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Red Light District

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Not always this subdued.

"Lovely ladies, waiting for a bite
Waiting for the customers who only come at night..."
Les Misérables, "Lovely Ladies"

An area of strip joints, brothels, and other seedy locales. Very much based on reality - the term came from railroad workers leaving their red work lamps outside the businesses they were patronizing when going into town for the evening so that they could be located if they needed to be called back to work on short notice (Said lamps frequently being left by brothels and bars).

Generally portrayed in one of three ways in fiction:

The liberal version: Drunk happy people, women waving down from balconies. The protagonist gets to have a good time or gets made fun of for being unable to. The most friendly take on the district.

The pitiful version: Drunks collapsed in the gutter, battered strung-out prostitutes. The protagonist is probably here on business. Possible location in a Wretched Hive. Very common in cop shows and Antihero comics. You're most likely to see this side of the district in the grey light of the morning.


The hostile version: The drunks will pick a fight with you, the women will rob you or knife you in an alley. Like the pitiful version above, possible location in a Wretched Hive. The protagonist is either lost or hopelessly naive and will be wishing he'd found the liberal version before the end of the night. Also common in cop shows, particularly in the first five minutes when they're showing the soon-to-be victim.

Compare Band of Brothels.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Cells at Work! CODE BLACK, the liver is depicted as the Liberal version when healthy, with red cells "drinking and smoking" (dosing themselves with ADH and releasing acetaldehyde in the form of smog, then drinking an ALDH chaser shot to counteract it), and as the Pitiful version when unhealthy, laced with urban blight and the once-beautiful Hepatocyte (a liver cell responsible for treating toxin exposure) thin, pale, and given an Incurable Cough of Death. It also has shades of the Hostile version, as the liver is where red corpuscles are recycled, which is depicted as having an old man's corpse eaten by a stripper.
  • In one scene in Evangelion 1.0, Shinji wanders past one. He is so lost in his own depression (also his SDAT player) that he's largely oblivious.
  • Fruits Basket: One of Sohma Ayame's high school stories involves him defending a student who got caught going to the red light district. Ayame's solution? To make himself the object of the male students' lusts.
  • In Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden, Takiko and Co. find their fellow Genbu Senshi Inami in the RLD of the capital of Konan.
  • The main characters in Gintama live in one. Yoshiwara also shows up as a literally underground red light district.
  • Downplayed in Heat Guy J. Kabuki Road does have (or is implied to have) brothels, strip clubs, etc. but there are other means of entertainment, too.
  • Yoshiwara also makes an appearance in Jin as the eponymous doctor has a tendency to being dragged there quite often only to find a medical case brewing. In order, they are as followed: Subdural hemotoma, Syphilis, infection caused by a badly done abortion, and a mammary biopsy.
  • Kamisama Kiss has a demonic version of the Red Light District that Tomoe used to visit often before Nanami showed up. How often? Well, he knew all the Tanuki prostitutes by name and they treat him like he is almost family.
  • Seen in Monster in relation to one of Johan's more hideous moments. Which, as you know, is saying something.
  • Jiraiya from Naruto is known to frequent the Red Light District. Many of his contacts from his Intelligence network are found there.
  • Tomoko visits one in chapter 28 of No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, hoping to get a job as a hostess there. She gets scared by what she sees there and, after getting a phone call from her mother, decides to give up and come back home.
  • In Yumi Tamura's josei manga Oiran chirashi, the Office Lady Haru Hanamori gets thrown into the Yoshiwara of the Tokugawa era after a street accident. She's taken in by a Miss Kitty due to her cute looks, is renamed "Ayame" by her mistress and becomes an oiran to survive in Yoshiwara, which is shown as having traits of the three RLD types: it seems to be a liberal site where beautiful women service their customers and can potentially make it big, but deep down the cruel bitterness of the hostile and pitiful versions remain.
    "This is the world of the women of pleasure. We can't say no to anything, even if we dislike it. This is the hard truth of life and death!"
  • The Yoshiwara district of Tokyo is mentioned from time to time in Ooku. Shogun Iemitsu downsizes the Inner Chambers and restocks the decaying pleasure district with desirable men after a gendercide plague destroys the market for female prostitutes and leaves only dregs of men. The Reverend Kasuga earlier hired a few women from there for a plot.
    • The brothel in Dejima is the last one in all of Japan to still employ female prostitutes to cater to the Dutch sailors. It's noted that on the Christian Sabbath the male prostitutes have the day off to wander the streets alongside the foreigners to hide the fact that Japan is a Lady Land.
