What the Dutch Can Teach Us About Sex

photo via flickr

And no, we’re not talking about the relative appeal of sex in clogs. We have long sung the praises of Holland’s approach to sex — and, in particular, its approach to sex education. Because Holland has results that we can all agree are worth aspiring to (even bat-shit-crazy Michele Bachmann): The teen pregnancy rate in the Netherlands is 12 pregnancies per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19. In the U.S., there are 72 pregnancies per 1,000 girls the same age. The Dutch teen abortion rate is 20% lower than that in the U.S. And the rate of HIV infection is three times greater in the U.S. Don’t even get us started on how teen STD rates compare in the two countries — these charts say it all. Oh, and not entirely unrelated: those nutty clog-wearing, pot-brownie-eating people in the Netherlands have three times lower rates of marijuana use than we do. So what are they doing so right? Here’s where the likes of us (sane, rational beings who actually know a thing or two about sex education and who are interested in what kind of behavior leads to those kind of results) disagree vehemently with the likes of Bachmann (who, well, you know the deal). Let’s look at how Holland approaches sex and sex education, according to Amy Schalet, author of the new book Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex — she’s an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and just happened to live in the Netherlands until she was 21.

  • Two-thirds of Dutch parents report allowing their teenage (15-17 year old) children to have sleepovers with their boyfriend or girlfriend. (Hey, maybe it’s easier to put on a condom in a bed than in the backseat of a car or under a bush.)
  • Sex is about love, not marriage. “Coming out of the sexual revolution,” Schalet tells Time, “the Dutch really decoupled sex from marriage, but they didn’t decouple sex from love.” Which makes so much more sense to teenagers, when you think about it — because, realistically, most of them are going to be having sex for years (maybe even decades) before they’re ready to wed. If you emphasize that sex is best with love (as opposed to just with marriage), then it can teach teens a realistic way to respect each other in bed.
  • Just don’t call it puppy love, okay? “There’s a strong belief in the Netherlands that youth can be in love — boys as well as girls — that makes sex in many ways seem safer and more contained because it’s embedded in a relationship.”
  • Most Dutch teenagers lose their virginity in their own bedrooms with their parents’ approval — and with condoms.
  • Sex education starts as early as age five.

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