Photo by Celia Ortega
Sex Education is an important part of a school’s curriculum. There are differences between our sex ed here in America versus other countries and I am looking to explore those differences and how they affect teens, adults and the general public’s attitudes.
Most of the general public is in high support of sexual education being provided in middle school and high school. However, the content of this sex ed varies greatly across state lines. Planned Parenthood reports that 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex ed and 34 states mandate HIV education.
Each state has their own guidance on how/when sex education should occur, but the ultimate decisions are left up to individual school districts’ discretion (Planned Parenthood). This can be problematic because that means there are varying interpretations of sex, sexual identity, body image and gender roles. Since we are not all getting the same information or education on this topic, it leaves a handful of us without the right information to be safe and smart in our decisions.
The 2014 CDC, or the Center for Disease Control, School Health Profiles shows that fewer than half of high schools and a fifth of middles schools teach all of the 16 topics that are recommended by the CDC. These are topics that are considered essential components of sex ed and range from basic information on how HIV and STDs are spread and how to prevent infection, to critical communication and decision making skills.
Despite the general decrease in knowledge of sex ed in America, there has not been any increase in parent-kid conversations regarding sexual education. According to Planned Parenthood, female and male teens were asked if they had prior knowledge about birth control when having sex for the first time and the majority answered “No.” (Melkin, 2015).
Now let us talk about Normandy. Sex Ed takes on a whole new meaning in this country. Instead of pushing off the topic until late middle school or high school, their curriculum starts up conversations about love and relationships as early as kindergarten. PBS explains that the real term for what is being taught at this young age is sexuality rather than sexual education.
Core principles such as sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness are taught within this system. Encouraging respect for all sexual preferences and assisting students in developing skills to protect themselves from coercion, intimidation and abuse are key factors of their education process (Melker, 2015)
Sexual development is a normal process that all young people experience, and they have the right to frank, trustworthy information on this subject. In order to block the negative impact of sexualization in the media, the school sex ed program shows that sexuality is also about respect, intimacy and safety. All important lessons that I think we often miss in the United States.
“People often think we are starting right away to talk about sexual intercourse [with kindergartners],” van der Vlugt says. “Sexuality is so much more than that. It’s also about self image, developing your own identity, gender roles, and it’s about learning to express yourself, your wishes and your boundaries.”
Okay, but how is this “comprehensive sex education” approach affecting the statistics? It has bigger effects on the population than you might think. Some of the best results when it comes to teen sexual health come from the Dutch. Teens in the Netherlands do not have sex earlier than other European countries or the U.S. Most said that their first sexual experience was “wanted and fun” according to 12 to 25 year olds from their country.
To put that in perspective, 66% of American teens said they wished that they waited longer to have sex for the first time. 9 out of 10 Dutch teens used contraceptives the first time and their adolescents are the top users of birth control. Teen pregnancy in the Netherlands is one of the lowest in the world, making it five times lower than the U.S. HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases are also low (Melkin, 2015).
These statistics sound pretty good, and I believe they are doing so well because of their unique approach on sex ed. Educating the children on ALL topics, not just heterosexual intercourse, is important if we are going to do better with this. Learning from the Netherlands on how to better our systematic programs would not be a bad idea.