    • As the male/female population slowly goes back to normal in the wake of an effective Redface Pox vaccine, the Yoshiwara district starts to become more female, however, there is still a demand for male prostitutes. It's how Masahiro Abe meets Takiyama: he was working as a kagema. His revealing that fact-something most men would try to keep secret-during his Rousing Speech to Iesada's retainers impressed said retainers into maintaining their loyalty to Iesada.
  • These appear in a few episodes of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, including one where a ghost parodying Little Red Riding Hood would lure unsuspecting people in for her wolf companion to kill.
  • In Piano no Mori, the town where the story takes place has a Red Light District where one of the two main characters lives. It is called "The Edge of the Forest" due to its location.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Though not shown, Mami Tomoe mentions that Mitakihara's Red Light District is a common place for Witches to hang out and seek victims, so it is part of her regular patrols.
  • The most expensive brothel in the Yoshiwara from the early Meiji era is vital to the plot of the Rurouni Kenshin prequel, To rule flame. Shishio attempts to purchase said brothel to make it into the Juppongatana's hideout, and when he goes there with Houji and Soujirou to speak to the owner, finds himself in front of the most beautiful High-Class Call Girl there, Hanahomura... alias his future Dark Mistress, Yumi Komagata.
  • Saiunkoku Monogatari: Shuurei worked as an accountant at Kougaro, the number one brothel in the red light district, as one of her various jobs; she's actually close friends with Kochou, the manager of Kougaro.
  • Naturally, being about Kiyoha's rise from simple maid to oiran, the highest class of courtesan, Sakuran takes place in the Yoshiwara district.
  • In Samurai Champloo the main characters Mugen and Jin spend their night in one of these when they get some money. It's almost a Once per Episode trope.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Bruce Wayne gets into a fight with a pimp in such a location in Batman: Year One. One of the pimp's girls is the future Catwoman.
    • A Red Light Area is the location of a porn cinema shooting by a nervous little Catholic boy in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
  • The Metabarons Universe feature Cities containing a "red ring" in the center and act as the local red light district.
  • Sextillion from Saga is a planet-wide one that has prostitutes of every conceivable species.
  • Old Town from the Sin City series. It fits into the "hostile" version of this trope, but only if you don't play by the rules — the ladies are the law in Old Town, and trying to mistreat them is not conducive to one's continued survival. The protagonists find allies in the girls in question, and often work with them to take down even worse guys.
  • Rorschach walks through such a neighbourhood in Watchmen lamenting the passing of "American Love" as he is offered the Swedish, French, etc. versions.

    Fan Fiction 
  • "Batteries" mentions prostitution (and stripping), as Ryuuko did strip and sleep around for money and, later, Satsuki was mentioned as to have worked in a red light district, however, we don't know specifically what she did (we do know she didn't sleep around or strip). From what's implied, Ryuuko is living in or near a red light district, as she's mentioned to be staying in the "shitass part of Tokyo", which, from what we can read, is probably closer to a Type 2 and a little bit of Type 3.
  • This is played with in Gensokyo 20XXV. These were mentioned in chapter 64 and it is unknown what type these are, though, given the fact that there is no government, they're likely to be either type, though more likely to be Types II and III, very seldom Type I. Of course, it was also mentioned that Ren's older brother Baka also frequents these places. In earlier chapters, prostitution was mentioned, hinting towards it.
    • In Founding, chapter 9, Ran vaguely recalls early parts of her childhood with Yukari in one, describing it as an "area of red lanterns." While we don't know what period of Japan that Foundling takes place, we can assume it was something between being either type or being something akin to be a combination of the three, considering how prostitution was like in old Japan (i.e how the prostitutes lived and how well they were treated depended on their rank or the whim of their employers/customers)
  • Most Naruto fanfiction that doesn't have the title character living in the slums have him living in the red light district. Usually the first version but sometimes the second or third.
  • The Cardcaptor Sakura fic Shadow of the Dragon features the red light district of Shibuya as the third version in chapter 13. The brothel members are described as having been "trained" by the pimps, who state that one has to break a girl to make them a "good whore," and has a waitress described as not looking old enough to drink the alcohol she serves. Sakura's mother Nadeshiko was kidnapped by the employees there, but her friends raided the building and rescued her before anything truly unfortunate happened.
  • The protagonist is taken to one of these in Welcome to the Brothel by his squadmates so that he can lose his virginity.
  • Glitzville is portrayed like this in the remake of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Thousand Year Door. It's tamer than most examples of this, but still far from innocent. Stan describes it as “A city of sin… but suspended in the heavens… A place of contradictions if there ever was one…”

