Early Childhood Sex Education

How Do Dutch Parents Educate Their Young Children About Sex, Sexuality, and Pedophilia?

Davies, Sarah; Nov 01 2007
Type of WorkThesis

SCHOOL FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAINING, Sexuality and Gender Identity Program, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Project Advisor: Frans Gieles
Academic Advisor: Kevin Connors


In this research study, parents from in and around Amsterdam were interviewed and filled out surveys about how they educate or have educated their young children about sex, sexuality and pedophilia. Seven parents were interviewed in 40 minute to hour sessions and 20 parents of primary school students filled out two-page surveys about the topic of early sex education. It was found that most Dutch pare sexuality and sexual feelings and desires with their children. They speak with their children about sexuality during or after puberty. Many parents speak with their young children about pedophilia, but limit their conversation to talking about the danger of


Educating young children before they go through puberty about sex and sexuality is not institutionalized in most countries’ primary school systems. However, young children do not live in a sexless world. Children are curious about gender differences in genitalia between their mother and father; children wonder how their mothers become pregnant with their younger siblings. Most children look to their parents to answer these questions about sex and sexuality. Therefore, parents of  young children whether they are prepared for the job or not are usually their children’s first sex education teachers. Some parents take on this role with ease and openness; however, many parents might find questions about sexuality their children have difficult to answer.

In the past couple decades or so, one of the growing concerns about their child’s sexuality is pedophilia. The hyper-awareness many parents have for pedophilic crimes can be translated through familial dialogues about sex and sexuality into negative attitudes in their young children toward sex.

Pedophilia is an adult’s sexual desire for a child. However, the Greek root, philia, is translated as love, or friendship in Modern Greek. The concerns many parents have about pedophilia as a sexual threat are mirrored in many western governments with extremely harsh laws that prevent pedophilia at all costs. In almost every western country pedophiles are prevented from acting on their sexual desire for children or teenagers in anyway. Even pedo-sexual feelings are regulated by governments. Child pornography is illegal for adults to possess privately in most countries. Laws that protect children from sexual relationships with adults are usually enforced strictly and for the most part unquestioned by citizens or lawmakers.

Social attitudes toward pedophiles usually fall in line with the harsh government laws protecting children. The fiercely enforced laws and usually strongly held social attitudes toward pedo-sexuality against pedophilic actions imply that children should not be confronted with adult sexuality until they are of the age of legal consent which is usually between sixteen and eighteen years of age. Parents who are very concerned about pedophilia might feel inhibited in discussions with their children about sexuality. This inhibition might make negatively affect children’s attitudes about sex and ultimately their sexual development.

The Netherlands is a country known for its sexual openness. However, it was not clear to me whether the Dutch just tolerate different sexual lifestyles or are truly open about them. The Dutch Society for Sexual Reform (NVSH) and the Party for Neighborly Love, Freedom, and Diversity (PNVD) are two organizations which have very progressive and liberal ideas about sexuality. They both believe that all forms of pornography (even child pornography) should be legalized. One of PNVD’s many items on its political agenda is to lower the legal age of sexual consent from sixteen to twelve years of age in the Netherlands. Because of this, the party is casually referred to as the “Pedophile Party” although its platform extends beyond that. It did not receive enough signatures to participate in the 2006 elections, but it is still a force in the culture that might affect Dutch people’s attitudes toward sexual issues and pedophilia. Dutch parents attitudes toward the PNVD might indicate how open they are about in their discussions about sex with their young children.

In this paper, I will first discuss the literature written about child sexuality, in America and in Europe. Then, I will discuss some different theoretical perspectives about topics in child sexuality such as pedophilia. I have interviewed seven people about the familial education of young children and have 20 short surveys about those topics. Before I discuss that data, I will tell you the assumptions I held before collecting my data. Then I will analyze my data and come to a conclusions about it.

Question and Focus:

What is the political and social attitude toward pedophilia and child sexuality commonly held by Dutch parents? Do Dutch parents educate their young children about sex, sexuality, and pedophilia? If so, how?

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To answer my research questions, I would say that Dutch parents do educate their children about sex. However, parents do not discuss topics involved with sexuality, such as sexual feelings or desires, regularly with their young children. Many of the parents I interviewed expressed desires to speak with their children during or after puberty about sexual feelings, power dynamics in sexual relationships, and the importance of making one’s self happy in sexual relationships.

Dutch parents do seem quite open when addressing their children’s inquiries about sex. Before puberty, most children ask questions in sexual body parts, pregnancy and birth, and the mechanics of sex. Since parents seem to wait for their children to initiate discussions about sex, the early of sex education of children by their parents can be constrained by children’s observation skills and their sexual vocabulary. However, a child might be curious about the relationships involved with sex, but cannot ask because they are not sure how to vocalize their questions. Even though the Dutch sexual culture might be viewed as open and progressive (especially in Amsterdam), parents are not as progressive as I first may have thought in the sexual
education of their young children.

Waiting for a child to ask questions about sex might be harmful to a child’s sexual development. Children might only obtain the vocabulary to ask questions about the dynamics of a sexual relationship when they feel uneasy or embarrassed talking with their parents about sexuality. Therefore, they might look for this information in other places such as the television or their friends. These sources might not describe sexual relationships in the way that a parent wants their children to learn about relationships. However, it might also be developmentally appropriate for parents to wait for their children to bring up issues. I cannot make a definite conclusion about who should initiate a discussion of sexuality because all of the parents I interviewed and surveyed began educating their children about sex when the child first began to ask questions. My research would be more complete if I had found parents who discussed sexuality in depth with their young children without prompting from their child at all.
For further research, I would seek out these parents who initiate discussions about sexuality with their young children. I would also try to speak with their children.

Concerning pedophilia, Dutch parents are less progressive than I hypothesized in this discussion with their children. Even though there is one political partie such as the PNVD that is seeking to break down the wall between child and adult sexuality, many Dutch parents believe that this wall, enforced by the age of sexual consent, is a positive one, which protects their children. The strict divide between adult and child sexuality is evident in how parents educate their young children about pedophilia. They warn their children about strangers at a young age; however, they do not discuss sex with older people at all with children during this discussion of strangers.

In my interviews, I did not even find that parents talked about what a child should do if an adult (or even another child) touches them in a way they do not like. The discussion of strangers seemed to be all that parents discussed with their children regarding pedophilia or molestation. Parents’ warnings about strangers might seem threatening or ominous to children. The warnings might subconsciously create sex-negative attitudes in children psyches during their early sexual development. Also, since most parents do not discuss sexuality with their young children, these vague warnings about strangers might be the only way children learn about their sexuality. Therefore, children’s sexual psyches might be even more negatively affected if these warnings about strangers are the only things they have to latch onto. In future research, I would like to speak with children or at least young adults about their views on how their parents educated them about pedophilia.

Dutch parents are open with their young children about the mechanics of sex when a child asks questions about sex. However, the discussion of sex does not go much further beyond the child’s inquiries for most of the parents I interviewed. One sexual topic that a parent might bring up is pedophilia; however this topic is brought up so vaguely that children might be left confused or frightened of sexuality. Parents are not as open with children as I had hypothesized based on the seemingly sexually open Dutch culture. However, during and after puberty it seems that Dutch parents are very open with their children about sex and sexuality.