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Old 11-14-2011, 06:24 PM   #1
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Teen Sex: What Americans Can Learn From The Dutch

I know I'm going from one extreme to another today in FYM, but I came across this article and thought it would make a good discussion. Especially since we have some Dutch FYMers.

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Teen pregnancy rates are eight times higher in the U.S. than in Holland. Abortion rates are 20% higher. The American AIDS rate is three times greater than that of the Dutch. What are they doing right that we're not? For starters, two-thirds of Dutch parents report allowing their teenage children to have sleepovers with their boyfriend or girlfriend, a situation even the most liberal American parents would rarely permit. Is there something Americans should learn from the Dutch about relaxed attitudes toward sex (and drugs — indeed, the Netherlands has more lenient drug laws than the U.S., but three times lower rates of marijuana use)?

Mind Reading: What We Can Learn From the Dutch About Teen Sex – TIME Healthland

I've always believed that a more liberal attitude towards sex would take away the stigma and teens wouldn't be getting pregnant and STIs so often. But at the same time, I could never allow my kids to have sleepovers with their significant others until they're 18.

Also, I like how the woman being interviewed says the Dutch accept that teens could be in love, even teen boys.

Thoughts?

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Old 11-14-2011, 06:49 PM   #2
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haven't quite digested it yet, but i loved this question and response:

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It seems terribly sad to me that we view teenage love as being about "just hormones" and teen boys as incapable of being in love — but then we turn around and bemoan this culture of "hooking up," when we've basically given adolescents no space to actually have loving relationships.

I do think this is something that resonates with a lot of people. Every culture has those aspects of human [nature] they celebrate. And the U.S. celebrates individual development and freedom, so there isn't a good language for talking about social cohesion, whether between two teenagers or whether as society as a whole.

One of the things I really emphasize is the need for a better cultural narrative for talking about relationships and love that isn't just, Marriage is best. That is not appropriate for teens and we need to validate their connections and give guidance around that

Read more: Mind Reading: What We Can Learn From the Dutch About Teen Sex – TIME Healthland
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Old 11-14-2011, 10:18 PM   #3
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I can't really see parent-approved boyfriend/girlfriend sleepovers becoming the norm in American households anytime soon, but then again I can't see the ethos of "gezelligheid" becoming a norm here anytime soon either:
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What it refers to is the pleasure people are expected to take in each other's company, parents and children and also teens together in their peer group. There's a lot of intergenerational gezelligheid. The Dutch celebrate every birthday, whether 8 or 80, and you are expected to show up and enjoy it. The Dutch also devised policies to maintain it. They made part-time work easy for mothers and fathers, so there are policies that support family life.
I actually don't think more than a small minority of American parents would disagree with the statement, "Teenagers (including boys) can and do fall in love." But maybe that's taking what she's getting at there a bit too literally. I know I've grumbled about this a bunch of times before, but one thing I'm not impressed with in the sex-ed curriculum my kids' schools follow (which is the "comprehensive" type) is the medicalized 'body management' model it's clearly based on--it's not anchored in any sense of, Here is how people who care about and respect each other handle contraception/STIs/etc. Granted, talking at kids in class about relationships can't by itself make up for what those (too many) of them coming from unstable, unsupportive, anything-but-gezelligheid homes haven't gotten from their parent(s), but that's no excuse for not furnishing what we can. (I remember someone, Irvine I think?, posting an article a few years back citing data to the effect that in Western Europe, not only marriages but cohabiting relationships as well last considerably longer than their American counterparts, with all the broad differences in stability for children that implies.) Actually, now that I think about it, if American parents tend to freak out at the concept of "teenage love," it's probably not just over the worst-scenario material consequences, but also the psychological dynamics that often precede them--basically, the "instrumental" thinking about sex and relationships she criticizes in media; that not only sex but romance too can get warped into a means of proving or redeeming oneself socially, ironically facilitated by the "individual development and freedom" over(?)emphasis.

The point about poverty rate interested me too, because that's consistently shown the strongest correlation with who (among teens) gets pregnant in the US--it's been about 5 years since I saw current data on this, but at that time the figure was that 60% of teenage mothers were already living below the poverty line at the time they got pregnant. (And if they didn't finish high school, which a lot of teen mothers don't--again, poor social supports--then they were, I think, 5 times more likely to be living in poverty 10 years later than teen mothers who did finish.) Poverty rates can be tough to compare, though. A quick Google found that as of 2009, the Netherlands' poverty rate (per Eurostat) was 11% with a poverty threshold of ~$15,000, whereas ours (per the Census Bureau) was 14.3% with a threshold of ~$11,000 (those are the single-person thresholds, in both cases). Obviously, not saying that explains an eightfold difference in teen pregnancy rates all by itself, but at least here it's unmistakably a key correlation.

Anyhow, interesting article...I admire the social and cultural 'translating' she's doing with this project; too often comparative statistics get wielded in such contexts as if they were arguments in themselves for some specific policy point (in which case, shouldn't we really be looking at what Japan and South Korea are doing? lowest teen pregnancy rates of all), rather than as an incentive to bring two different social and cultural systems into dialogue with each other to better develop our own solutions for our own problems.
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Old 11-15-2011, 09:03 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by yolland View Post
(in which case, shouldn't we really be looking at what Japan and South Korea are doing? lowest teen pregnancy rates of all),
My guess is because those two countries both put a huge emphasis on education and honoring the family. An out of wedlock pregnancy for a teenager could mean shame for the family in Japan and South Korea.
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Old 11-15-2011, 12:29 PM   #5
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I was mostly being facetious and don't personally know much at all about contemporary teen sexuality in either country, though you're no doubt right that a general ethos of prioritizing the group over the individual and self-sacrifice in service of one's family would be important factors. About the only things the US, Japan and SK clearly have in common with relevance to teen pregnancy is that all three are wealthy industrialized countries where both sexes have good educational and employment opportunities compared to the global average. But my point was really more that reasonably closely related cultures (such as the Netherlands) are generally going to yield more productive and illuminating comparisons and contrasts.
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