The idea for this post came to be as I was watching an episode of Dr.Phil (which I hardly ever do because they are quite depressing). The episode was about teenage girls (15, 13 etc) who were sexually active, or addicted to things like cyber sex, sexting and porn. This episode only added to the frustration – if frustration is the right word for it – I was already experiencing at what I perceive as a lack of good sexual education at schools, but also at home.
As a European – and especially as someone from the Netherlands – I can only roll my eyes when seeing programs like Sixteen and Pregnant and Teen Mom zap by. I usually zap away, because of the sheer amount of nativity and lack of sexual knowledge these teenagers posses. Quotes like “I didn’t know you could get pregnant after one time,” by the teenagers and the insistence of some parents that their daughters not go on the pill – despite them already having messed up and getting pregnant.
I’ve heard that in America sexual education takes up one hour, and that’s it. Now I have no idea if this is true or not, but if it was it would explain a lot. I can only image at the amount of sexual education in more conservative countries, like Korea for instance, if there even is any. It also seems that parents don’t like or want to talk to their children about sex. It’s still very much taboo. Which I don’t get, because sex is a very natural thing. Do I think teenagers should be having sex so early? Nope. But then again, I was raised in the Netherlands, where I’ve gotten sexual education since I was 11 until I was 16. Most of it at school (and it was a Catholic high school), some of it at home.
I personally believe that the way it works in the Netherlands is a good way to teach children and teenagers about sex and everything that comes along with it. But before I talk about that, I want to present a chart of teenage birth rate statistics of a couple of countries. (I have no idea how accurate it is exactly, but I’ve seen such charts before and the results are usually like the one I’m showing) The chart is from nationmaster.com.
|# 1||United States:||52.1|
|# 2||United Kingdom:||30.8|
|# 3||New Zealand:||29.8|
|# 12||Czech Republic:||16.4|
|# 28||Korea, South:||2.9|
As you can see, the Netherlands is far down that list. So, how does sexual education work in the Netherlands? Obviously I can’t speak for everyone, so I’ll share my own experience. It started when I was eleven, when I was in my last year of basisschool (Wikipedia has a very insightful article on the Dutch school system, if you want to know more about this. I can’t really explain it very well) and my class got our first sexual education lesson. It focused not on preventing us from having sex because 1) if someone wants to do something, they’ll do it no matter what you say or do and 2) eleven year olds are generally not interested in sex just yet.
Instead they talked more about waiting until you’re ready, not responding to peer pressure, only doing it with someone you trust etc. Not so much about the deed itself, though they elaborated a bit on pregnancy and abortion. We were allowed to ask questions, but I don’t remember if we had any. Around the same time, my mom got me a book with a title like Sex and Such or something, which contained information about sex, masturbation, pregnancy and STDs but also about being sure about being ready, the changes of your body and love. It was very informative and I recall feeling that the mystery of sex and everything that comes with it (of what I’d seen on TV) was dissolved pretty quickly.
During the five years of havo (equivalent of high school, I guess), sexual education was a fixed part of the curriculum. There have been some hilarious classes. I remember quite vividly a class that was probably in my second year where our teacher came into class with a box. It turned out that box was filled with all kinds of contraception. She held them up and passed them around one by one, explain how they were used and which ones were the safest. You can image our shock when she held up the women’s condom. We were all trying to imagine how that worked. There was a bit of a funny instance of the girls ‘ganging up’ on the boys, because there were so many kinds of contraception geared towards women and we thought men had it easy. Again, we were told to not rush into it having sex. The teacher really showed how she understood that we were able to make good and responsible decisions and she told us she wasn’t worried about us doing stupid things.
Every year we were taught about sex (also how it works), pregnancy, one night stands, love, gender, sexual preference, AIDS, abortion, but also rape. The teachers didn’t talk to us like we were children, they talked to us as if we were equals. And we respected that, which made us pay attention to what they were saying. We were taught that we were the boss of our body and that no one should tell us otherwise. They basically said to us: “Wait until you’re ready to have sex. But if you’re having it already, please be safe.”
And then there were two comical occurrences (during the same class) in my fourth year. We had a different teacher by that time and he had decided to give us a ‘special’. He had brought a bag of condoms and a few molds (they didn’t look like what they were supposed to look like. They pretty much looked like deodorant) and we formed duos. Then he showed us the right way to put on a condom a few times and afterwards we got to try ourselves. Which was quite hard because the molds were very stiff and unprocessed. I remember struggling with my classmate to get the condom on the mold and we started pulling on it together. The teacher kindly informed us that during sexual intercourse we wouldn’t be together (probably) and that it would seriously injure the guy.
He then handed out a condom to each of us. We went on to watch something he’d prepared with Powerpoint. At first we had no idea what we were looking at. And when it dawned on us, we were disgusted. He went like: “This is herpes. This is gonorrhoea. This is this, this is that. If you don’t want this on your thingies, have safe sex!” Scare tactics, yeah. But they worked. Even though I don’t recall the pictures any more, whenever I think of STDs I still get queasy.
Before I forget, back to the condoms. He’d given us the condoms and during the lunch break some of the kids decided to use them as water balloons. What they didn’t know was that he was right behind them. He grabbed one of the guys by the collar, grabbed his condom (which was leaking) and looked at him with his one good eye – he had a glass eye. Then he started laughing and said: “This is what you get when you put on the condom wrong. They leak. And then people get pregnant.” We all started laughing, as you can imagine.
The teachers – and also our parents – were actually happy to answer all of our questions (if they were able). This caused us to see sex as something natural and not something mysterious. We knew so we had no reason, no urge to explore. We could have an open conversation about anything relating to sexual intercourse. (The same goes for drugs)
Sure, this might not be the way for every country, but I believe breaking the taboo and talking about sex will definitely help teenagers make better and well-informed choices.
Please note that this is my opinion. You don’t have to agree with it, but please do it politely and respectfully.