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01Mar18n Dutch female dr speaks

2nd March 2001

Liberal attitudes to underage sex are best

Providing sex education and free contraceptives and fostering liberal attitudes toward sex are among the best ways to reduce soaring teenage pregnancy rates, a Dutch researcher said Friday.

"Teenage pregnancy seems virtually eliminated as a health and social problem in the Netherlands," said Dr. Simone Buitendijk, of the Dutch Institute for Applied Scientific Research in Leiden.

The Netherlands has fewer pregnant teenagers than most Western countries. Less than 1percent of 15- to 17- year-olds in the Netherlands get pregnant each year, compared with nearly 5percent in Britain, which has the highest rate in Western Europe, and 9.9percent in the United States.

The Dutch have seen a steady drop in the number of young mothers for decades, even as the teen pregnancy rate has been increasing in other countries. "It's due to a whole mix of things. It is very hard to pinpoint what the major factor is. The liberal attitude is probably one very important determinant," Dr. Buitendijk said in a telephone interview.

While other countries have been promoting virginity, the Dutch have accepted that teens are sexually active and have introduced measures to deal with it.

"In Holland teens know about sexuality and about procreation, how it works and what you should do not to become pregnant. Their peers know and it is a very socially acceptable thing to prevent pregnancy," Dr. Buitendijk said.

Oral contraceptives are available at pharmacies and free through the National Sick Fund, a state-funded system that ensures that low-income people have medical care. Statistics show that Dutch teenagers are using them. In 1995, 70percent of sexually active 18-year-olds were using birth control pills, along with 40percent of students 3 or 4 years younger. Eighty-five percent of teens used a condom, the pill or both during their first sexual experience.

Dr. Buitendijk, who will present the Dutch data at a meeting on child health in London, attributed use of contraceptives by Dutch teenagers to "their sufficient knowledge of reproduction and contraception, the large amount of information available to them both in school and informally, and the general permissive attitude the Dutch hold toward teen sexuality."


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