If you are an American reader, you are probably totally familiar with the conventional wisdom about teenage sex. For example:
- Teens have raging hormones
- There is a battle of the sexes, with girls being especially vulnerable
- If you are the parent of teens, expect battles and drama. You will try to maintain control over their sexual activity. They will rebel and sneak around. You'll catch them.
- No way, under any circumstances, are you going to be open to your 16- or 17-year old having a sleepover with their boyfriend or girlfriend in their own bedroom
So how has that worked out for us? We still have a lot of teen pregnancy.
I just learned that in the Netherlands, there is a whole different culture around teens and sex. In her fascinating new book, Not under my roof: Parents, teens, and the culture of sex, Amy Schalet explains that in Holland, adolescent sexuality is normalized rather than dramatized. There's little or no talk of raging hormones or battles of the sexes. Instead, when the teens feel that they are ready and the parents agree (apparently, the Dutch are bigger on consensus-building than we are), most Dutch parents allow their teens to have sleepovers. That includes same-sex sleepovers.
In the Netherlands, sex is discussed more routinely between teens and their parents. Middle-class parents urge their teens to use contraception, and in doing so, they
"are bolstered by education and health policies that strongly support educating teens about contraception and giving them easy and stigma-free access to birth control" (p. 40).
All of these cultural differences are linked to different outcomes. For example, the teen birth rate is much higher in the U.S. than it is in the Netherlands. Also, American teens are less likely than Dutch teens to describe their first sexual experience in a positive way.
As I read Not Under My Roof, I wondered about the Dutch teens who are not all that interested in sex. The author recounts a story of a Dutch mother who tried to talk to her teenage daughter about the optimal age to start having sex. Her daughter replied, "A, I don't feel like talking with you about that...B, not anytime soon."
There's so much more to say about this book, but I'm going to wrap it up for now. I started reading the book because I'm headed to Holland to give a talk on singles to the national organization of social psychologists and wanted to get some sense of the culture. (I've never been there before.) Apologies to those of you who have been emailing me and not getting a response; I've been preoccupied with writing my talk. I'll try to catch up later.
Meanwhile, as always, if you interested in reading even more perspectives on single life, check out the feeds at Single with Attitude.