The debate about the right age to begin teaching children about sex and love continues. While some are horrified at the idea of young children being thought about sex at school, Dutch schools are giving students as young as four-years-old lessons in sex education, or more appropriately, sexuality education.
And despite expressions of disapproval from some, the Dutch can boast that they are getting good results.
According to a report by PBS Newshour, elementary schools in the Netherlands recently observed “Spring Fever,” a week in which teachers focus on “comprehensive sex education” for school children from four- to 11-years-old. The lessons focus primarily on love and intimacy.
Dutch administrators say that the program is designed in compliance with the law that requires that all elementary students receive sexuality education. The aim of sexuality education is to equip children with skills to cope effectively with forming relationships and maintaining intimacy. This includes equipping children with social skills which empower them to exercise control in intimate relationships and to protect themselves from sexual abuse. They are taught about gender issues, including social stereotyping based on gender, sexual orientation, diversity, and contraceptives.
Overall, children learn how to discuss love and relationships openly and to obtain reliable information about sexuality. This, educators say, protects children from media misinformation.
And despite the impression that many have cultivated about the Dutch system, the classes for younger children never make explicit reference to sex. The lessons focus primarily on teaching young children about love and relationships, according to a Dutch educator Van der Vlugt.
“People often think we are starting right away to talk about sexual intercourse [with kindergartners]. Sexuality is so much more than that. It’s also about self image, developing your own identity, gender roles, and it’s about learning to express yourself, your wishes and your boundaries.”
In a kindergarten sex education class, the teacher shows the young children animals hugging in a picture book.
“Why are they hugging?” she asks.
A girl responds, “Because they like each other.”
When the teacher asked the children who they love most, many of the students mention one of their parents.
A boy who was asked what he feels when someone he loves hugs him, said, “I feel warm from the inside. It’s like there are little butterflies in my stomach.”
In a classroom session with 11-year-old students, the teacher asks what it means to be in love.
One girl says, “You find someone nicer than just regular nice.”
“You get so lost in your thoughts about the person that you don’t hear what anyone else says,” a boy says.
The class also talks about dating and how best to break up with someone. The children agree that it is best to say it “personally and not via a message or something.”
The Dutch approach to sex education has attracted worldwide attention. Research results appear to validate the Dutch system.
Studies show that Dutch teens do not begin to have sex earlier than teens from other Western countries despite claims by some that sex education “corrupts” teenagers.
Research has also found higher-than-average standards of reproductive health among Dutch youths.
Dutch teens have one of the lowest incidents of pregnancy – about five times lower than the U.S. They also have among the lowest rates of STDs in the world.
The Dutch experience corroborates a Georgetown University study that found that early sex education reduces risks of unintended pregnancy and STDs among teenagers.
The approach to sex education by Dutch educators is in sharp contrast with the approach by educators in some U.S. states, such as Utah, where sex education is severely restricted and abstinence only is actively promoted.
The Inquisitr reported in March of 2013 that Chicago authorities implemented a new policy that requires Chicago schools to begin sex education in Kindergarten.
[Images: YouTube/PBS Newshour]