Sociologist Amy Schalet has a new book out contrasting American and Dutch attitudes and practices regarding teenage sexuality. The book is titled Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex (University of Chicago Press). Schalet finds significant differences between the two countries. In a Macleans prcview of the book titled “The Sleepover Dilemma,” Anne Kingston provides a contrast demonstrating the two approaches:
Schalet interviewed 130 parents and teenagers in both countries to explore the cultural gulf. Dutch parents “normalize” teenage sexuality, Schalet concludes, as a way of maintaining a connection with and continuing to exert an influence over their teenagers. It’s an extension of a Dutch matter-of-fact attitude toward sex ushered in since the ’70s: sex education begins at age four and contraception is readily available. Yet it’s far from an “anything goes” attitude, Schalet writes: Dutch parents have to feel comfortable that their child, generally 16 or 17, is old enough to be sexually active, is using reliable contraception, and is in a stable relationship with someone who will fit into the family unit. Dutch parents also expect teenagers to abstain from sex until they’re ready.
American parents, on the other hand, “dramatize” teen sex by focusing on the risks and dangers….Unlike Dutch parents, American parents uphold sexual freedom as a rite of adulthood, deﬁned by economic and emotional autonomy, hence the “you can have sex when you’re paying your own rent” edict. That makes sex an inevitable point of conflict—and disconnect—between teenagers and parents, Schalet writes, which in turn leads to inevitable sneaking around and dire health consequences: compared with the Netherlands, the unwanted pregnancy rate in the U.S. is four times higher, the abortion rate is more than two times higher, as are rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
An interview with Schalet also appears in Salon, titled “Solving America’s Teen Sex Problem.” In his preview to the interview, Thomas Rogers notes:
As Schalet’s extensively researched, fascinating work shows, the Netherlands’ radically different approach to sex and child-rearing has managed to radically decrease levels of teen pregnancy, abortion and sexual infections. It has fostered closer relationships between teenagers and their parents, and helped make teenagers’ first times far more pleasurable.
Such cr0ss-cultural analysis provides a helpful lens through which we can better understand why we think and act in the ways we do.