Go Dutch - A Practice Sample
Youth and Sexuality in the Netherlands
Frans E J Gieles, PhD, the Netherlands
Paper (to be) presented at the 19th World Congress for Sexual Health, World Association of Sexology, Göteborg, Sweden, June 2009
As a result of material in TV documentaries, some Dutch politicians want to start a campaign to combat what they see as the ‘pornification’ and ‘sexualization’ of youth. Is this really needed, or is it better to continue the Dutch way of dealing with youth and sexuality? I say: the latter.
Dutch society generally does not see sexual expression by children and teenagers as problematic, except where coercion or exploitation are involved. In those cases, the perpetrators get rather treatment than punishment.
The Dutch are very open about sex.
Sexual education starts at the age of toddlers. Contacts with the
mothers are open and intimate, those with the fathers are
Research shows that ‘facts’ are distorted by media and politicians. Actually, very few youngsters are involved. Most of the Dutch youth have good sexual ethics and act along those lines. Generally, they engage in sex often below the legal age.
The Netherlands has very low rates of abortion, young unmarried mothers and venereal disease. Dutch children are among the happiest children of the western world, in sharp contrast to those in the UK and the USA, according to a Unicef report in which the Netherlands are # 1 and the US and the UK are the last, ## 20 & 21.
Discussion and recommendations
1. It is nature
During puberty, teenagers rapidly develop an adult sexual capacity. This is a natural process. It is normal and healthy that teenagers want to experiment and experience sex and explore this gift of nature.
Our modern society is very complex. This requires a quite long education of young people, whose brains are still growing and developing until about the age of 23.
3. Accept, educate, regulate
Society should accept the sexuality of its youngsters, but should also educate them in sexual respect, and regulate their acts to prevent abortion, too early and unmarried motherhood and venereal diseases. The latter aims are simply reachable by giving easy entrance to contraceptives.
4. Long and broad education
Sexual education should begin early in life and include not only physical knowledge, but also knowledge about starting and maintaining relationships, solving conflicts, coping with feelings, and should also provide ethical guidelines about respecting the wishes and the limits of fellow humans.
5. Diversity and respect
Boys and girls should be able to say yes as well as no to sex, and should learn also to respect the yes as well as the no of others.
Boys and girls need to learn that the model of 'predators and victims' seldom exists. In reality, they should understand that sexuality is not dirty and bad, but a gift from nature, a possible expression of love, the most positive drive of the human being.
Boys and girls should also learn about the diversity of sexual expression, including erotica and homosexuality – not only male-female sexual intercourse as the one and only way - and be educated to respect them.
6. A role model
During and after puberty, teens become more independent and less reliant on their parents. This is part of becoming an adult. During that period, they may benefit from a role model, especially if they lack one at school or at home.
This person should be open to the youngster’s needs and desires and should respect his person and growing sexuality, as well as the laws of his country as an aspect of his role model.
7. Go Dutch ...
The Dutch policy of a long education and an open atmosphere and personal contact about sexuality, followed by accepting youth’s sexuality and the availability of contraceptives is the best way to accept and guide the sexuality of young people.
8. ... in contrast to ...
The latter contrasts with the less open and often repressive and negative sexual education in the Angelo-Saxon cultures. This often includes severe warnings to avoid sexuality at all before marriage. As a result, many abortions, venereal diseases and unmarried motherhood will come into reality. Actually, their first intercourse will be a bit later, but unprotected. The model of abstinence-only creates stress and creates aggressive people, as Prescott has proven.
9. The worst ways
The worst way of acting is to define everyone below the age of 18 (or 21, or even 23) as a child, to declare any sexually tinted pictures of youngsters as child pornography, and to enforce the very severe laws about that to young people, to label them as sexual offenders, and requite them to register them for life as such.
An even worst way of acting and thinking is to misapply the ‘predator and victim’ model for consensual and wished intimate contacts between youngsters. The modern 'sexting' is a game, a playing with contact and intimacy, not an offense. Sexual contact between youngsters is not always and by definition rape – mostly, it is curiosity, fun ... or love.
10. The very worst way
The very worst way of thinking and acting is to pathologize and criminalize sexuality of youngsters, this sublime gift of nature or, if preferred to name it so, God’s creation. It is better to honor and celebrate this gift and to guide it with respect and love.
If we want sexual health, also for for
young people, not only the adult human, but especially also the
youngster and his or her development and his or her relationships,
experiences and emotions are of crucial importance.
What young children do is mostly imitate adult forms of sexuality, especially heterosexual forms, ‘going with’ and so on. The first question asked in a TV show in which children appear is “Do you have already a boy/girl friend?” and the child, even the very young child, is supposed to answer “Yes, I have!”
It might be better to also give room to the more typical childish forms and scripts of sexuality.
References - preliminary short list
Lautmann, Rudiger, Die Lust am Kind, Portrait des Pädofielen, Rüdiger Lautmann, Ingrid Klein Verlag, Hamburg 1994 - Translated as Attracted to Children.
Martinson, Floyd, The Sexual Life of Children.
Miner, Barbara, We're here. We're sexual. GET USED TO IT; Color Lines, May-June 2008.
Prescott, James W., Body pleasure and the origins of violence, From "The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists", November 1975, pp. 10-20.
Thomson, Alice, Sex education: why the British should go Dutch; The Times (UK), November 24, 2008.
Warner, Judith, The Myth of Lost Innocence; The New York Times, January 29, 2009.
Westcott, Kathryn, Why are Dutch children so happy? BBC News website, Feb 14, 2007.