    Film — Live Action 
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence features an entire city built specifically to serve as a red-light district to the flooded remains of the United States. Known as "Rouge City," it's essentially an R-rated theme park, complete with suggestively-shaped buildings and business catering to just about every inclination under the sun; generally a type A, though the garish scenery is meant to be more overwhelming than alluring. Curiously enough, nobody seems to bat an eyelid at what appears to be a young child wandering the streets. Fortunately, Gigolo Joe knows the place very well and happily acts as David's guide when they go looking for information within the city.
  • All of "Hell" Valley in Back to the Future Part II.
  • In Final Justice, Geronimo asks Maria where the red light district in Valletta is, and she takes him to an area known as 'the Cauldron'. Here a prostitute directs him into an ambush.
  • The Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo in Ginza Cosmetics is full of garishly lit dive bars where the bar girls often moonlight as prostitutes, picking up johns in the bar. It's also the kind of place where a streetwalker will leave her preschool daughter in a diner before going out to troll for men.
  • Guilty of Romance tells a story that takes place in the red light district in Tokyo for the most part.
  • Pretty Baby takes place in Storyville, the New Orleans red-light district from 1897 to 1917. Taking place in 1917, the movie ends with Storyville being shut down.
  • The Red Kimono is about a woman forced into prostitution, working in a Storyville, New Orleans brothel. Even when she isn't working, protagonist Gabrielle is assaulted on the street by a leering man. The red light district is signified by an actual light hand-tinted red in what is otherwise a black-and-white film.
  • Sandakan No. 8: So many brothels in the red light district of Sandakan, North Borneo, that they're all numbered. Osaki's is 8th out of ten.
  • Total Recall (1990): Venusville in Sector G on Mars. Features "The Last Resort" bordello and psychic mutant children.
  • Paradise Alley in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an area of the Alpha Space Station that's full of brothels where Valerian goes to find a short alien prostitute to help rescue Laureline.
  • In The Windmill Massacre, Jack is taken on a drunken visit to Amsterdam's infamous red light district by his mates: a visit that has a tragic aftermath that leads to him being on the bus the next morning.

