What Sex Laws Look Like in the Netherlands

May 24, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

As part of the study abroad course I’m currently teaching on Sex and Culture in the Netherlands, I’ve done some research into what sex laws look like over here. As I wrote in previous posts about this class, two of the ways that laws in the Netherlands are unique compared to the United States are that prostitution is legal and comprehensive sex education is mandated. However, those are just a couple of the most interesting differences. Here are a few more:

1.) Sex and the disabled. The Netherlands doesn’t just have legal prostitution—they also have government-subsidized prostitution for certain segments of the population. Specifically, disabled citizens are eligible to receive government assistance to hire sex workers. Why? Because sex is seen as a right—something that everyone who wants to participate in should be able to enjoy. Also, it’s something that’s seen as good for people’s mental and physical health.

2.) Age of consent. Though widely (and incorrectly) reported to be 12, the age of sexual consent in the Netherlands is actually 16 (at least for non-commercial sex—in order to sell sex, one 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, it is still considered consensual. For comparison purposes, the age of sexual consent in the United States ranges from 16 to 18 depending on the state, and not all states have a close-in-age exception–and in some states, the close-in-age exception only applies in male-female encounters (i.e., it doesn’t necessarily apply to same-sex encounters).

3.) LGB rights. Same-sex activity has been legal in the Netherlands since 1811, sexual minorities have been protected from employment discrimination since 1993, and same-sex marriage and adoption have been legal since 2001. The Netherlands was actually the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. By contrast, laws banning same-sex activity were ruled unconstitutional in the U.S. in 2004, same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, and we do not yet have a nationwide law in the U.S. 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 new law, 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. Now, the only requirement is a statement from “an expert” supporting the change. By contrast, in the U.S., some states do not even allow gender to be changed on official documents, such as birth certificates.

5.) Public nudity. Being naked in public isn’t against the law in the Netherlands—except, apparently, when people do it on “public roads or when they annoy others.” I take this to mean you shouldn’t use nudity to distract drivers and bikers, and also that you can’t use nudity 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 per year). However, to avoid problems with the police, it’s important to know that, under this law, sex is restricted to nighttime and, further, making excessive noise and/or leaving a mess behind (like used condoms) can get you in trouble.

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Image Source: 123RF.com/Yaroslav Melnik

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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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