Monday, May 10, 2010

What Haven't the Dutch Thought Of?!

The Manfriend and I went to Amsterdam about 5 years ago, and we both loved it.  It's gorgeous, it's chill, it gives right-of-way to bicycles over trains, and you can get your hands on some of the best shawarma outside of the Middle East.  It's an exceedingly old city with some incredible places of historical and cultural interest, and you can walk through the little alleyways and streets forever and see something new every time. Let's face it, though...this is not what Amsterdam is best known for.

it actually looks like this!  photo by the Manfriend

Windmills, tulips and Anne Frank aside, what most people know about the Netherlands is that they have relatively lax vice laws.  "Soft drugs", such as marijuana, hashish and psilocybin mushrooms are technically illegal, but so tolerated that you can buy and use them publicly, in coffeeshops.  These shops are highly regulated, and are only permitted to sell small amounts, but there's no need for secrecy. "Hard drugs", like LSD, cocaine and  heroin, are illegal and their sale or use is not tolerated (though addiction is not criminalized there the way it is here, and needle exchanges and the like are common).

Prostitution is also legal in the Netherlands, though changes in their laws are proposed this year to cut down on an increasing problem of organized crime and human trafficking (one report states that 80% of prostitutes in the Netherlands are not Dutch, and that only about 30% of those have valid immigration documents).  Proposed changes would ban women under the age of 21 from sex work, and would require women and brothels to clearly display official registration paperwork, similar to how hair stylists and salons do here.

But none of this is what this post is about, it's just background to set the tone.  Without it, it might be impossible to believe what I heard about over the weekend, because I've been there and had a hard time believing it:  the Dutch government provides grants to people with disabilities that they can use to pay for sex up to 12 times per year.

Whaaaaat?!  That's what I said!!  I heard it from National Geographic, in a documentary about sexuality in the disabled (by which I mean "differently abled", but I can't use politically correct terminology without cringing, I just can't.  I think political correctness allows people to sound like they're not assholes when really they are, and is a direct obstacle to real tolerance and acceptance.  But anyway).  I knew that the Dutch were liberal with their social programs, but I didn't know they were THAT liberal.

To get a second opinion, I emailed Mr. H, my favorite Dutch expatriate, which obviously makes him an expert in Dutch social policy.  He'd heard the program, but couldn't 100% guarantee that it was legit.  He did say, though, "we have more weird subsidies, so this one wouldn't surprise me."  He also said, "Can you imagine Fox channel doing a story about this?" which is part of the reason Mr. H. is my favorite Dutch expatriate.

Like it says in the clip, the setup is not without controversy.  If you're anti-prostitution, even 'prostitution for a good cause' is still prostitution.  If you're anti-government spending, something like this would probably be first on your list of cuts.  Other people want to know why the disabled get special treatment, saying that ugly and socially awkward people have a hard time getting laid, too.  

Personally, I think it's a pretty good idea.  I hear the complaints, and give some validity to them, but to my mind, it's a progressive answer to a delicate problem.  Sex amongst the disabled is not something most people are interested in thinking or talking about, much less doing anything about.  Nevertheless, disability and sexual desire are rarely mutually exclusive.  

Way to go, Netherlands, for recognizing this and trying to do something about it.  And also thank you for the awesome little cups of coffee as well as the yummy little waffle things and also you progressive social views.  We shall return!


  1. Tash is Dutch & says I should stop walking with this limp around her as it wont do me any good. ;-)

  2. I guess it's a good thing for you guys that you settled down under as opposed to the Netherlands, or you might end up with a grant yourself...which could very well lead to Tash-inspired limp on the OTHER leg!