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Let's Talk Sex
The Dutch Experience

Cartoon couple having sex
Doing it the Dutch way

Something's going on under that duvet... Cartoon masturbation on video, condom demos for 11 year olds, youth-club sex quizzes – it's all part of sex education in the Netherlands.

At first it makes buttoned-up Brits cringe, but the kind of sex education that many Dutch kids accept as normal is far more full-frontal than anything your teacher's likely to let you see in the UK.

Does it mean that Dutch teens are gagging to get out there and get at it? Not a bit of it. Most don't lose their virginity until they're around 17, and the Netherlands has the lowest number of teenage pregnancies in Europe – while in the UK our shameful statistics are five times higher.

The secret of success
What is it that makes some Dutch sex education so effective? Crucially, they focus on helping young people make responsible decisions about relationships and sex, with the emphasis on mutual respect. Yes, Dutch kids learn the biological bit in detail, but they also spend loads of class-time discussing values and attitudes, and finding out how to decide when's the right time for them, as individuals, to start having sex.

The realities of teen life
Learning starts young, and everything is covered without embarrassment, from what it's like to fall in love, to same-sex relationships, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexual abuse. It's all very open and upfront and, most important of all, it's in touch with the realities of teenagers' lives.

The Dutch story
Holland started getting a grip on sex education in the 1980s, when Aids first became a threat. Dutch authorities created a package of textbooks, videos, and other resources, which are used in most schools. Although there's no national curriculum, sex education is compulsory in all Dutch secondary schools and over half the country's primary schools put sex and relationships on the agenda too, for kids from the age of six. For the Dutch sex is a normal, everyday subject, and it's there on the main timetable alongside maths and PE.

It doesn't stop at the classroom
Sex education happens outside of school too, in special youth clubs. What's more the Dutch are very open – it's not hard for most Dutch teenagers to discuss sex with their parents. They can also easily get confidential and non-judgemental treatment and contraceptives.

It's all so different from the UK approach, and it makes a real, positive difference to young people's experiences. Yes, it is explicit, but once you've got over the shock you might, like the teenagers in the programme, like to see something similar being taught in your school? Isn't it better to know all the facts about sex? And wouldn't our society be happier, if fewer teenagers went through the misery of an unwanted pregnancy, or caught a sexual disease. That's what doing it the Dutch way could mean.


How much do you really know about sex?
Don't know what an IUCD or an STI is? You do now...
Resource aimed at all those involved in delivering sex education (Word 185Kb)
PSHE, Citizenship and Careers for 14–19s

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