  • In A Brother's Price, Jerin nearly has to throw up when he sees one of those ... despite it being all nice with no drunk people outside. He knows that, with his reputation blemished, he could end up in a brothel. He doesn't like the thought.
  • A possible G-Rated version occurs in Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein. "Joy Street" is the place where policemen go in pairs, curfew is not enforced, and which is full of taprooms, gaming halls and other places of hospitality to strangers, particularly visiting spacemen. Sex and prostitution aren't mentioned, but the context strongly implies that this is where they can be found.
  • The city of Ankh-Morpork in the Discworld books has an area known as the Street of Negotiable Affection, which is maintained by the Seamstress's Guild. Renamed from "The Whore Pits" after much representation from said Guild.
  • There is one in Eva Luna; the title character spends some months as a protegèe of La Señora, the local and most influential Miss Kitty in the district itself. It's described as a relatively pleasant place where, despite the sometimes downright illegal activities in there, the residents are basically decent people who treat the sex industry merely as a way to support themselves. When the new police leader breaks their implicit deals with the workers and tries to impose abusive bribe fees, Eva's Transgender Cool Big Sis Melecio attempts to fight back and get support from the residents. It backfires horribly and the district ends up being "invaded" and disbanded; La Señora has to run away, Melecio is incarcerated, and Eva is thrown back in the streets.
  • Kushiel's Legacy: Night's Doorstep is where you go when you want some company but can't possibly afford the Night Court. Definitely type 1 thanks to the country's views on sex.
  • George Alec Effinger's Marîd Audran series takes place in the Budayeen, which is a cross between this and The City Narrows, in a Cyberpunk Arab/Muslim setting. Prostitution and drug dealing are rife, but tourists who dare venture in often don't make it out.
  • The Red Light District of New Orleans in the early 1900s is heavily featured in The Meq, though it doesn't really fit into any of the above three categories because it's shown so realistically.
  • In The Narrows by Michael Connelly, the fictional town of Clear, Nevada is a Pitiful/Hostile version, and the Poet has chosen it as his hunting grounds. Since many men who go there take measures to conceal that fact, he’s able to get away with more than ten murders over the course of a few years before Harry Bosch and Rachel Walling, following clues left behind by Terry McCaleb, track him down. The Poet had previously chosen the RLD in Amsterdam for the same reason.
  • The French Quarter in Out of the Easy seems to be sliding between Type 1 and Type 2, as the prostitutes are well-adjusted and nice, however, the area is also one where there is a lot of crime.
  • Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers: The colony on Mimas has one, known to the locals as "Shag Town" (the only prostitutes we see are robots, although it's implied there are human ones as well). Lister and Rimmer first meet when the latter flags down the former's (stolen) taxi to take him there. It's indicated to be fairly hostile, as there are numerous pimps in the vicinity carrying barely-concealed weapons; two of them get into a fight outside the cab while Lister waits for Rimmer to come back, which leads to both of them losing an ear and then one of them being killed. Lister carefully ignores all this.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire features numerous sleazy districts throughout the Seven Kingdoms; however, Essos has a Red-Light city: the Free City of Lys is legendary for its brothels and courtesans, and its tropical climate definitely lends itself towards a type A portrayal. However, Lys is also involved in the slave trade, and most of the prostitutes at work here are considered property; plus, because the city exports so many pleasure slaves, the Magisters who run this city are very eager to keep their business supplied with beautiful slaves - to the point that they're said to be running a breeding program. Oh, and in the event that visitors become too troublesome for their own good, Lys is also famous for its master poisoners...
  • The Spenser novel Ceremony includes a very grim view of Boston's Combat Zone.
  • In the Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch novel By the Code, the kaybin district of Denobula's Gronim City appears to be this. The Denobulan attitude to sex make it an extreme example of the liberal version, seen as a celebration of life and fertility, and as such almost an eco-religious site. (The differences between Denobulan and human views on sex are summed up by Phlox's amusement that the human tradition is to attend places like this before the wedding.)
  • The Stormlight Archive: The fact that the prostitutes have evolved from basic Camp Followers to having actual brothels is a sign that the warcamps are becoming real, permanent cities despite their best efforts. It's implied that prostitution is perfectly legal, but Sadeas' warcamp is still looked down on for having a lot of brothels.
  • In Super Minion, the Red Zone of E13. It's controlled by Hellion's Henchmen, who take pride in the fact that they are smart enough to keep it at a sustainable size, civic enough to reinvest the profit it creates in E13 itself rather than funding escapades elsewhere, and strong enough to defeat anyone who tries to take it from them.
  • The Circe chapter of Ulysses by James Joyce has Bloom and Dedalus travel through Dublin's Nighttown and stop off in a brothel. It's one of the most surreal sections of the book and has degrees of all three versions, but tends towards pitiful and hostile.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: The caravanserai area of Vorbarr Sultana in Barrayar. By the time of the later books in the series, it has been cleaned up and gentrified (but you can still get into trouble in some of its back alleys.)

