Learning sex as important as learning maths

Learning sex as important as learning maths

By asandil Monday, June 27, 2011 - 15:43
Young people are entitled to reliable information so they can decide where, when and with whom they want to have sex. That’s the firm opinion of Ineke van der Vlugt of Rutgers WPF, a Dutch organisation committed to sexual and reproductive health. 

Cuban sexologist Mariela Castro Espin (daughter of President Raoul Castro) recently praised Holland’s approach – and Love Matters.

She said she admired the early sex education in Dutch schools, the open communication about sex and the Dutch campaigns promoting the use of condoms.

And yet, even in the Netherlands the situation is not ideal.

Ineke van der Vlugt explains: "Sex education and relationship education were scrapped as compulsory classes in the Netherlands years ago. And that’s really a shame because school is a good place for children to get reliable information about sex. And it’s also where popular myths like 'birth control pills will make you infertile' can be dispelled."

School is also where children pick up values like sexual equality and respect. Research shows that sex education can actually make a contribution to better grades and less truancy.


In the Netherlands, the government allows schools to decide whether they want to include sex education in their curriculum. And quite a few decide not to.

This leads to big differences between children, even in the same region. When they come to have sex, the young people who miss out on sex education are more likely to make risky choices and and less likely to enjoy it.

Schools sometimes dodge sex education because they're afraid of disapproving reactions from parents. Another factor is that some teachers lack the right expertise or don't feel up to the job.


Some school principals wrongly believe that children can find all the information they need on the internet, or already know all there is to know on the subject.

But puberty is the time when children can most easily get hold of misleading information or draw the wrong conclusions from the good information they do find.

Open culture

But young Dutch people are still doing pretty well when it comes to sexual health compared to their peers in other European countries.

The Netherlands has the lowest number of teenage mothers, a very low abortion rate and relatively few cases of STDs and HIV infections. This is partly down to decades of sexual education, and is helped by the country’s relatively open culture when it comes to sexuality.


A large-scale survey among young Dutch people between the age of 12 and 25 showed that most of them used condoms the first time they had sex.

They also had few feelings of shame or guilt about sex and were positive about the quality of their sexual experiences. 

Half of all Dutch young people are 17 years old when they have sex for the first time.

And yet there are reasons for concern. The Netherlands does have a high percentage of unwanted pregnancies and abortions among its young people from Afro-Surinamese and Antillean descent, and among those with little education.


The past few years have also seen a tendency toward more negative attitudes to homosexuality. Another cause for concern is that one in seven girls between the age of 12 and 25 have been pressured into sexual activity against their will, compared to one in 24 boys.

After years of campaigns focusing on safe sex, last year the government launched a campaign to help young people set sexual boundaries. And in an online game called Can you fix it? young people can learn how to draw the line if things are going too far for them. 


The way the issue of sexuality is being dealt with in the Netherlands still serves as an example to many other countries, but there is no reason for the Netherlands to sit back and relax.

There is still a need to educate young people, break taboos and dispel myths, says Ineke van der Vlugt. All the more reason to re-introduce sexual education and relationship education in schools as compulsory courses. Because sex is just as normal as maths, reading and writing.



Would you like to see Dutch-style sex education where you live?

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