When in Amsterdam! Opposite Extremes: Historic Culture & Live Sex Show

When in Amsterdam! Opposite Extremes: Historic Culture & Live Sex Show

The aspect I found most interesting in Amsterdam was the juxtaposition between historic culture and drug culture. To me it felt a city a lot like Venice, but much wilder. I went to opposite extremes from visiting the Anne Frank house in the day to seeing a live Sex Show at night.

During the day we went for a bike ride, visited windmills, and cheese and clog factories. We walked along the pretty canal full of gondolas and boats peacefully drifting along. When the sun set, we were off to De Wallen, the largest Red Light District.

In Amsterdam, a shop labeled as a “coffee shop,” is not exactly your traditional coffee shop.  It’s what you would expect, plus a few minor illegal substances. Well, illegal to most North Americans, that is. There are menus scattered everywhere with hundreds of different varieties of marijuana and forms of consuming it.

When in Rome! 

Right? Except in Amsterdam.

We strolled along the streets before meeting up with the rest of the group for the Sex Show. Standing outside in line, just about to enter our X-rated entertainment for the evening, a few of us tried to wrap our head’s around what we were actually about to witness. Our guide insisted it was a must-see while in Amsterdam and “all part of experiencing the culture.”

The natural assumption was that it would be just like a porn movie, only live, in person. So maybe it would resemble a play, maybe?  But within the walls of this dark, dingy theatre, I realized this was very different. This was a shared experience with strangers – not particularly pleasant strangers at that. And, while I am no prude, the whole thing was not particularly an enthralling experience by any means.

About 50 people were seated in the rows facing the stage. There were a few couples, a small group of women and one man sitting alone in the corner, with an overcoat probably at least three sizes too big.

I didn’t look in his direction again.

Onstage, the couple went through their choreographed routine, almost robotic as they switched positions with utmost efficiency.

Fifteen seconds here, then change.

Fifteen second there, then change.

A few instances though, the guy would do this weird leg thing like he was attempting some sort of rhythmic gymnastics.

As they did this, I looked at the woman’s face. It appeared at first glance as though she may be enjoying all this, but I didn’t buy it. She was acting. Is this where you wanted to be? I asked her in my head. Where you thought your life would end up? Do you enjoy being watched? Or is this a means to an end? I’ll never know. But I will always wonder. And I’ll always know that I contributed to the industry when I shelled out the 30 Euro admission fee.

I gathered my surroundings and noticed that me and my travel buddies were slobbering all over the penis-shaped suckers we were given at the door. I stopped being so analytical and just sat there mindless, watching absentmindedly.

Eventually, the couple we had been watching was followed by a succession of women performing various acts that can’t really be described in any detail – needless to say; I’ve never really looked at fruit salad the same way again.


My passion for capturing memories through the lens of my camera, my love for food and the joy I find in reflecting on my travel memories using a pen and paper results in a series of blog entries filled with warmth, pure happiness and inspiration. I hope to share a little bit of myself and my adventure of life with you.


  • Have not been to Amsterdam in more than 15 years. I had a similar experience at a coffee shop with what they called “space cake”. Never went to a sex show, but did catch the sex museum.

    • Hi there! Definitely a culture experience, Amsterdam is. I could have done without the sex show in retrospect, but I think it definitely qualifies as diving head first into Amsterdam culture! Thanks for the comment and for visiting :D

  • This must be an interesting experience. I went to the Red Light District in Amsterdam and it was interesting but I didn’t like how those women were posing and waiting there in display windows… kind of sad.

  • I had mixed feelings about the Red Light District (actually, I had mixed feelings about Amsterdam in general). I didn’t go to a show, but I felt kind of guilty even walking by and gawking. I wondered about what the women were thinking and if they were miserable or not, like you did. I guess that’s one of those good things about travel, though – opening our eyes to people and experiences and making us think critically.

  • I live in Amsterdam, and I think that you’re right. It’s a culture clash, and while I haven’t been to any of the sex shows, I think that there are some things in the red light district worth doing. There is a tour run by the Prostitute information centre, which was highly informative, and gave me a whole different perspective on the red light district as a whole.
    The other thing I wanted to say was that I also felt quite awkward gawping at the girls in the windows when I first moved here, but once you get used to it (and once you’ve been on a tour by the PIC), it isn’t as big a deal.

  • Oh Amsterdam…what a strange city. I didn’t go to a live show but I did pay 2 euro for the peep show…I just kinda stood there and all I could think of was ‘do you actually like doing this?” it was definitely an experience but not one I’m keen to do again!

  • Really interesting article, not sure if I would visit a sex show or not :| I’ve been considering Amsterdam for ages but I am still undecided if I am actually bothered about going – I haven’t got any interest in smoking weed, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I would go would be to blow my money on prostitutes!

    • I think that you should – if the Red Light District doesn’t appeal to you, there’s still lots of nice things to see. I really enjoyed the pretty canals, bike riding on the outskirts of the city and especially visiting the Anne Frank annex.

  • Not a single person I know enjoyed the shows in Amsterdam which is why I didn’t bother forking out the cash. It is interesting to read and hear others reactions though. I did however enjoy the “coffee shops” and would gladly do it all over again if I ever went back.

  • Wow. That show sounds like an interesting/puzzling/sad experience. I’m definitely curious about those “coffee shops” though – must be quite the culture shock experience for an American! Reminds me of how I was shocked to see alcohol in convenience stores in Korea (no alcohol sold in regular stores in PA until kind of recently)

  • Wow, what a whirlwind experience this must have been. It’s very interesting to see / hear what type of activities and substances are legal / illegal in different places. I think the tour mentioned above in the comments would be necessary for me to see the Red Light District for what it is to locals & culturally, and not the strange associations and misconceived notions I have about it or have heard about it so far. Really interesting. You’re brave for considering and participating in these things. (I mean that sincerely…so hard to catch inflection in type.) -Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

  • Oh dear! I would probably be just as analytical as you, observing everyone and thinking: why are they here? Why are they doing that? … I would rather prefer a bike ride along the canals I think, haha!

  • I remember how we longed to visit Red light district, sex show, sex museum and a typical dutch coffee house during our travels there. Luckily enough we had a chance to live there for a brief 6 months. I loved cycling around the tiny canal lanes….it’s a place to be!!

  • Sounds like a weird experience. I saw a bunch of ads for sex shows in Amsterdam but wasn’t interested in seeing one; from reading this, I think that was a good call. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, it’s just not especially interesting to me.

    You’re so right about the juxtaposition in Amsterdam. That cliché “city of contrasts” is so true there.


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