I'm Studying Sex in the Netherlands For the Next Two Weeks!

 This is Belle. She is a monument to prostitution in the heart of Amsterdam's Red Light District. The plaque below her reads:  “Respect sex workers all over the world.”

This is Belle. She is a monument to prostitution in the heart of Amsterdam's Red Light District. The plaque below her reads: “Respect sex workers all over the world.”

Greetings from Amsterdam! For the second year in a row, I’m teaching a study abroad course on Sexuality and Culture in the Netherlands. Today is the first full day of my two-week course, and I couldn't be more excited. Amsterdam is, of course, an awesome city—but it’s also a fascinating place to teach students about cross-cultural differences in sexuality for several reasons. 

As you may know, sex work is legal and government-regulated in the Netherlands. Therefore, one of the big things I'll be emphasizing in this course is what this means for sex workers. For instance, compared to places where prostitution is criminalized, how are the motivations for becoming a sex worker different in the Netherlands? Also, are there any differences in sex workers' mental health? What about differences in their risk of being sexually assaulted or contracting STIs?

We’ll be digging into what the research says about all of these issues (this is an academic course, after all!), but we’re also going to get some firsthand insight through a seminar and discussion with a Dutch sex worker at the Prostitution Information Center. We did this last year and it was definitely one of the major highlights of the trip--I can't recommend it enough if you happen to be in town! New this year, we will also have a meet and greet with the Fokken sisters. They are 75-year-old twins who both had careers as sex workers for over a half century. 

In addition to learning about sex work, we’re going to consider cross-cultural differences in sex education. The Dutch have among the best sexual health outcomes in the world. Indeed, they have extremely low rates of teen pregnancies, abortions, and STIs for an industrialized nation and it’s largely due to the fact that, unlike the U.S., the Netherlands has mandated comprehensive sex education for all students. We’ll be diving into the research on this topic as well, but also speaking with a Dutch sex educator for enhanced perspective.

The other big thing we’ll also be addressing in this course is LGBT+ issues. Given that the Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, we will be looking at the implications of being a sexual minority in a culture where acceptance of sexual diversity is so much higher. For instance, do LGBT+ folks have better physical and psychological health in a place like this, or do they still experience the same health disparities they do in other countries? 

Beyond learning about Dutch sexuality, we’ll also be immersing ourselves in the local culture starting with a four hour bike tour of the city today. Tomorrow, we're doing a five-hour food tour, and later in the trip we'll be visiting the major museums and historic sites (including the Anne Frank House), exploring the world's largest flower garden (where they plant more than 7 million bulbs per year!), and taking a cruise along the canals. 

I can't wait to get started! It’ll be a busy couple of weeks to be sure, so if my posts are a little more sporadic than usual, that's why. However, I'll be sure to post some updates on the blog about what we're learning. And if you want to follow our daily adventures or live vicariously through us, follow me on Twitter @JustinLehmiller or Instagram @JustinJLehmiller

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Image Source: Justin Lehmiller

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