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Austin Cline

Holland vs. America: Teens, Sex, and Pregnancy

By September 29, 2010

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Do conservative Christians in America really want to reduce teen pregnancy? Some say they do, but one test for whether a person's goal is what they claim it is whether they are willing to adopt tactics and solutions which are proven to work.

For example, it's a proven fact that Dutch teens have far fewer pregnancies than American teens. So if teen pregnancies need to be reduced, it would pay off very well to adopt some of the tactics and attitudes which work so well in Holland. In reality, conservative Christians will never do this -- and the reason is simple: teen pregnancy isn't nearly as big of a problem to them as they pretend.

Just how common in the coed sleepover in Dutch culture? A 2003 study "found that two thirds of Dutch fifteen to seventeen-year-olds with steady boy- or girlfriends are allowed to spend the night with them in their bedrooms." Yet the birth rate among American teens is a whopping eight times that of the Dutch (something the Dutch have managed to accomplish while maintaining a low abortion rate for teenage pregnancies). The rate of STDs among Dutch teens, too, is significantly lower.

Furthermore, Dutch teenagers are less likely than American teens to engage in sex outside a committed, monogamous relationship. To recap: Dutch teens are having safe sex in the context of loving relationships and under their own roofs, while American teens are engaging in alarming rates of unprotected sex in questionable relationships god knows where.

So, why the huge cultural divide, especially given how much time, energy, and money America funnels into the prevention of teenage pregnancy? Essentially, it boils down to this: the Dutch treat their teenagers' emerging sexuality as normal and healthy, and react accordingly. Contraceptives and reproductive health care are readily available. Conversely, in America we tend to treat teenage sexuality as a demon to be fought. We throw money into unrealistic abstinence-only education programs while simultaneously neglecting to educate our youth on their bodies and sexual health. We throw up barriers to birth control and abortion services.

Schalet believes that this can, in large part, be attributed to religion. Americans are far more likely to claim religious devotion that the Dutch. Shlalet also points to another interesting potential cause for the differing approaches to teen sexuality: the Dutch seem far more likely to validate their teens romantic feelings, whereas American parents tend to trivialize those emotions as "puppy love."

Source: Women's Rights [emphasis added]

I think it would be fair to say that the Dutch treat their teens with a decent measure of respect -- as people who are becoming adults and thus deserve a growing measure of autonomy in making decisions about their lives. They obviously don't have complete and total freedom in all things, but they are also getting more freedom than many of their American counterparts. Not only are they being given the freedom to make decisions, though, they are being given the tools necessary to make healthy decisions -- and that's exactly what people need if they are going to become healthy adults.

Unfortunately, I don't think it matters how much evidence is provided from other nations for better ways to deal with teens and prevent teen pregnancy. As Schalet notes, the difference between America and other nations lies with religion, which means that the problem for America lies with religion. So long as large numbers of Americans hold on to a religion which is anti-sex and anti-autonomy, there won't be any real improvements in man of our social problems.

October 1, 2010 at 5:41 pm
(1) Marvin says:

FWIW, my daughter did her masters thesis in the late eighties on condom use. Among her findings was that, at the time, not a single case of HIV infection had occurred among licensed prostitutes in Holland who used condoms. The official position in the US at the time was that condoms were completely unreliable. We’re prisoners of preconceived notions. Facts do not matter.

October 3, 2010 at 1:16 pm
(2) mia says:

It never ceases to amaze me, how theists extend their fantasies into their actual families…

I’ve heard the argument that if you teach sex-ed, you encourage sexual relationships, which is utter trash. Kids are going to have sex anyway, whether you tell them what having sex is in the first place.

Also, kids who are more sexually knowledgeable tend to start their sex life a tad later than those intrigued by trying. Because they know what it’s about and experience tells me a kid will be more likely to test something that’s forbidden than something he already knows about. Correct me if I’m wrong.

So eliminating sex-ed from the school curriculum will not eliminate the risk of kids having sex – that is plain unrealistic. Sex ed tells you that if you do it, do it as risk-free as possible.

I was inclined to say a bit more, but I’m reminded again that facts don’t really matter.

October 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm
(3) seathanaich says:

Great article, I have used it on a chat forum elsewhere.

1/8th the teen pregnancy rates. Too bad most Americans think they are better than everyone else, and have nothing to learn from anyone, on anything.

September 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm
(4) Heidi says:

If you can find your way off your idiotic anti-religious high horse, you will also find studies that show that Dutch teens have a much higher average age of first intercourse. Perhaps this very small country that has been caught in all kinds of battles over the last century, simply benefits from Abstinence, and an often overlooked part of Scandanavian and germanic culture where the girls are taught more self respect, and the boys are also taught to respect the girls. Even open doors for them and offer them a seat on the bus. Maybe we need to start teaching our teens in the US to act like young ladies and gentlemen, instead of Ho’s and Pimps.

September 26, 2012 at 3:28 pm
(5) Austin Cline says:

If you can find your way off your idiotic anti-religious high horse

When a person has no substantive basis for disagreement, they always launch right into personal attacks.

you will also find studies that show that Dutch teens have a much higher average age of first intercourse.


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