Ah…the age old adage…Americans are uptight and moralistic, while Europeans are all about free love and pleasure. Is there truth to this statement?
In a recent NYT article, Amy Schalet profiles differences in family reception between the US and the Netherlands to sexual activity among teens. She then assesses the effectiveness of each very divergent attitude. Harkening back to a recently released documentary, “Let’s Talk About Sex”, Schalet probes into the lives of 130 white, middle class people to discern their views on adolescent sexuality.
“Not under my roof!” Who remembers this battle cry? The vast majority of American parents turn a blind eye to their teens’ sexual lives, and, as long as they do not know about it, it is not happening. The problem is, teens ARE having sex, and they need protection. By advancing the stereotype that children are pure well into their twenties, we are only hurting our youth. Most people are sexually active before marriage. This is a fact. No matter how much we deny its existence, it is not going anywhere. So, why do we play the shame game? Why do we force our teens to have sexual experiences in the back seat of a car or anywhere they can have a hidden, rushed copulation? As we all know, that is not the ideal situation.
The article primarily compares two young women-one American and one Dutch-who are sexually active. The American teen refuses to tell her parents and hides her sexuality for fear of tainting her “little princess” status. On the other hand, the Dutch teen is up front with her sex life, and after some talks with dad and mum, the truth is out on the table and fully accepted by both parents. The Dutch teen is now allowed to have her boyfriend “sleepover” because the aforementioned Dutch parents want their daughter to have a comfortable, healthy sex life and still remain an active part of their family.
Many Americans would shirk at this idea. By letting teenagers have sex under their (sacred, virginal) roof, are they are condoning or accepting this act? If so, is this a bad thing? Or, are they actually supporting their daughter’s sexual health by providing a safe environment for sexual expression?
This article has a seemingly low point. Its most tragic observation is the American teen’s desire to be open with her parents. She wants that relationship, and she wants to be accepted for who she is-sexually active or not. Surprisingly, the Dutch teens surveyed also showed a respect for traditionalism and expressed a desire to please their parents. This development shows us that family structure, at least in Holland, can be unharmed, and even strengthened, with complete honesty and acknowledgement of young people’s sexuality. Their approach is that by denying their children’s most intimate feelings and experiences, they are both discrediting them and distancing them from the family unit.
Many teenagers are going to have sex whether their parents “know” or not, so denial is not going to stop the process. However, a knowledgeable family base and information on contraceptives, STIs, and safer sex will make the process a healthier one.
See the full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opinion/sunday/24schalet.html?_r=2&ref=opinion