When you think about teen sexuality, what comes to mind? Furtive, hidden encounters in the back seats of cars? Dodging STD and pregnancy bullets (or hoping to), without any real practical education on contraception? Kids just raging around with hormones, not really having any emotional stake in the game?
For many kids growing up in America, that’s the general assumption. But the Dutch are different, or so a recent article on Salon indicates. Salon interviewed Amy Schalet, the author of Not Under My Roof, a new book that compares the differences in attitudes between American and Dutch teens when it comes to sex, romance.
For example, Dutch parents are far more likely to believe teens fall in love. They are also more willing to allow young lovers to share the same bed in the parental house, rather than expecting teens to sneak around. Finally, they fully educated their children on birth control and disease prevention. ˜ From the interview, “Yes. The pregnancy rate is about four times higher in the U.S. than in the Netherlands and abortion rates are about twice as high. HIV rates are about three times higher.
(In my own state of Texas, the rates of pregnancy in teens are rising. According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, “Teen childbearing in the United States cost taxpayers (federal, state, and local) at least $10.9 billion in 2008, according to an updated analysis by The National Campaign
Ten billion? And we think abstinence works?)
Reading the interview, I was just gobsmacked. First of all, because my own personal upbringing wasn’t too far of that mark. My mother explained sex ed to me very thoroughly. She made sure I knew I could ask her for birth control pills when I was ready to start having sex. When I had boyfriends over to “watch movies, ” she very politely stayed in one area of the house, always knocking or calling loudly as to not embarrass us during make-out time. And by the time I did lose my virginity (a little later than average), I was living on my own, so I never wound up having to feel unsafe about my whereabouts.
I didn’t get pregnant. I didn’t get any STIs. And I had really nice boyfriends, for the most part. Also? I always knew I could go to my mother if I had any questions or concerns, or to my two older cousins who also had a mother who was smart and open about how love, sex and relationships worked.
I wonder, what would it take to shift opinions in America to the point where my son, once 16 or so, could spend the night at his paramour’s house, with both sets of parents in agreement that what they are doing is ok, and that we want them safe. I discussed this with a friend at a party not long after reading the article. We laughed about it, the idea that we could be that sophisticated, but I think I’d actually find it preferable to wondering where in the blazes he was and was he being safe.
Part of the issue in the states is legal of course. Age of consent is different in each state. If two kids were under the age of consent, spent the night at my house with my knowledge, could I be held responsible for the subsequent explosion of litigation? Also, America is nothing if not divisive on issues of morality around sexuality. Mores are widely spread in America. There are parents who are all for comprehensive sex ed, but what if their son is dating the daughter of parents who promote abstinence only? Talk about Romeo and Juliet. In that particular case, the parents couldn’t even discuss things without difficulty. That doesn’t even begin to broach the topic of if the teens are both gay. Different article altogether.
And even in the case of two sets of parents who have much of the same beliefs about sex ed, know that their teens are in love and it’s natural to explore their sexuality, would the teens themselves balk at the idea of everyone knowing their business? Boundaries? Could we, as parents, actually deal with knowing the kids were up having at it, while we were cooking dinner? Is that weird? Or is it normal? Where is privacy in all this?
Even with all those questions, and even with all the difficulty of trying to swim against the current tide, I’d prefer to have an attitude more like the Dutch, where sex, pleasure and knowledge are not dirty words, and where kids can grow up with strong loving relationships at their own pace, and with the full knowledge that their parents love and support them and want them to be healthy, safe and happy.