    Live Action TV 

  • "Salamander Street" by Callum Beattie is very much the pitiful version, with the singer describing the horrible home life that led to a girl ending up here, and calling her "the saddest of them all", but at the same time assuring her things will get better. Notably, it never directly says she's a prostitute (the clearest reference is "another body bought and sold") or mentions that Salamander Street is Leith's red light district, but it is.
  • The Pogues have a track called "The Old Main Drag", which is an unrepentantly brutal and candid look at type 2, with a special emphasis on low-rate transgender prostitutes.
  • Porcelain and the Tramps produced a song that's actually called "Redlight District." You look it up if you want.
  • German techno artist Anthony Rother has a track named "Redlight District".
  • Contemporary R&B girl group TLC have a song "Red Light Special" and it's video portrays the girls as pimps and customers to make prostitutes.
  • The Toy Dolls wrote a song called "Caught Up The Reeperbahn" about the infamous red light district of Hamburg.
  • Mentioned in passing in "American in Amsterdam" by Wheatus, when the band get thrown out of a strip club for being drunk and disorderly.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Hudson City setting for Champions, this is the role of The Strip, where the city's sex industries and vice lords congregate. These range from borderline-legitimate strip clubs like Little Egypt (whose owner, Lady Cleopatra, is a significant underworld player) to utterly depraved sites with no fixed address.
  • The city of Sharn, in Eberron, has three red light districts — a tacky and tawdry one, a middle-of-the-road one with the biggest changeling influence, and an arguably tasteful one.
  • In Exalted, the Demon City has a gold light district. This is because gold is seen as an obscene color in hell due to its association with the sun. Also, the district is a very powerful demon in her own right.
    • Most such locations in Exalted are blue light districts, the colour chosen to honour the Maiden (ahem!) of Serenity. In fact, the Maiden of Serenity's office is one of these, as it's modeled after the first whorehouse in Creation and still serves as a bar, whorehouse, and opium den while also serving as a divine government building.

  • Skid Row in Little Shop of Horrors has elements of the pitiful variety: sad homeless drunks litter the streets, and the opening song mentions prostitutes.
  • The musical Les Misérables features the song Lovely Ladies, which involves prostitutes singing about their occupation and is set in what is meant to be one of these. Starts off as the "happy" version and gradually segues into the "pitiful" version.
    "Come on dearie, why all the fuss
    You're no grander than the rest of us
    Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap
    Join your sisters— make money in your sleep."
  • The musical Tenderloin features a historical example from the Big Applesauce.

