Before you fire off those “hell no’s,” rock with me for a second…

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.

Schalet writes:

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.

What do you think Clutchettes and Gents…are American parents too uptight about sex? How do you think our teen pregnancy rate would change if we adopted more European ideals about teaching kids about sex? 

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  • fuchsia

    I think that sex drugs and media should be discussed among family. period. We don’t want society raising our children in any other circumstance but all of a sudden when it comes to sex our teenagers are learning from friends, MTV and yes other peoples parents. We set the value system and make our children feel like they matter as valued family members when we take the time to talk to them about our beliefs. I’ll never forget the drug talk my father had with me, and although my parents didn’t talk to me about sex my aunt did. I felt confident and comfortable abstaining, especially against peer pressure amongst my friends. We are in charge of giving our children the tools they need to be leaders and make smart decisions. I understand not wanting your teenager to have sex under your roof but if their is no dialogue then their is no mutual respect. If we teach them they will understand the need for greater respect as it pertains to sex. IMO Who, what, when,where and how should be part of the discussion as early as they are able to ask the questions and ongoing, because as an adult you control the conversation and set the tone. Children need and want guidance.

  • Pema

    Perhaps American parents are too update when compared to Europe. During my first trip to Europe I was shocked by the amount of nudity on non-cable television after 9pm.

    On the other hand,it’s all relative. I just came back from a business trip in India and we’re super lax compared to the Indians. In some areas, it’s not even acceptable for men and women to shake hands. Open up your worldview.

  • i think Americans are too uptight about sex, not just parents because you’ll see aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends not wanting to be open about it. But it’s not just an American issue. I live in the Caribbean, I was just speaking to my Aunt the other day about this. We don’t have sex ed classes here in school and a lot of parents refuse to discuss sex or give their children wrong information whether it be intentional or not. Because we are this ‘super christian’ nation the only thing we want to teach is abstinance but I believe by discussing sex, sexuality and being open about it we could nip alot of the issues we have in the bud. My Aunt believes the only sex education she needs to give her granddaughter (my 12 year old cousin) is a cut ass if she were to be messing around with boys. Well I had to break it to her that my cousin WAS messin around and because no one was giving her the straight truth beyond ‘get pregnant and I’ll beat you” she was approaching her fledging sex life the wrong way.

  • R. Jay

    I do think American parents are far too uptight when it comes to talking about sex. And, I must add, it’s not just the religious parents. I wasn’t raised as a specific religion. In fact, my parents allowed my siblings and I to dabble in different religions as a learning experience. So, I never got the whole “stay celibate until you’re married” talk. However, I never received the birds and the bees discussion, either. So, when I went off to college at 17, the only knowledge I had about sex is what I heard said by the kids in my high school and the one girlfriend I had who was sexually active. Sure, we had maybe ONE sex education class in high school, but all that touched on was the anatomy and physiology. Nobody prepared us for the emotional side of sex and how to function properly in a relationship that involved sex. I just happened to have innate prudish tendencies that didn’t go away until I was 20. But what about the other young adults who are just sent out into the world having no education on this VERY important, natural subject? It’s up to society as a WHOLE, parents, educators, and doctors included, to provide a safe, informative sex lesson to young people. It is nothing to be ashamed of and comes with major responsibility. The more educated young people are, the better. Relationships and sex go hand and hand, so instead of being awkward about it, talk to your young people! Also, I think homosexual sex needs to be discussed as well. Post Script: Disney has DEFINITELY provided young people with the wrong ideas about relationships.

  • lifespoetry2

    Are Americans too uptight about sex? I mean, we are the country that is well known for our “promiscuous women”. As a result, it is common for some american women who go abroad to be assumed as easy targets, or as sexual objects (this is true even in our own country). Maybe this could be seen as result of our lack of information around sex being given to children/teens/adults. We are the country that is putting out soo many music videos with lyrics around sex and bodies spinning around everyone’s head. (yes, other nation produce the same type of material) It seems we are educating ourselves on sexual creativity, or lack there of depending on how you look at it, and not on the consequences…

    As a side note: i think it has gotten to the point where a lot of parents are listening to music and watching videos that are sex-centered with their children, especially as the age gap between parent and child decreases. That seems like sexual openness, just in an irresponsible way.

    • chanela

      omg this is very very very true! you would be SURPRISED at how many kids you would see in a rated R movie. i find it funny how parents have no problem taking their kids to see a movie like friends with benefits,monster’s ball,piranha but they refuse to talk to their kids about sex. what kind of backwards mess is that???

      i would never take my kid to an adult movie. its rated R for a damn reason. get a damn baby sitter or watch a movie aimed at that child’s age group. not only is it stupid as a parent to expose your kids to such things.. but its also extremely bothersome for other movie goers when you have to hear little kids giggling over curse words being said in the movie and kids asking questions about the movie and babies crying and running around the theatre ect. its so pathetic.