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Dutch Sex Ed

Why the Dutch Sex-Ed System Wouldn't Translate in the US

The Netherlands has the lowest teen birth rate in the Western world. Teens wait longer to have sex (average age to lose virginity is 17.7 compared to 17.0 in the US), are more likely to use contraception, and aren't likely to lose their virginity spontaneously, since the majority of teens say "love and commitment" is the reason to do it.

The UK is trying to reform its own inadequate sex education by introducing Dutch sex-ed principles to its schools. The main tenet? Start young. Its government-subsidized sex-ed program was created in the '80s by a graduate of the International School for Humanities and Social Sciences, which suggests teen pregnancies can be reduced by exposing children to sex ed between ages 4 and 7.

Even if, by some sort of political amnesia, Congress made sex ed mandatory from kindergarten up, could the US go Dutch? Find out below.


I doubt it, because it's a cultural thing. The Netherlands can cite its sex-ed program for commendably low STD and teen pregnancy rates, but it's a sexually open attitude that allows it to exist. A series of books, found in nearly every home, make sex ed a bedtime story. They show toddlers what penises look like, explain how humans have sex, and use real terms like vagina (something the US can barely do in tampon commercials). In 2007, nearly one-quarter of Dutch homes tuned into a seven-part documentary that covered everything from anal sex to S&M. All this openness is punctuated with one talking point: make the mechanics of how a woman becomes pregnant crystal clear.

Not everyone, though, believes a casual attitude toward sex is to thank. A more conservative take is that the Netherlands has a low divorce rate and mothers are happy to work part-time or not at all. If all else fails, there's always a cultural taboo that implies getting pregnant before 20 looks naive and uneducated.

I'd say it's a mix, and one that can't be replicated in the US without a collective personality change. What do you think?

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Join The Conversation
beautiful-disaster beautiful-disaster 6 years
anonymous... sex ed or not i would have been curious anyway. and i am damn happy i was taught how to use a condom, and that my parents (and the schools i went to) didn't hide things from me. 4 year olds will NOT be learning exactly how to put a penis inside a vagina. they will be learning that boys have a penis, girls have a vigina, and when mommy and dady love eachother they have a baby that grows in mommys belly. once any kid hits puberty i think it is MORE than necessary to at least be taught: if you're gonna do, use a condom. i hope your daughter/son has some way of finding these things out so that she/he takes precautions when they decide its time to have sex. SO WHAT if teens are having more or less sex. its NOTHING new. wouldnt you at least want them to know how to keep themselves safe?
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 6 years
Yeah, it's pretty annoying when people confuse sex education with a pornographic how-to. By age 5, do you realize how much violence and sex children have already been exposed to through entertainment, television, music, etc? That is not a healthy or appropriate way to learn about sex. I totally agree with you, aubjub.
Venus1 Venus1 6 years
We have so much to learn from the Dutch.
beautiful-disaster beautiful-disaster 6 years
Wyly please. you KNOW that in the US sex is something so forbidden! it is not spoken about openly and then everyone is shocked when a 16 year old is pregnant. it is so so so important that there be sex ed in ALL schools. not just so that we dont have teen pregnancies, but also so that diseases dont have a chance to keep spreading. I dont even want to think about the girls who didn't get pregnant but did end up with a very serious disease. Everyone has different opinions about sex and thats fine. but i don't think a decision can or should be made without having all the facts. also, just to point how "badly" sex is viewed in the US: -sex and the city was on HBO, not a regular cable channel. it would be rated R if these rating existed for tv. you have dexter and countless other shows about death and killing people but hey! those are allowed without issue into prime time television any movie with sex in it (or even just a nipple) gets rated R. people being BLOWN UP and graphically at that are simply rated pg-13. you wanna tell me that sex isn't a little bit strangely viewed in the US? sex that is natural is more offensive than body parts flying around covered in blood which isn't natural? im not saying everyone should go out and have sex, but lets at least have a realistic understanding of it. lets be allowed to have questions, to protect ourselves, to be INFORMED!!
rhodes rhodes 6 years
I think starting sex-ed at a young age is a good idea. Most children are very curious as to where babies come from, and rather than lie about a bird dropping a baby off, they should be told the truth. To have sex is an important decision and it becomes a big part of a person's life. It would be beneficial for them to learn about it so they can be prepared for a later date. I do think the U.S. is very archaic in its thinking of sex and this system wouldn't last. Give it another generation and then maybe.
Marijke90 Marijke90 6 years
"But, at least most people here think that it's wrong to buy a woman like you would buy a chair or a wallet. " I am from the Netherlands, and I do think that it is wrong to 'buy' a woman like you would buy a chair or a wallet... Just because prostitution is legal in my country, doesn't mean everyone beliefs that it is good per se. But making it legal also makes it easier to keep an eye out on these women and men. We also don't make a habit out of exposing our children to prostitution. I've never seen one in my life, and I've been to Amsterdam, and I live in a (for the Netherlands) big city. On the subject of sex-ed.. I don't know if these things have changed recently (I'm 20 years old), but I've never had sex-ed. Really strange. We also didn't have any books at my home about sexual intercourse. Maybe I'm the exception. I know that there has been recent talk here that we should start with sex-ed from a young age at schools. But I don't think it is actually in progress yet. I could be wrong though.
GTCB GTCB 6 years
The US government was created by, and is mostly run by, hyper-conservative puritans. When the second-largest news story of all time in America (only behind 9/11, and way ahead of Katrina or Obamamania) was Janet Jackson's boob, you know that there's a long, long way to go.
karlotta karlotta 6 years
"It seems so hypocritical" - who? You, on your self-righteous high horse, pretending prostitution is a Dutch thing? Oh but America DOES have its prostitutes. I lived in New York for ten years before coming here, and I saw my fair share of underage crackheads selling BJs for a buck on the streets of Hell's Kitchen. Prostitution is a universal reality, so better do it safely, respectfully, and healthily. Don't you think these women prefer to be in a shop window where it's clean and warm and safe than on the streets? I'm sorry, but you sound completely delusional. And sex IS everywhere in the US - but behind closed doors, where it's secret and shameful and nobody talks about it, and therefore nobody is educated about it either (while, seriously, everybody in the world is doing it.)
karlotta karlotta 6 years
I live here (in Amsterdam) and I can tell you how invigorating it is to live in such a liberal city. You may not think so at first glance, because coming from a conservative country this place can look a bit on the depraved side, but in fact the open-mindedness and willingness to say AND ACCEPT things the way they are (i.e. people have sex, people smoke pot... etc) is super healthy. There's something very straightforward and solid about the Dutch, and they hang on to values that we don't always realize are supremely important. Freedom of the press is huge here. And I love the fact that with legalized prostitution, sex professionals are not at the mercy of drugs and pimps - they get regular check-ups and are very respected and protected by the community. Kudos for that, really. They also were the first country in the world to recognize gay marriage; they even have a gay muslim community. The more taboos, the less we talk, and the less we talk, the less we inform children and adults alike. Education is primordial, and they really got that. So maybe a documentary about sex practices sounds weird and useless to you, but when a kid is going to grow up and find himself with unfamiliar sexual desires (be it homosexual or kinky or downright outrageous), they'll have a better chance at understanding them and accepting themselves if they've been informed. I'd be curious to know the stats on teen suicides here compared to the US. Love this place, so glad I moved here!
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