It’s a common trope for conservatives to say, “What’s next, teaching sex ed to kindergartners?” In fact, that’s the exact thrust of this McCain anti-Obama ad from 2008:
Aside from being factually incorrect, the ad above gets another thing wrong: it may be beneficial to start teaching kids about sex that at early age. It’s already the case in the Netherlands. At St. Jan de Doper elementary school, two local children’s TV hosts, Pheifer and Pepijn Gunneweg perform a song about having a crush and all that follows.
Yep. In the Netherlands children as young as four and as old as 11 are taught about self image, stereotypes, sexual orientation and options in contraception. This idea, known as “comprehensive sex education”, starts as early as age four because that’s the time that children start understanding opposites and lying.
Ineke van der Vlugt, an expert on youth sexual development for Rutgers’ World Population Foundation, the Dutch sexuality research institute behind the curriculum, tells PBS that there is nothing “sexually explicit” being referenced in the kindergarten class, but the lessons are about having open and honest conversations early on.
Netherland laws dictate that some form of sex education must be taught in all primary schools. Certain core principles, like sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness, need to be mentioned with some flexibility differing in each school. But the curriculum is designed to get kids thinking and talking about intimacy early on so that they can more confidently make decisions about sex and relationships when they’re older.
Starting to talk about sex at such an early age may be a taboo for most families but it’s obvious that the Netherlands way has worked in their favor. The Netherlands has some of the best outcomes when it comes to teen sexual health. On average, teens in the Netherlands don’t have sex as early as teens in other countries like the United States. According to the World Bank, the teen pregnancy rate in the Netherlands is one of the lowest in the world, five times lower than the U.S. Rates of HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases are also low.
Despite the initial reluctance and ideas about childhood innocence, the results speak for themselves. Starting a comprehensive sex education program in the US, rather than the patchwork system we currently have, could help teen pregnancy rates and STD transmission rates plummet.
(Featured image via Woodleywonderworks/Flickr)