In the United States, sex education in the public schools is generally a cautious affair. There is much resistance to openly speaking about sexual health. Some people would even say there is fear about talking about sex.  In many schools, if there is any discussion about sex, parents are not only informed in advance but they have to sign a permission slip. Just like when you go on a field trip, parents have to approve the trip to sex town. I think there might be more discussions about being harmed in sexual situations than in the positive healthy aspects of sexuality. It is absolutely essential that children are taught about dangerous people and behaviors, but there is a lot to talk about that is not scary and yes, even normal.

Living in The Netherlands has been an education in itself for me. But when I found out what this country does to address sexuality in the schools, I was just amazed and impressed. All children in every single primary school in this country has some type of sex education from the age of 5 to 11 or 12. In primary school, children are taught according to their grade level and they are taught in a very honest manner. Our son, who is in 5th grade and is 11 years old, is in his final year of primary school. Parents were informed on the school’s website and in the newsletter that there would be a two week course taught to the children in all of the grades. No permission was asked for. If a parent took issue with this course, they could have their child taken out of the classroom. As far as I know, every single child participated in this program. Parents were also told what was going to be discussed, including positive information about gay relationships.

Because the Dutch schools are nationally funded and regulated, this program is required for every school. No matter what the politics in a small town might be, they must adhere to this policy. The government voted to enforce this curriculum and every school must comply. This could never happen in the United States, as each state has their own education department. But even more so, each town or district has their own school committee and they decide along with the superintendent, what kind of sexual education will take place. In many cases, this subject is not addressed.

We talked to our son every day after school about what was discussed that day. The regular classroom teacher taught the course and she allowed an open discussion. I asked him what was the funniest thing about this course and he said it was all the slang words for body parts and sexual acts. The students were encouraged to share all the words they had heard, and I have to admit it was pretty funny. It got the kids to laugh and if they did not do it there, they would be doing it at recess. The children were allowed to ask any question they wanted and the best one I heard so far was “what do you do if you have to pee while having sex?”  I think that stopped the teacher in her tracks.

These two weeks were fantastic for us as a family. We had always been very open, but it now led to more questions, more silliness and more answers. I asked our son what did he learn that meant the most to him. He said that he had no idea that a girl could get pregnant after getting her period and that being a parent is a very big deal, so you need to use birth control. He said  “it takes a lot of money to take care of a baby and it is a lot of work, and I don’t want to do that when I am a teenager.”

Some children have parents that are too shy to talk about this subject and they are happy to have the schools help out. Some children are very curious but would rather hear this in school than in their home. No matter what, the important thing is that children become educated. That they become smarter about their own bodies. Don’t think that sex education stops when children leave primary school and attend middle school, there is much more to come for them and for us, as parents.

When I was in junior high school, the girls were sent to the gym and we were told to sit in the bleachers. A gym teacher talked to us about our changing bodies. We each got a free packet of samples, like a sanitary pad with safety pins and a whole lot of confusion. I remember that there  was also a pamphlet that looked like it was twenty years old, the illustrations looked like they were from the 1950’s. That was it. That was the extent of my sex education in school.

Is it a coincidence that teenage pregnancy in The Netherlands is one of the lowest in the world? I don’t know, but it sure seems to me that the more education a young person has about their own body and those of their friends and family, that it can only be a good thing.

Recommended reading: IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL by Robie Harris. This is the best book for children about the human body and sexuality. It is honest, funny and very clear. It is also published in many languages (including Dutch). On the second day of this course, our son was laying on the living room floor reading this book. He had gone to the shelf and got it himself, and he read the book all the way through. Robie Harris has also written two books for younger readers: IT’S SO AMAZING! And IT’S NOT THE STORK! These are great books to have in your family library.



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  • Terri D'Orsaneo  On March 29, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I agree with you! Ignorance leads to trouble. Knowledge empowers so the right choices can be made. I grew up in the 50s, when sex just wasn’t discussed, and was in high school during the 60s when “free love” confused the heck out of everyone! LOL We could learn from the Netherlands!

  • Carol  On March 29, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    I agree with you. I also grew up in the 50’s/60’s and the subject of sex wasn’t discussed. I must say it was my boyfriend, now my husband, who taught me a whole lot. hahaha I can laugh about it now, but at the time, it was not funny. Things are so different now and our children need to know about this important part of life.

  • krunn7  On March 29, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I always knew the Europeans were more cosmopolitan than North Americans. I got most of my sex ed just like you did. It was a lesson or two from the gym teacher. Then I tried asking my mother what a hickey was and she asked me what kind of dirty girls was I hanging around with. End of questions to mother. Then my main source of info was the public library. I would casually wander the history stacks and when no one was about, slide into the sex section. I too wanted to find out what would happen if a guy had to pee while having sex. It was a question I packed around for weeks until I could get down town to Victoria’s main library. We couldn’t find answers like that in the school library and google hadn’t been invented yet. I found out the answer in a library book.

  • Kim Perry  On March 30, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    So refreshing to hear that positive gay relationships are a part of the subject matter taught in a sex education class and that teen pregnancy isn’t prevalent enough to warrant reality TV shows. You had me laughing with the kid’s question about having to pee during sex, but you’re walk down memory lane about the sanitary napkins and safety pins made me laugh so hard I nearly had to pee myself. I do have one question which you may or may not know the answer to: are condoms given out and at what grade level?

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