I was perusing the NY Times this weekend when I came across an interesting article by Amy Schalet, a professor and author of the forthcoming book “Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex.” In her article, Schalet writes about differing attitudes held by American and European (specifically Dutch) parents about the sexual habits of their teens.
Through her research Schalet found that American parents tend to adopt a “not under my roof!” manta when it came to their teens having sex at home, while Dutch parents were more welcoming and accepting of the idea.
Her findings were extremely interesting. While most American parents would scoff at the idea of 1) their teen having sex and 2) their teen having sex in their home, Dutch parents tended to be more accepting of the idea. According to Schalet, the can be attributed to cultural differences.
The difference in their experiences stems from divergent cultural ideas about sex and what responsible parents ought to do about it. Here, we see teenagers as helpless victims beset by raging hormones and believe parents should protect them from urges they cannot control. Matters aren’t helped by the stereotype that all boys want the same thing, and all girls want love and cuddling. This compounds the burden on parents to steer teenage children away from relationships that will do more harm than good.
The Dutch parents I interviewed regard teenagers, girls and boys, as capable of falling in love, and of reasonably assessing their own readiness for sex. Dutch parents like Natalie’s talk to their children about sex and its unintended consequences and urge them to use contraceptives and practice safe sex.
Schalet also found:
Cultural differences about teenage sex are more complicated than clichéd images of puritanical Americans and permissive Europeans. Normalizing ideas about teenage sex in fact allows the Dutch to exert more control over their children. Most of the parents I interviewed actively discouraged promiscuous behavior. And Dutch teenagers often reinforced what we see as 1950s-style mores: eager to win approval, they bring up their partners in conversation, introduce them to their parents and help them make favorable impressions.
In the end, Dutch teens seemed to be less promiscuous and more educated when it came to their sexual health. According to a national survey, by age 16, 7 out of 10 Dutch girls reported that their parents talked to them about sex, and by the time they lost their virginity, nearly 60% were already on the pill. Moreover, “Widespread use of oral contraceptives contributes to low teenage pregnancy rates — more than 4 times lower in the Netherlands than in the United States.”
So while American parents freak out about sex, labeling their children as hormonal fools incapable of making sound decisions, our European counterparts are teaching their children about the risks, ways to protect themselves, and how to enjoy sex responsibly.