May 27, 1: Jan de Doper elementary school gym is decked in heart-shaped balloons and streamers. Kids giggle at the question. Hands — little and bigger — shoot up. Eight-year-olds learn about self-image and gender stereotypes. By law, all primary school students in the Netherlands must receive some form of sexuality education.
But it must address certain core principles — among them, sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness. That means encouraging respect for all sexual preferences and helping students develop skills to protect against sexual coercion, intimidation and abuse.
The underlying principle is straightforward: Sexual development is a normal process that all young people experience, and they have the right to frank, trustworthy information on the subject.
On average, teens in the Netherlands do not have sex at an earlier age than those in other European countries or in the United States. By comparison, 66 percent of sexually active American teens surveyed said they wished that they had waited longer to have sex for the first time.
According to the World Bank, the teen pregnancy rate in the Netherlands is one of the lowest in the world, five times lower than the U. Rates of HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases are also low. Easy access to contraception is one. Condoms, for example, are available in vending machines, and the birth control pill is free for anyone under age A recent study from Georgetown University shows that starting sex ed in primary school helps avoid unintended pregnancies, maternal deaths, unsafe abortions and STDs.
Jan de Doper school, a group of kindergartners sit in a circle, as their teacher, Marian Jochems, flips through a picture book. The pages contain animals like bears and alligators hugging. Several kids say their mom or dad. One girl names her little sister. A few name other children at school.
Other early lessons focus on body awareness. By age seven, students are expected to be able to properly name body parts including genitals. The goal is that by age 11, students are comfortable enough to navigate pointed discussions about reproduction, safe sex, and sexual abuse. Fewer than half of U.
Just last month Congress extended the Personal Responsibility Education Program PREP , which funds comprehensive adolescent sexual health initiatives across the country. That narrow focus, she says, leaves young people with few skills to cope with their feelings and make decisions in sexual encounters. In fact, comprehensive sex ed has yet to take hold in most parts of the country. Utah, for example, requires that abstinence be the dominant message given to students.
Utah state representative Bill Wright has further tried to restrict sex ed. It passed but was vetoed by the governor. David Satcher, the former U. That extends to parents and teachers, he says. In other places, the tide is shifting toward an approach closer to that of the Dutch. Parents nights are held to give parents tools to talk to their kids about sex. Another said he recently answered questions about homosexuality posed by his twin 6-year-olds during bath time.
Lessons in love Sabine Hasselaar teaches year-olds. In a recent class, Hasselaar posed a series of hypothetical situations to her students: A girl starts dancing close to a guy at a party causing him to get an erection. Your friend is showing off pornographic photos that make you feel uncomfortable. The class discusses each scenario. Students submit questions that teachers later address in class. One of her students, for example, wrote: What should I do?
Teacher Janneke van den Heuvel leads her 8-year old students in a group discussion during Spring Fever week in the Netherlands.