Sex education across the world

Sex education has been widely controversial and extensively discussed in the United States over the past few decades. Currently, the topic manifests in either comprehensive sex education or in the abstinence-only method. Around the world, however, sex education varies greatly across different cultures.

Among the more liberal parts of the world, northern European countries have some of the most inclusive sex education—even starting at kindergarten in the Netherlands. There, the Dutch teach their students about “puppy love” during an annual week called “spring fever week.” While sex as a topic isn’t directly addressed at an early age, the topics of sexuality, love and relationships are openly discussed throughout the week.

In addition to starting sex education at an early age, the Dutch also require that formal sex education be taught in a way that “encourages respect for all sexual preferences and helps students develop skills to protect against sexual coercion, intimidation and abuse,” according to Public Broadcasting Service. 

The Dutch feel that sex should be openly treated as a normalcy, rather than treated as a taboo. Therefore, the Netherlands receives praise for having the best teenage sexual health, with low rates of teenage pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, according to PBS.

While most states within the U.S. have gravitated toward more progressive sex education, many still abide by the abstinence-only curriculum. Only 22 states and the District of Colombia currently mandate sex education, while a shocking 25 states require an emphasis on abstinence. Abstinence-only education aspires to achieve some of the same low rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs as the Netherlands, but through discouraging all sex.

Teenage pregnancy and STDs are both positively correlated with abstinence-only sex education, according to a study done by the National Institute of Health in 2005.

Mirroring some states in the U.S., religious and cultural beliefs render premarital sex unacceptable in Muslim countries like Iran. The denial of sex before marriage and of homosexual relationships in these countries causes sex education programs to fail to educate and prevent HIV and other STDs. 

In Iran, recent studies have shown that HIV is frequently transmitted in ways other than injecting drugs, such as unprotected sexual contact, according to the nongovernmental organization Talking about Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues.

With some of the highest rates of HIV in the world, South Africa has its own set of issues around adequate sex education. These issues arise, however, for completely different reasons than when they do in countries like Iran. Since apartheid, socioeconomic inequalities have made it difficult for the country to fund sex education in the poorer communities. 

Inadequate training, insufficient material and staff shortages have contributed to the spread of HIV and STDs. Additionally, these poorer communities often have a more conservative approach to sex education, creating yet another obstacle.

With AIDS currently making a comeback from the ‘80s, safe, consensual sex has become more critical. While many U.S. states and countries have vastly improved their curriculum, others still have a long way to go. 

Providing formal, all-inclusive sex education has proven to reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies, cases of HIV and other STDs.u