traces of humor and humanity.
Given that the blog's author is a rich professional who enjoys the finer things in life, it kinda reads like American Psycho if Bret Easton Ellis hadn't given Patrick Bateman axes and had toned down the psychopathy. For example: "Now I’m dressed, I feel the part. It feels good to be suited and booted. If I find pussy that fits like my boots, it will be magic. I have a fuck-fund which looks like a well that can never run dry. I’m physically very fit. If I get any fitter the government is likely to tax me on it."
The blog now attracts about 100,000 visitors a month and is, in the author’s words, “probably the most extensively documented primary research into the prostitute-client transaction and relationship."
With that in mind, I contacted the anonymous author, who—after some negotiating—agreed to meet with me as long as I revealed nothing about his identity or his location, for fear that “if any tabloids or feminist journalists tracked me down, they could and would set about making my life really fucking miserable." So, for his sake, let’s call him Lange.
The fact that he's a decent writer with a deep interest in his subject matter obviously doesn't make him a saint. But to me it makes him more interesting than your average Amsterdam-bound British tourist, those guys who end up spending all their money on weed, novelty ashtrays, and sex with as many women as their Heineken-filled, semi-conscious penises allow them to.
Here's the shortened version of our conversation.
VICE: So what can you tell me about yourself?
Lange: Working-class background. University-educated—politics. Professional occupation. Married too young. Divorced.
Why did you first begin visiting sex workers?
No rational explanation, no thinking it through, no planning, no horny appetite to satisfy. On a beach one night, I said to myself, “What the fuck are you doing out here at eight o'clock at night on Christmas Eve?” I was separated and in the middle of a divorce, and not in the mood for Christmas. It led me to the conclusion that I would appreciate the warmth of female company, and if she could be about 25, drop-dead gorgeous, and Japanese—the influence of porn, I suspect—that would be quite good too. I rationalized that it wasn't likely to happen without my paying for it.
So you went to Amsterdam.
Yeah. I had a great time, as a man who hasn't had sex for the best part of a year might, in such an environment. I went back a couple of times in the next six weeks. The short, sharp sexual experiences were very nice, but they weren't what I was looking for. I wanted a much more intimate experience than the sex-by-numbers that the windows offered. I'd decided to call it a day when I had a life-changer. I visited a Dutch girl one afternoon and had a real girlfriend experience.
The sex is over a longish period, involves a lot of very intimate sexual acts, and, importantly for me, kissing. A real girlfriend experience with a prostitute can be considerably more sexy than with some real girlfriends. I set about replicating that experience as frequently as possible. You can't just turn up in De Wallen, enter a window, and expect to get what I have just described. But it does happen. Sometimes I have to romance a girl over a few visits before we make that connection.
So these visits aren't just physical?
Absolutely. The girls I visit regularly are girls I like. I enjoy their company. I'm interested in them as individuals. I'm not like the members of the rescue industry who dump prostitutes into a box labelled "Broken, needs mending." To them, prostitutes are statistics and people to be controlled. To me, they are real people who deserve respect. And from what I can make out, most of them are brighter than their critics.
Is it ever difficult to stop yourself getting too emotionally involved?
I did find it difficult when I first started visiting the red-light district; I made the mistake of thinking that they were thinking of me as a special client. But I grew out of it. I don't get romantically attached. Common sense says that while this can be a good environment to have a real girlfriend experience, it's not a good environment to meet a girlfriend.
Why did you start writing about your experiences?
I'd been keeping a detailed daily diary for a couple of years before arriving in Amsterdam. It was down to the divorce—I was using it to discharge the emotional slurry churning about inside my head. When I started to visit De Wallen, I simply carried on.
Is the writing on the site you or a character you've devised? It seems almost Patrick Bateman–esque in parts.
Well, it's a version of me—or an extended character. I do deliberately go for humor whenever I can. A lot of it is aimed at me, acknowledging that I really can be a twat sometimes. American Psycho is the only book that I have ever been ashamed to have read and owned. I took it down to the bottom of the garden and set fire to it.
It was a while ago, so I don't remember the content too clearly—though sending the rat up the girl's vagina is a fairly vivid memory. But it came down to the fact that the violence was so gratuitous that I didn't want anyone thinking that I was entertained by it in any way; my capacity for analyzing how things might go wrong is immense. It followed that the best thing to do would be to burn it. Then there was the problem of the ashes and explaining why the lawn had these fucking great burn marks.
What do you get from these experiences that you can't get with people on dates or in relationships?
I don't have the opportunity for dates or relationships. I don't meet women I'm interested in; I have zero interest in women my own age. There's an assumption that if a couple are in a relationship, then the sex is hunky-dory. The truth is that there are all sorts of sexual problems within long-term relationships. One common factor in visiting prostitutes is that a guy can ask a prostitute for things that might put a cloud over the relationship if his partner isn't up for it. A prostitute will either say yes or no, and that will be the end of the matter.
