The Amsterdam whores were polite enough to remain behind glass so that they wouldn’t too unnecessarily intrude upon the passing gentlemen; of course, they were mostly naked and gyrated freely in their window shops in hopes of catching the interest of passersby. Still, there remained some proprietary rules even in that notoriously licentious world neighborhood, one of which was, apparently, intruding physically upon the sovereign sphere of another’s body.
No loud music throbbed through the air to move the crowds to a wild and orgiastic beat. Rather, the air was filled with the derogatory jibes and catcalls of the packs of men moving between the alleyways, while pimps vied with one another to attract attention with a ribald and explicit vocal cataloguing of their wares. No pretense, no attempt to set a mood, nothing but a simple and unabashed proclamation of sex for sale characterized the entire district. The Dutch were the world leaders in trade and commerce in the 16th and 17th century and their entrepreneurial and mercenary heritage lives on in their sons today.
The striking absence of the usual aids to sensuality—the mood music or facade of beauty—framed the sins of sexual immorality and sensual indulgence in a different light. Perhaps the striking difference was lost on the men who were deluged with Pinocchio’s pleasure lust: the overwhelming opportunity for sensual pleasure seemed adequate to negate all rational thought removing completely sin’s need to take on the appearance of light and beauty—an appearance usually so important when seeking to persuade men in a more rational frame of mind.
The benefit of seeing sin without its rouge and lipstick is that, to the virtuous soul, it can be nothing but repulsive. Such an exposure and opportunity see sin as it really is removes much of its power to overwhelm and persuade.
The sex-trafficking industry is disgusting, and the desires of the men who make it a lucrative venture are deplorable. Where some see untold delights on naked display behind window shops, the true eye sees souls in prison. The women who were selling themselves like so many cakes and pastries in a bakery window were truly caught in a web of lies that sought to destroy one of the few things that make them distinctly human. The human creature is sexual in a way that the animals and plants will never share: the King James Version of the Bible speaks quite subtly and directly of sexual relations between man and wife as a sort of knowledge, and warns that what God has joined no man ought to separate. The intimacy and connection available through a sharing of one’s sexual identity with another points to the wonderful mystery of the whole act that quite separates it from the rest of God’s living creatures.
The same industry that assaulted the sexuality and identity of the women worked a similar result in the men employing them. Moving in packs or solitary pairs, their eyes glinting in hard anticipation, the men moved in realms lower than those inhabited by Brother Wolf or Sister Bear. While the usually simile compares lustful men to animals, the truth of the matter is that the volitional degradation of human sexuality to pure physicality brings about a condition that even the animal kingdom doesn’t know. Being made in the image of God and capable of entering into a physical unity that mirrors the sublime union of souls, men who exchange this metaphysical possibility for a material pleasure devoid of its soulish correspondence deny their identities and become inhuman.
No surprise then that such behavior results in inhumane treatment of women. While I suppose there are some women who take a hard-edged pride in their professional prostitution, the vast majority have been driven to such straits by the hard circumstance of their lives or of those who know them. Trafficking in human persons is a human crime of epic proportions and, while the southeast Asian industries usually dominate the social justice limelights, there are many women in similar bondage in the Amsterdam red light district. Walking the streets of pleasure ought to make every gentleman ashamed of what his brothers’ unrestrained desires make possible. Slavery, corruption, disease, death, and emotional destruction are only some of many consequences of our fellow men’s sensuality.
It may be a touch too preachy to make the concluding remark that, lest we vainly sniff at the sin of others, we ought to remember that there is a little bit of red light district in all of us. Still, the power of the uncensored and ugly experience of sin ought to serve as an antidote to the more subdued sins in our lives that masquerades as something good and beautiful. A stroll through Amsterdam removes any attempt to convince one’s self that sexual liberation can be anything other than imprisoning, that unbridled sensuality can be anything other than self-destruction, and that a little bit of self-indulgence never hurt anyone.