(Author’s note: I felt too awkward to take a photo in the red-light district. Bonus points to someone who grabs a selfie with one of the professionals there. So enjoy the Antwerp sunset!)
I went to a Catholic high school. An all-boys one at that. The closest thing to a sex-ed I received was looking at pictures of infected genitalia in health class and listening to my teacher rattle off statistics about just how common STIs were. Not that he told us anything about condoms to prevent those winky warts. Instead: abstinence, boys. Abstinence.
So my highly journalistic trip into Antwerp’s red-light district last week was, to say the least, something new. As I’ve discovered, it’s hard not to feel a little, tiny bit awkward walking alone (yes, Mom, just walking) through a part of town where the city government tolerates prostitution.
Paying someone to have sex with you in Antwerp is, as far as this kind of thing goes, a pretty clean business. Contained in a three-block tolerance zone, the red-light district is home to a whole bunch of window prostitution (the women sit in windows; you don’t have sex with windows. I was disappointed, too), a fully-fledged brothel, and a police station (whether this is just supposed to give police officers convenient or is some sort of law enforcement program was unclear). So it’s not quite Amsterdam; the sex industry is much more regulated, low-key, and professional in Antwerp. Fewer frat bros and bachelor parties, basically. Just some wholesome middle-aged men. And me.
Still, I was in way over my head. The first time I found myself (yes, I will admit, there were multiple times) in the red-light district, it had been an accident. It was my first day in Antwerp, and I was using a rented bike to explore the city. I took one turn and suddenly there was no one walking on the street anymore and—was that? Yep those were—she was. Ah, okay. So this is the—I’m in that part of town. I pedaled a little faster. Red light districts are not best enjoyed at 3pm in the afternoon.
The second, and last, time (yes Mom, the last) I was in the red-light district, I channeled my inner Holden Caulfield and told myself I was going to go to one of the city’s more popular clubs, which sits, quite charmingly, next to the brothel. Quick tip (not that tip): walking around with a big, doofy map to find the club on a Saturday night will almost never make you look cool, and if you’re in a red-light district, it might mean some prostitutes giggle at you. Especially if you pair with some underdeveloped facial hair and an oh-so-Catholic, “What the hell am I doing here?” look of shame on your face.
Long story short, I showed up at this club, after a lot of humiliating eye contact with Antwerp’s finest, at a ripe 11:30 pm. Surprise: no one was there yet. While tearing up an empty club probably would have been the perfect end to this legendary night on the town, I called it quits. Maybe another night? Or maybe I’ll just stick to the cathedrals.