What America Could Learn From The Netherlands' Sex Ed System

January 6th 2016

The Netherlands has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world, and its comprehensive sex education system is at least partially to thank.

The country has a comprehensive sex ed system that starts as early as age four. While four years old might seem a little young for sex ed, it's important to note that the focus is on sexuality, relationships, appropriate touching, and intimacy.

Ineke van der Vlugt, an expert on youth sexual development, told PBS News Hour last year that the goal is to get kids thinking about love, relationships, and affection early in life. Eight-year-olds learn about gender stereotypes and self-image, and 11 year olds learn about contraception and sexual identity. The hope is to educate kids thoroughly enough that they can have thoughtful conversations about safe sex, abuse, and reproduction before they hit their teen years.

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“There were societal concerns that sexualization in the media could be having a negative impact on kids,” van der Vlugt said. “We wanted to show that sexuality also has to do with respect, intimacy, and safety.”

PBS NewsHour visited the St. Jan de Doper school in the Netherlands and filmed teacher Marian Jochems reading a book to kids about bears and alligators hugging. When Jochems asks why they're hugging, a little girl says, "Because they like each other."


“People often think we are starting right away to talk about sexual intercourse [with kindergartners],” van der Vlugt said. “Sexuality is so much more than that. It’s also about self image, developing your own identity, gender roles, and it’s about learning to express yourself, your wishes and your boundaries.”

Last year, the non-profit organization Guttmacher Institute found that the Netherlands has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world. The country's approach to safe sex plays a role in this. People can get condoms from vending machines, and anyone under 21 can access the birth control pill for free. Sexual experiences among young people in the Netherlands are also very rewarding. In a study looking at 12 to 25-year-olds in the Netherlands, most reported that they had “wanted and fun” first sexual experiences.

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How the U.S. compares.

The situation is quite different in the U.S., which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. In America, nearly 70 percent of American teens surveyed by reported wishing they'd waited longer to have sex for the first time. While kids in the Netherlands are encouraged to ask questions in their various sex ed classes, the U.S. sex ed system leaves a lot to be desired and oftentimes only promotes abstinence, which can silence young people wanting to learn more about safe sex. In the U.S., fewer than half of the states are obligated to teach sex ed, and 27 states require an emphasis on abstinence.

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Last year, ATTN: interviewed Josy Jablons, an undergraduate at New York University and president of Students for Sexual Respect, about her online campaign to improve sex education, #BetterSexTalk. She told ATTN: at the time that her goal was to fill in the gaps of our country's lacking sex ed system.

#BetterSexTalk#BetterSexTalk -

"Frankly, I didn’t learn the concept of 'affirmative consent' until I delved into my own activism; essentially, my sex ed. was self-taught," Jablons told ATTN: last year. "I remember a specific assignment to present facts about Chlamydia to the class. And I’ll never forget the palpable humiliation and stigma within that classroom."

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