Permitting Your Teen to Have Sex Might Be a Smart Idea After All

loveMy kids haven't yet reached their teenage years, but already I'm worried about how I'll talk to them about sex when they do. Will I be informative and clear, emotionally supportive, and easy to confide in? Or will I mess it all up, sending confusing messages and being restrictive when I should be permissive, and permissive when I should set boundaries? It's all so emotionally fraught.

But I just read an interview with sociologist Amy Schalet, author of the book Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex. She says the Dutch, who have a very permissive attitude toward sex -- two-thirds of Dutch parents say they have no problem letting their teenage kids sleep over at their boyfriend's or girlfriend's -- have a lot to teach us American parents about navigating our way through this sticky area.


After all, Schalet notes, teen birthrates here in the U.S. are eight times higher than they are in the Netherlands, and AIDS is three times more prevalent here than it is there. Those parents in Holland must be doing something right.

Well, one thing Schalet contends is that because the teen birthrate and the incidence of AIDS is low and the availability of contraception like birth-control pills is high, the Dutch don't associate teen sex with danger. They do, however, associate it very strongly with love. Dutch society tends to believe that teenagers can have sex within the framework of a loving relationship, whereas here we tend to see teen sex as a destructive, out-of-control hormonal surge, a compulsion, or even an addiction.

Also, Schalet asserts that Dutch parents, liberal as they may be, also tend to be very involved in their teens' lives and relationships, carefully vetting their teens' boyfriends and girlfriends. Dutch teen love generally blossoms in a healthy, supportive environment, within a culture that supports family life. These parents teach their kids to build good relationships and then give them the autonomy to do so, to make their own choices when they feel ready.

I have to say, the Dutch approach to teen sex makes a lot of sense to me. Ultimately, teens are going to make their own decisions about sex when they're ready. The best we can do is start early to give them a healthy framework in which to view sexuality and their own bodies -- and to stay involved, available, and approachable as issues come up. We should teach them that sex can be not just some kind of uncontrollable urge to be repressed, but rather a powerful expression of love with a very important emotional component. Those lessons are at least as important as yet another talk about condom use -- though we should all definitely have those as well.

Do you think a Dutch approach to teen sex, permissive as it is, makes sense?


Image via Lel4nd/Flickr

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