When it Comes to Sex Ed., We're Doing it Wrong

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We all remember those embarrassing sex ed. classes in biology, the ones where the teacher put up a picture of a naked body and was interrupted with those uncomfortable giggles and gazes as you and your fifth-grade classmates saw a pair of boobs or balls for the first time. It’s an awkward situation, to say the least – but it shouldn’t be.

When it comes to Sex Ed., no one does it quite like the Dutch. Every spring, students spend a week learning about their sexuality, not just their anatomy – and they start at four years old. My four-year-old self barely even knew what it was I was carrying around between my legs, let alone what a relationship was, or how to set personal boundaries – but these are topics kids in the Netherlands are exposed to not too long after speaking their first sentences.

In the Netherlands, speaking about sex and one’s sexuality is encouraged, unlike the U.S., where a recent CDC study showed that nearly 80% of American children and teenagers do not receive any formal sex and sexuality education before having sex.

In fact, not only do we rarely speak about sex in the states, but in most cases we discourage it, encouraging abstinence instead – a policy that’s repeatedly proven itself to be an epic failure. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that that’s probably why we in the U.S. have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the entire developed world – 8 times higher than the Dutch’s.

Not only do the Dutch encourage open conversations about sexuality at school, but sex is a common topic at the dinner table as well. Parents answer their children’s questions as they arise, keeping nothing from them. Teen sex isn’t encouraged, but it’s allowed, preferably in a controlled environment – which is why most Dutch teens have their first sexual experience under their parents’ own roof, with nearly 75% using a condom their first time.

For those of you who are wondering, all this sex-talk doesn’t turn Dutch kids into sex-crazed beasts. In fact, Dutch teens have their first sexual encounter at around the same age as most American teens: around 17 years old. The only difference is that they have condoms readily available in most vending machines, free birth control until they turn 21, and actually have half a clue what they’re doing, thanks to 13 years of talking about it. But hey, at least our cookies are better.