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American Sex Ed Just Doesn’t Measure Up- And It's A Problem

By Emma McGowan

It’s no secret that sexual education in the United States is…lacking.

In 2016, then-President Obama finally cut funding for the disaster that was abstinence-only “sex ed” (in quotes because, really?), but we’ve yet to see exactly how that will translate into better sex education for American children and teens.

What we have seen, however, is that our uniquely American version of sex education is severely lacking when it’s held up to sex ed in other countries.

Take, for example, the Netherlands.

A simple glance at a few key numbers show a stark difference in how teenagers are learning about — and, subsequently, having — sex.

The Dutch have one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world, with 3.2 teenagers in 1,000 having a baby in 2015.

In comparison, the United States saw 22.3 births per 1,000 girls that same year.

And it’s not like Dutch girls are getting pregnant and having abortions at high rates. In 2015, the rate of abortions to live births was 8.6 to 1,000. That’s for all women, not just teenagers, and it was a slight increase over previous years. In comparison, in 2013 there were 200 abortions per 1,000 live births in the United States.

So what gives?

Analysts believe that the low teen birth rate and low abortion rate in the Netherlands is largely due to their excellent sex education system.

Here’s a quick look at what they offer their children — and how it compares to common sex education in the United States.

They start young 

In the Netherlands, sex education starts young — at age four, to be exact.

They’re not taught explicitly about sex at that age, but instead are introduced to ideas like romantic love, intimacy, and awareness about their own and other people’s bodies. The curriculum advances for every year that the kids are school, with age-appropriate adjustments along the way.

In the United States, the start of sex ed varies from state to state but most students receive at least one course between grades six and 12. (I know that I got a lesson about puberty in fourth grade, and one sex ed class per year from sixth to 12th grade. And I went to school in a pretty progressive state, but no one was promoting sex ed for kindergarteners).

They focus on consent — and pleasure 

While American sexual education tends to be very technical — what goes where and how it makes a baby or gives you a disease — Dutch sex ed puts a big emphasis on consent and pleasure.

Children are taught how to set boundaries, how to say “no,” and how to advocate for what feels good for them.

In later years, girls are taught to take an active role in their own sex lives, rather than be passive participants.

Instead of focusing solely on all of the nasty things that can happen when you have sex, the Dutch focus on the great things as well.

They talk about gender identity and sexuality 

In some states in the US — like Utah — it’s illegal for sex educators to “promote homosexuality.” That includes talking about any kind of queer identity in sex education class.

In the Netherlands, however, they talk freely and frankly about the fact that some people feel romantic and sexual attraction for people of their same gender and how that’s entirely okay.

These are just three points that emphasize how vast a difference sex ed is in the Netherlands compared to what we’ve gotten in the United States. And the numbers don’t lie — being honest and direct and sex positive with children and teens leads to better results.

So the question we’re left with is: Will we ever catch up?

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