Sex Laws in the Netherlands

May 24, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller


I’ve been researching sex laws in the Netherlands as part of the study abroad course on sex and culture that I’m teaching. One of the ways sex laws in the Netherlands are unique compared to the US is that prostitution and brothels are legal and regulated by the government–but you probably already knew that. So here are a few other legal differences that might be new to you.

1.) Sex and the disabled. One of the more surprising Dutch sex laws is that they offer government-subsidized prostitution for some segments of the population. In particular, disabled citizens are eligible to receive government assistance when it comes to hiring sex workers. Why is that? Because the Dutch see sex as a basic right, meaning that everyone who wants to participate in this activity should be able to enjoy it. The Dutch also view sex as something that is good for people’s health, physically and psychologically.

2.) Age of sexual consent. Although widely (and incorrectly) reported to be 12, the age of consent in the Netherlands is actually 16 (at least it is for non-commercial sex—someone who wishes to sell sex must be at least 18). However, there is a close-in-age exception, meaning that if one or both partners are below the age of 16 but close in age, the act is seen as consensual under the law. By contrast, the age of sexual consent in the United States ranges from 16 to 18 depending on the state, and not all states offer a close-in-age exception. Further, in some states, the close-in-age exception only applies to male-female encounters, meaning it wouldn’t extend to same-sex encounters.

3.) LGB rights. Same-sex activity has been legal in the Netherlands for more than a century (since 1811). In addition, sexual minorities have been protected from employment discrimination since 1993, while same-sex marriage and adoption were legalized in 2001. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. By contrast, laws banning same-sex sexual activity were ruled unconstitutional in the U.S. in 2004, same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, and there is not yet (as of 2018) a nationwide U.S. law protecting sexual minorities from discrimination in employment.

4.) Transgender rights. In 2013, the Netherlands passed a law allowing persons aged 16 and older to change their gender on legal documents with few restrictions. Prior to this, persons who wanted to change their gender on official state documents had to undergo gender reassignment surgery and sterilization, as well as get a court order. The only requirement now is a statement from “an expert” supporting the change. By contrast, one’s ability to do this varies across the U.S. In fact, in some states, gender is not allowed to be changed on official documents like birth certificates.

5.) Public nudity. Being naked in public isn’t against the law in the Netherlands, except when people do it on “public roads or when they annoy others.” Translation: you shouldn’t use nudity to distract drivers and bikers or to harass others.

6.) Sex in parks. In 2008, sexual activity was decriminalized in the most famous and popular park in all of Amsterdam, Vondelpark (which receives 10 million visitors each year). In order to avoid problems with the police, it’s important to know that, under this law, sex is restricted to evening hours and, further, you can potentially get in trouble by making excessive noise and/or leaving a mess behind (e.g., used condoms).

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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