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The BBC's Sue LLoyd-Roberts
"They have a sophisticated attitude to sex"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 1 March, 2000, 15:58 GMT
Netherlands: Let's talk about sex
Dutch children:
Dutch children: "They are entitled to know about love and sexuality"
By Sue Lloyd-Roberts in Amsterdam

A liberal attitude towards sex education appears to be paying off for the people of the Netherlands.

Sex display in Amsterdam
Sex is on public display in Amsterdam
The country has the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe.

Dutch children are taught about sex from a young age, but opt to have sex at a later age than their European counterparts.

The visitor to Amsterdam could be forgiven for thinking that the Dutch are obsessed by sex.

It is everywhere and is readily available. Every fantasy is catered for.

Sex starts at school

Keighley: "Mother's tummy gets bigger ... then the baby comes out"
However, the Dutch would argue that it is this openness which proves that they have the habit under control.

The openness starts at primary school. One group of children has been studying the subject from the age of six.

Ashley is congratulated for her essay on reproduction. The illustrations alone might get a pupil in a primary school in Britain in trouble.

Keighley contributes with some authority as her mother has recently given birth.

"The mother's tummy gets bigger and bigger and then the baby comes out," she explains.

In case Keighley needs further explanation as to what has been going on at home, children's television cartoons leave nothing to the imagination.

She and her nine-year-old brother know exactly how their baby brother came to be and, in a country where it is legal for consenting 12 year olds to have sex, they are well aware of the consequences.

English 'prudish'

Magazines: Free condoms and sex advice
Magazines: Free condoms and sex advice
This attitude contrasts sharply with Britain, which has the highest number of teenage pregnancies - about 63 per 1,000 - in Europe.

At mealtimes, says Keighley's mother, Marta, the Dutch routinely discuss sex.

"At nine, 10, 11, they are entitled to know about love and sexuality because when they reach a certain age they will want to experiment and they must feel they have the freedom to discuss sex - even during supper," she says.

Lea and Moo, both aged 14, drop into a local newsagents on their way back from school.

Last week, their favourite magazine was giving out free condoms. This week, the publication focuses on sexual technique.

The English are prudish and can't talk about sex. We find it easy to talk about it, we're better educated and therefore better informed about the consequences of what we are doing

Dutch passer-by
And yet, extraordinarily, the Dutch have the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe.

The average age for their first experience of sexual intercourse is 17, a year older than in Britain.

The Dutch attitude is sophisticated and scathing of their European neighbours.

"The English are prudish and can't talk about sex. We find it easy to talk about it, we're better educated and therefore better informed about the consequences of what we are doing," says one passer-by.

"If you have a baby when you're at school, then you can't complete your education which means you have no future - it mucks up your life," says another.

The Dutch would argue that the attitude is created not just by education, but the strong religious traditions, both Calvinist and Roman Catholic, practised in the country.

These religions along with close family ties are aspects of Dutch life which a British Government would find hard to legislate for.

Few benefits for single mums

Until recently, no government support for single mums
Until recently, there was no government support for single mums
However, benefits can be regulated by law and up until this year, the Dutch Government gave no support to a mother under the age of 18.

Sylvie Roop, who runs, Steady, a help centre for single mothers has fought for four years to get a 100-a-month payout for them.

I told her that a 16-year-old mother in London, for example, could get more than 200 a week in child and housing benefit.

"Here, they're not sensitive to the needs of young mothers - they think by giving such tiny allowances that they will stop teenage pregnancies," she says.

"The money they get now barely covers the cost of food and nappies."

Maybe the true difference is cultural. Biology lessons at Dutch secondary schools are often devoted to contraception.

It is hard to imagine a group of British school children treating a lesson like this with such serious attention to detail.

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See also:

18 Jan 00 |  Health
Boys red-faced over condoms
08 Feb 99 |  Health
Teens shy from sex advice
29 Aug 99 |  UK
Grandmother at 26
29 Dec 99 |  Health
Teenage pregnancies
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