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4/8/16

The Netherlands - Sex Education: Worried about your teenage daughter? Move to the Netherlands - by Peggy Orenstein

 There's a solution for parents concerned about their daughters' sex lives: Move to the Netherlands.

OK, maybe that's not the most practical advice. Perhaps, though, we can move a little of the Netherlands here. Because the Dutch seem to have it all figured out.

While we in the United States have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world, they have among the lowest. Our teen birth rate is eight times higher than theirs, and our teen abortion rate is 1.7 times higher.

There are some significant demographic differences that affect those numbers: We are a more diverse nation than Holland, with higher rates of childhood poverty, fewer social welfare guarantees and more social conservatives.

ere's a solution for parents concerned about their daughters' sex lives: Move to the Netherlands.
OK, maybe that's not the most practical advice. Perhaps, though, we can move a little of the Netherlands here. Because the Dutch seem to have it all figured out.

While we in the United States have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world, they have among the lowest. Our teen birth rate is eight times higher than theirs, and our teen abortion rate is 1.7 times higher.

There are some significant demographic differences that affect those numbers: We are a more diverse nation than Holland, with higher rates of childhood poverty, fewer social welfare guarantees and more social conservatives.

Yet, even when controlling for all that, the difference holds. Consider a study comparing the early sexual experiences of 400 randomly chosen American and Dutch women at two similar colleges — nearly all white, all middle class, with similar religious backgrounds. So, apples to apples.

The American girls had become sexually active at a younger age than the Dutch, had had more encounters with more partners and were less likely to use birth control. They were more likely to say they'd had first intercourse because of “opportunity” or pressure from friends or partners.

In subsequent interviews with some of the participants, the Americans described interactions that were “driven by hormones,” in which boys determined relationships, male pleasure was prioritized and reciprocity was rare.

As for the Dutch girls, their early sexual activity took place in loving, respectful relationships in which they communicated openly with their partners (whom they said they knew “very well”) about what felt good and what didn't, about how “far” they wanted to go, and about what kind of protection they would need along the way.

They reported more comfort with their bodies and their desires than the Americans and were more in touch with their own pleasure.

Here's their secret: The Dutch girls said that teachers and doctors had talked candidly to them about sex, pleasure and the importance of a loving relationship. More than that, though, there was a stark difference in how their parents approached those topics. The American girls' moms had focused on the potential risks and dangers of sex, while their dads, if they said anything at all, stuck to lame jokes. Dutch parents, by contrast, had talked to their daughters from an early age about both the joys and responsibilities of intimacy.

As a result, one Dutch girl said she told her mother immediately after her first intercourse, “because we talk very open[ly] about this. My friend's mother also asked me how it was, if I had an orgasm and if he had one.”

The attitudes of the two nations weren't always so far apart. According to Amy Schalet, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, in the late 1960s the Dutch — like Americans — roundly disapproved of premarital sex. The sexual revolution transformed attitudes in both countries, but, whereas American parents and policymakers responded by treating teen sex as a health crisis, the Dutch went another way: They consciously embraced it as natural, though requiring proper guidance.

Their government made pelvic exams, birth control and abortion free to anyone under 22, with no requirements for parental consent.

By the 1990s, when Americans were shoveling millions into the maw of useless abstinence-only education, Dutch teachers (and parents) were busy discussing the positive aspects of sex and relationships, as well as anatomy, reproduction, disease prevention, contraception and abortion. They emphasized respect for self and others in intimate encounters, and openly addressed masturbation, oral sex, homosexuality and orgasm.

When a Dutch national poll found that most teenagers still believed that boys should be the more active partner during sex, the government added “interaction” skills to its sex ed curricula, such as how to let “the other person know exactly what feels good” and how to set boundaries.

Yet, even when controlling for all that, the difference holds. Consider a study comparing the early sexual experiences of 400 randomly chosen American and Dutch women at two similar colleges — nearly all white, all middle class, with similar religious backgrounds. So, apples to apples.

The American girls had become sexually active at a younger age than the Dutch, had had more encounters with more partners and were less likely to use birth control. They were more likely to say they'd had first intercourse because of “opportunity” or pressure from friends or partners.

In subsequent interviews with some of the participants, the Americans described interactions that were “driven by hormones,” in which boys determined relationships, male pleasure was prioritized and reciprocity was rare.

As for the Dutch girls, their early sexual activity took place in loving, respectful relationships in which they communicated openly with their partners (whom they said they knew “very well”) about what felt good and what didn't, about how “far” they wanted to go, and about what kind of protection they would need along the way.

They reported more comfort with their bodies and their desires than the Americans and were more in touch with their own pleasure.

Here's their secret: The Dutch girls said that teachers and doctors had talked candidly to them about sex, pleasure and the importance of a loving relationship. More than that, though, there was a stark difference in how their parents approached those topics. The American girls' moms had focused on the potential risks and dangers of sex, while their dads, if they said anything at all, stuck to lame jokes. Dutch parents, by contrast, had talked to their daughters from an early age about both the joys and responsibilities of intimacy.

As a result, one Dutch girl said she told her mother immediately after her first intercourse, “because we talk very open[ly] about this. My friend's mother also asked me how it was, if I had an orgasm and if he had one.”

The attitudes of the two nations weren't always so far apart. According to Amy Schalet, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, in the late 1960s the Dutch — like Americans — roundly disapproved of premarital sex. The sexual revolution transformed attitudes in both countries, but, whereas American parents and policymakers responded by treating teen sex as a health crisis, the Dutch went another way: They consciously embraced it as natural, though requiring proper guidance.

 Their government made pelvic exams, birth control and abortion free to anyone under 22, with no requirements for parental consent.

By the 1990s, when Americans were shoveling millions into the maw of useless abstinence-only education, Dutch teachers (and parents) were busy discussing the positive aspects of sex and relationships, as well as anatomy, reproduction, disease prevention, contraception and abortion.

They emphasized respect for self and others in intimate encounters, and openly addressed masturbation, oral sex, homosexuality and orgasm. When a Dutch national poll found that most teenagers still believed that boys should be the more active partner during sex, the government added “interaction” skills to its sex ed curricula, such as how to let “the other person know exactly what feels good” and how to set boundaries.

Dutch teens, on the other hand, remain closely connected to parents, growing up in an atmosphere of gezelligheid, which Schalet translates loosely as “cozy togetherness.” Parents and teens are expected to discuss the children's psychological and emotional development, including their burgeoning sexual drives. As part of that,

Dutch parents permit co-ed sleepovers, which are rare in the U.S. except in the most progressive circles. A full two-thirds of Dutch teens 15 to 17 with a steady boyfriend or girlfriend report that the person was welcome to spend the night in their bedrooms.

That's not to say that it's a free-for-all over there. Quite the opposite: The Dutch actively discourage promiscuity in their children, teaching that sex should emerge from a loving relationship.

Negotiating the ground rules for sleepovers, while not always easy (parents admit to a period of “adjustment” and some embarrassment), provides yet another opportunity to exert influence, reinforce ethics and emphasize the need for protection.

And you can't really argue with the results.

Read more: Worried about your teenage daughter? Move to the Netherlands - LA Times

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