Do you consider yourself to be a sex addict?
Of course not. It's amazing how often this question rears its head when the talk is about prostitution. If a guy has sex with his wife every other night, that will universally be regarded as both normal and healthy. Another guy has sex with his wife every night, he's considered a bit of a sex machine, but still very, very normal. Another guy visits a few prostitutes once every six weeks, and he's a sex addict.
How much do you think you’ve spent on having sex?
When I do the sums, it's painful. Over time, it adds up to quite a lot, but on a single visit it adds up to what I can easily afford—it's disposable income. There's one girl I don't hesitate to pay $550 for two hours, with maybe another two visits at $140 and $280.
You're a frequent visitor—have you had any horrible experiences in the red-light district?
No, but then I'm unlikely to witness it since it would—theoretically—be taking place behind a closed curtain. I do, from time to time, ask the girls that very question, and most girls simply say no. The girls have pretty well honed man-management skills, so I suspect that they mostly take care of incidents before they happen.
My guess is that an official working on the London Underground is more at risk of violence than an Amsterdam window girl. Have you noticed all of those signs up at airports, in banks, at job centers—"Abusive behavior and violence towards our staff will not be tolerated"? Bad things happen in prostitution just as they happen everywhere else. Unfortunately, they're always magnified and used as reasons to stop prostitution.
You seem to be a keen proponent of the rights and fair treatment of sex workers. Could you briefly sum up your philosophy and opinions on UK sex-worker laws?
Historically, the emphasis has been on prostitution as a public nuisance offence, and so it tends to be street prostitutes who receive the most attention from the police. To this end, there's a Frankenstein's mish-mash of legislation, which tends to focus on activities surrounding prostitution and effectively makes a legal activity an illegal one. The other problem is the way that prostitution—a legal activity—is conflated with illegal activities, such as illegal immigration or actual sex trafficking—a violent, coercive, exploitative practice. There is considerable inconsistency in the way that the law is applied, and the outcomes of that application frequently appear as harassment and the infringement of the human rights of prostitutes.
So how would you solve that?
I'd decriminalize prostitution. It would be OK to operate a business model where prostitutes became part of the normal economy—paying tax, etc. The age of consent would remain at 18. If a woman can vote and terminate life through an abortion, she can decide what to do with her body. I'd introduce effective, funded provision for women who wish to exit the work. Anti-prostitution lobbying would be made a hate crime. A clear distinction would be made between prostitution, economic migration, and sex trafficking, supported by thorough analysis of real sex-trafficking data and a proportionate response. Where the root cause of prostitution is drug addiction, I'd introduce funding for effective withdrawal. The mindset would have to be how to make prostitution work safely and effectively, without stigma, rather than as a barely tolerated activity that should experience punitive controls.
You say that “feminist ideology enslaves common sense and objective analysis,” yet on other parts of your site you mention your fondness for "positive feminism." Can you explain your relationship to feminism?
In terms of gender equality, I'm a fully signed-up member. Yet modern feminism is a litany of complaint, fueled by observing the world through a feminist prism—and that I struggle with. It's also dominated by middle-class elitism where a small number of women obsess over the things that really matter most to a small number of elitist women. Ideology demands that women are portrayed as victims at every opportunity. They are always forced, pressured, or coerced. Women, according to feminists, are incapable of rational thought or objective decision making. And where female victims don't exist, feminists go out and manufacture them.
I can't help comparing young women who support real causes—like Malala Yousafzai with girls' education in Pakistan, or Fahma Mohamed, with female genital mutilation—with feminists who campaign over getting a woman's face on a bank note or getting tits out of magazines. I'm quite clear about which ones are trying to make the world a better place. There's also that insane group who parade statements such as "Prostitution is violence against women," and "Prostitution is an expression of pure hatred of women." This stuff is rabid, toxic nonsense. Apart from expressing how strongly some women feel about prostitution, those statements don't make any literal sense.
What do you say to those who claim there can be no prostitution without human trafficking?
I wondered when the get-out-of-that question would appear. The issue is the way that prostitution, human smuggling, human trafficking, and sex trafficking are conflated in order to support the anti-prostitution agenda. Most recently, the EU voted to recommend that member states adopt the Swedish model, where prostitution is recognized as legal and the purchase of sex is illegal—despite the fact, incidentally, that even the Swedish government can't demonstrate that its laws actually achieve the intended outcome.
I really should bite my tongue here, but I think I'll throw in some analogies. Bad things happen in the context of prostitution, but that doesn't make prostitution bad. Bad things happen in life. If there were no automobiles, there would be no deaths through traffic accidents. If there were no knives in the world, there would be no knife crime. Prostitution is singled out for special treatment, not because it's special but because there are people who—on a moral, personal level—have a problem with it. The issue should have an appropriate, proportionate, and focused response.
Follow Daniel Dylan Wray on Twitter.