What I Learned From An Afternoon With Two 77-Year-Old Sex Workers

 Me and the Fokken sisters in Amsterdam's Red Light District.

Me and the Fokken sisters in Amsterdam's Red Light District.

As part of the study abroad course I’m teaching on Sex and Culture in the Netherlands, I booked us a tour of Amsterdam’s Red Light District with the famous Fokken twins, Louise and Martine. The Fokken sisters have been employed as sex workers for over a half-century and the day we met just happened to be their 77th birthday. In addition to answering our questions, they talked with us about what it’s like to be a sex worker and how they’ve seen the business change over time. Here are a few of the most interesting parts of our conversation:

· Louise and Martine began selling sex for a living in their early 20s and, to this day, both of them still do sex work. Louise entered the profession first; Martine followed a few years later after working as a cleaner in her sister’s brothel (where she was often mistaken for Louise).

· Louise was initially coaxed into prostitution by her ex-husband. She didn’t talk too much about this on our tour, but it sounded like she was in a very dysfunctional and exploitative relationship in which her husband had effectively become her pimp.

· Neither of the sisters are currently married or in relationships; however, between the two of them they have seven children and several grandchildren (who, as further Google searches reveal, appear to be split in terms of how they feel about their mother’s/grandmother’s profession).

· When asked whether they would be OK with one of their daughters becoming a sex worker, they gave an emphatic no—in fact, they said they’d “break her legs” if she went into the industry.

· Although sex work didn’t necessarily sound like their ideal career path or the one they’d want for a family member, both of the sisters shared a lot of fond memories of their work and about many of their clients. They also said their work can be fun.

· Most of the clients they see now are old regulars, some of whom they’ve been seeing for almost as long as they’ve been working. Many of these clients have become friends and they’re sad to learn when a long-term client has passed away.

· The sisters said they engaged in a lot of threesomes over the years (a popular request from clients). In addition, they’ve done quite a bit of “light” S&M (something they said has become a more popular request in recent years). They do have limits on the activities they’ll engage in with clients, though, and one of those is that they say they’ve never had anal sex for money.

· In addition to selling sex, the sisters said they also sell romance and intimacy, and that a lot of their clients want to go out on dates.

· The sisters eventually opened their own brothel in order to take more control of their work and lives. In other words, they went from employees to employers in the Red Light District—despite this change, however, they kept seeing their own clients.

· Another interesting thing the sisters noted is how the Red Light District has changed over time. One of the big changes is the appearance of the women selling sex in the area—specifically, sex workers went from being fully dressed to wearing the skimpiest outfits you can imagine. Louise laments this because it leaves nothing to the imagination and takes the fun and seductiveness out of the “reveal” for customers. Louise also laments that the Red Light District has largely become a “quick service” area in recent years—one in which there is no longer time for romancing a client.

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Image Source: Justin Lehmiller

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