    Video Games 
  • In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, you can renovate a building in your base at Great Inagua into a brothel, which is signified by red lanterns.
  • Bioshock 2 features Siren Alley, the Red Light District of Rapture. Ironically, Siren Alley was originally a high-class part of Rapture, where architects and skilled laborers lived and displayed their work before the work dried up and caused the whole area to fall on hard times.
  • The now impossible-to-play online game Blackwell and Bell Mysteries featured a special sidequest that took place in the aforementioned Barbary Coast.
  • Circuits Edge, the 1989 CRPG, was based on George Alec Effinger's Marîd Audran novels (see Literature, above), and like them is set in the Budayeen, a Red Light District.
  • Dragon Age II: Kirkwall has the fantasy equivalent of this, the "Red Lantern District". It contains the Blooming Rose Brothel. Therein lies an apostate mage (or as Isabella calls her, an 'Apostitute') that uses mind control on Templars.
  • Duke Nukem 3D Episode 1 Level 2 is called Red Light District. It contains a porn shop complete with private video booths, a bar, and a strip club.
  • Final Fantasy VII's Wall Market in Midgar is mostly the liberal version, with a dash of hostile. It's a lot more inviting than the rest of the slums, and the girls at the local brothel don't seem like they're suffering from much psychological damage (the player even gets to read what they're thinking). However, the district itself is run by a crime lord named Don Corneo, and it's heavily implied that women get kidnapped and forced into prostitution on a regular basis. On Cloud's first visit, one of the NPCs even suggests selling his companion Aerith off to the Don... and if the player fills the upcoming quest well enough, a cross-dressing Cloud can end up as Corneo's "date" instead.
    • And why are Aerith and Cloud there, anyway? They're trying to find and rescue Tifa, who apparently was abducted and taken to Don Corneo's presence. She's actually going undercover to investigate him.
  • Not shown directly, but mentioned in Fire Emblem Fates. In the Revelation branch, Fuga tells Corrin that Sumeragi used to get in trouble for visiting these in his youth (at least in the Japanese version).
  • The Futurama video game has a level in the Red Light District.
  • Grand Theft Auto III starts in the Red Light District.
  • In Infamous 2, a large Red Light Center can be found in New Mirais, with a large central building modeled after an old riverboat.
  • Nar Shaddaa, the Wretched Hive in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, has a Red Sector.
  • Left 4 Dead 2's DLC The Passing has some Red Light influence, in fact, the song that plays during the intro is called Dead Light District.
  • In the first game of the Outpost franchise the Red Light District is one of the underground -where all population lives, by the way- facilities you can build. However, if your residential facilities get overcrowded (easy in late game), with time they will become this.
  • Would you believe there's one of these in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box? Layton and Luke catch the owner of the Molentary Express, Mr. Beluga, walking into a cabaret and attempting to converse with the woman standing outside. Not only is she one of the show-runners, but she hits on Luke (who's only twelve) after hitting on Layton. Also, there's a cop standing outside the area (which has red lighting on the map) who refuses to let the young boy in so the player has to go the long way around.
  • Shin Megami Tensei
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic incarnation also has a Red Light Sector as a questing zone. The main adversaries are members of a gang that kidnaps people, cuts out their organs, and uses the resulting bits to create high-tech implants and genetech.
  • In System Shock 2, The spaceship Von Braun has a brothel called the "Sensual Simulation Center" on the ship's Recreation deck, with holographic performers of both sexes inside. To keep the game within an acceptable ESRB rating, all the holograms are broken by the time you get there. A dead crewman with a bottle of alcohol can even be found sprawled out on the bed inside the room of one of the male sex holograms. Either he died in the act, or figured he'd spend his last hours during the Zombie Apocalypse in the company of a holographic hunk.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: For a city run by religious fundamentalists, Novigrad sure has a lot of taverns, whorehouses, and gambling dens. Probably so they know which places to avoid, right?
  • On World of Warcraft, Goldshire has become the first type, not that the developers want it to be one. (It's hardly a secret, either.) As hard as it is to believe, players with female characters will often use them as strippers, prostitutes, or both, them for laughs, gold, or even actual money. Some role-players have begun to call it "Whoreshire", "Pornshire", or a "Noob" hangout because of this, (Or by players who don't object, "The Las Vegas of WoW".)

    Visual Novels 
  • The currently-in-development adult otome game The Confectionary has a rather liberal version of this, in which the most popular and eponymous brothel looks like a mixture of a bakery and an ice cream shop and the Edible Theme Naming monster clients' biggest rule is that "consent is king".
  • Shall We Date?: Ninja Shadow has Maruyama, one of the two RLD of isolation-times!Nagasaki. It's a mixture of the "pitiful" and "liberal" versions, as much as an otome game can show:
  • In True Love Junai Monogatari, the Player Character can hang out in the RLD of the fictional city of Meiai, which seems to be similar to Tokyo's Roppongi or Kabukicho. If the player wants to romance Mayumi Kamijou, they must make the PC bump into her there and right next to a local Love Hotel. She's actually there to sell her underwear to a local burusera sex shop; she'll drop a package containing said undies, and the PC will gain HUGE points with her if he returns them to her later and promises not to tell anyone.

  • Dominic Deegan: Inverted with Callan's "Sin City" Erossus, which has a Green Light district where what little non-seedy business the city sees goes on.
  • This panel of Goodbye Chains has Banquo revisiting the whorehouse of his youth. Banquo enjoys himself thoroughly; Colin, well... not so much.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer is asked to take the dog to the vet to be neutered (after the dog had fathered a litter of puppies in an episode parodying 101 Dalmatians), but he feels bad for Santa's Little Helper. So Homer takes SLH to the Red Light District of Springfield, which has not only porn theaters, prostitutes, etc. for the human men, but also for dogs to enjoy. Homer even pays to play air hockey with a prostitute while SLH has some "fun" with her dog.


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