medium.com /sensual-enchantment/a-tale-of-two-sex-cultures-2ee13a97aab6

A Tale of Two Sex Cultures - Sensual: An Erotic Life - Medium

Elle Beau ❇︎ 8-10 minutes 6/8/2021

The Dutch have completely normalized sexuality and the contrasts with the US are eye-opening

Elle Beau ❇︎

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

In America, where abstenance-only sex education has become more and more the norm over the past 30 years, we have the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world. In Holland, where sex education begins as early as age 4, the teen pregnancy rate is a fraction of what it is in the US. In fact, the wider outlooks about how to talk to children and teens about sex couldn’t be more different between our countries, although this wasn’t always the case.

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.

Instead of leading to indiscriminate teen sex, unplanned pregnancy, and sexually transmitted disease run rampant as the American attitude would predict, the Dutch way of teaching and talking about sex from an early age has resulted in the exact opposite. Dutch and American teens both have their first sexual experience at around the same average age — 17, but both boys and girls in Holland are much more likely to say that they felt they were ready when it happened and that they had a good experience. Some two-thirds of Americans teens say they wished that they had waited or had their first sex under some other circumstances.

Rather than early sexual experiences taking place in the context of drunken hook-ups at parties, as is common in the US, Dutch teens are more likely to have their first sexual encounters in the context of relationships — ones where expectations and preferences are likely to have been discussed beforehand. After all, the idea of respect for self and others in intimate relations has been instilled in them from a young age.

Everything from masturbation to homosexuality has been discussed their entire lives in age appropriate contexts and conversations about sex so normalized that many teens think nothing of having open talks with their parents about their sexual experiences. If there is a period of awkwardness or adjustment, it is considered an opportunity to talk more fully about ethics and safety, and is seen as just a part of the transition to young adulthood that has to be dealt with.

In fact, teen couples in established relationships may well be welcome to spend the night at each other’s houses with parents just down the hall. “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.” This is in sharp contrast to the American point of view which tends to be “not under my roof.”

The cultural contrasts go beyond just the sexual aspects to how young people more generally go about becoming adults. In Holland, discussions between parents and teens about their development are expected, including about their burgeoning sexuality. American parents are more apt to look at teen explorations with adult behaviors as rebellion that needs to be suppressed rather than discussed. More often than not, this then leads to US teens hiding what they are doing, which becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Although most Americans do support medically accurate sex education, the details of what is taught are often left up to state and local control. This may result in paltry, or inaccurate sex education or no sex education at all. Even in schools with better curricula the emphasis still seems to be largely on pregnancy and STI prevention rather than on how to be a well-rounded sexual human being.

In Dutch schools that use the country’s most popular sex-ed curriculum, Kriebels in je buik (Butterflies in Your Stomach), yearly lessons begin with 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds talking about differences between male and female bodies, learning about reproduction, and discovering their own sexual likes, dislikes, and boundaries. Third-graders learn about love, including how to be kind to your crush. Before middle school, children get lessons on sexual diversity, gender identity, deciding when to have sex, and how to use barriers and contraceptives. All along, students are schooled in healthy relationships and how to reject gender-role stereotypes. (Gender-stereotypical thinking is a risk factor for poor sexual-health outcomes.)

Teen pregnancy has been on the decline in the U.S. for the past three decades, but American teenagers still give birth at five times the rate of their Dutch peers, who also have fewer abortions. In the United States, people under 25 make up half of all new STI cases each year, while young people in the Netherlands account for 10 percent of new cases in the country. Socially, sex is different, too: Sexually active young people in Holland sleep around less, communicate more often with their partners about their likes and dislikes, and report higher rates of sexual satisfaction.

Even though research has shown for many years that talking frankly about sex actually reduces both unwanted pregnancies and sexual violence, Americans are still uncomfortable with the topic, stubbornly clinging to the belief that the less that teens know about sex, the less they will have it. By contrast, since 2012, Dutch sex education has been mandated to include segments on health, but also on tolerance as well as assertiveness. As a result not only has name calling decreased but students are more likely to intervene if an LGBTQ or female peer is being harassed or teased.

Despite more training around consent in recent years, sexual coercion is still a major problem in the United States, particularly with teens and young adults. Around 38% of college men admit to having coerced their partners to engage in sexual activity that they did not want, sometimes even resorting to threats. Getting a woman to agree to something under duress doesn’t seem to register for these guys as problematic. It’s all part of the game to them as an extension of a competitive, domination-oriented culture.

Although even sexually progressive societies still have some sexual violence, comprehensive sex education, particularly when it includes consideration for your partner’s feelings and boundaries, has proven to be highly effective. As the CDC reported in 2016, “comprehensive sex education programs have been shown to reduce high risk sexual behavior, a clear factor for sexual violence victimization and perpetration.”

The Dutch and the Americans both responded differently to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the results really couldn’t be more stark. Although not perfect (because human beings are involved) the Dutch model overwhelmingly leads to healthier, happier, more sexually satisfied teens and young adults than the US model. Normalizing sexuality and giving students access to information on a wide variety of sexual topics has not led to promiscuity and rampant unwanted pregnancies, but instead, to the exact opposite.

Given the current climate in the US, it seems unlikely that comprehensive sex education will become universal any time soon, which means that it is up to individual parents to make sure that their teens understand not just the health aspects and the mechanics of sex, but the more global implications of becoming sexually active. Both boys and girls should be taught about pleasure and how to both advocate for what they want as well as how to uphold boundaries about what they don’t. Showing respect for the other person should also be a part of sex education training — although it’s unfortunate that such a thing needs to be taught.

Abstinence-only sex education has been a disaster in the US. If we were wise, rather than prudish and dogmatic we would embrace the Dutch model as a way to not only decrease teen sex but to make it safer and more responsible. A sex-positive culture is a healthier, more tolerant and more gender-equal one with fewer unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sexual violence. We could learn an awful lot from the Dutch — if only we wanted to.

© Copyright Elle Beau 2021
Elle Beau writes on Medium about sex, life, relationships, society, anthropology, spirituality, and love. If this story is appearing anywhere other than Medium.com, it appears without my consent and has been stolen.