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Teenage Sex: Do The Dutch Have A Better Idea?

(Courtesy: MISCHELLE/Flickr)

(Courtesy: MISCHELLE/Flickr)

Should parents allow their teenage kids to “sleepover” with their teenage sweethearts?

University of Massachusetts sociologist Amy Schalet explores the treachorous terrain of teen sleepovers in her book, “Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens And The Culture Of Sex.”

Schalet, who grew up in Holland, interviewed 130 Dutch and American parents and teenagers. She found that while nine out of 10 Dutch parents had allowed or would consider sleepovers once their child was 16 or 17, 90 percent of American parents were adamant: “Not under my roof!”

Schalet also found that Dutch teenagers are far less likely to become pregnant or contract a sexually-transmitted disease, and are far more likely to use contraception than American teenagers.

So should Americans consider loosening up a bit when it comes to sex and their teenage kids?


  • Amy Schalet, sociologist, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
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  • http://twitter.com/hendrey hendrey

    I found this whole discussion disturbing. The fact that parents in the Netherlands by and large do not disapprove of teenage sex, and that this is likely linked to lower STD and teen pregnancy rates, isn’t nearly enough to mean that American teens would be better off if their parents up and decided that teen sex were suddenly a-okay.

    The Netherlands and the United States aren’t the same country. They don’t have the same expectations. They don’t raise or educate their children the same way. They don’t practice religion the same way. They have markedly different cultural norms and mores, despite both being wealthy, Western nations.

    Regardless of whether sex is a big deal in Holland, it *is* a big deal in the U.S., and changing the “permissions” wouldn’t automatically change all the other cultural realities and expectations associated with sex here. It makes as little sense as proposing that’s needed to end homophobia in Uganda is for gay kids’ parents to be okay with it. Uh…right.

    If Amy Schalet wants American parents to tacitly encourage their kids to have sex at 15 or 16, in a culture that lacks other necessary features that might make teen sex a tenable, generally healthy activity, I hope she has a plan to deal with all the girls (and maybe boys, too) who’ll end up feeling like cheap, used-up trash.  There’s no doubt but that that would be the fallout. At least as it is now, girls don’t generally have to blame their parents for the emotional pain they experience after having sex too soon. Some of them can even still cry on their moms’ shoulders about it.

    • changetheworld

      I think Hedrey missed the points that I heard, loud and clear. Perhaps the interviewer should have asked for more concrete examples. It appears that the Dutch parents’ contribution to the kids is to help them with  the relationships, not the physical act. I had the guidance of older sisters (not parents in my case) when I first fell in love. I felt like I had a huge advantage over my peers in terms of  being comfortable, communicative, and in control of every subsequent intimate relationship. My friends could not effectively navigate the complexity of an emotionally and/or physically intimate relationship and did end up “feeling like cheap, used-up trash” at times, because they thought that the physical act was some sort of transaction. It was like they were children walking into a minefield with a birthday gift. They had no idea of what they were doing, nor did the boys. This lasted well into their twenties, as they went from one bad relationship to the next, learning lessons the hard way. They would have saved a lot of pain if they had had the wisdom of understanding older women as they tried to navigate this world. Instead their fathers disengaged and their mothers stuck to the company line, “no, no, no” and were viewed as shrill, out-of-reach, broken records to be avoided at all costs. I strive to keep communication open with my daughter now as she goes out into a world with fewer airtight cultural norms than in my day. To say things like “not in my house” would show that I’m not open to talking and would cut me off from her most important phases of maturation; managing intimate relationships.

      • Naveen

        I think Changeworld missed the points that I heard from Hedrey, loud and clear.  Hedrey did not object to parents teaching safe sex to their kids. She rather objects exposing children to early sex life. It is human nature to choose easy choices in life. A good portion of early human life is to be spent in preparing themselves for the future life. Rather exposing a 13 year old to sexual pleasure will put the kids who already have chosen easy choices like sleeping long time, party going,  lazy in home work, etc,  in wrong path further, and thus making the kids never understand the real life that they will be facing in the future. 

        As Changeworld chose her own life as an example, let me explain taking my own life as example. I got exposed to sexual life very late in my life, though I know about it as a15 year old boy or even earlier. I put self restriction in addition to what my parents put on me. I focused more on my studies and became a brilliant person, now serving at Harvard Medical School. My own daughter is 23 now and doing her MD. She never got exposed to sex life until now, though her parents did not put any restriction, but in fact even encourage her. So it is all perceptions. If kids can spend little time in enjoyment (sex or movies or sports or parties, it does not matter) and more on preparing for their future life ( acting in movies, playing sports, studying, and being a performer and not a spectator) those kids will become very successful in life.

        Enjoy early and suffer late or prepare early and enjoy late? what is right? 
        It is wrong to say that those kids who were not let early sex life would miss sex knowledge and suffer.


          Great to know that HMS-educated doctors believe sexual activity precludes personal success!

          Shine on you crazy diamonds!

  • Steve in Newton

    I am a 55 year old father of a 19  year old daughter.  When she was younger, my wife and I instilled in our daughter the importance of truly loving any boy that she was going to have sex with. When she was a senior in high school, she had dear relationship and they had sex.  While we did not condone sleep overs, we weren’t asked.  But we were fine with sex under our roof while we were not home.  They were in love and our opinion was that sex is part of a loving relationship, provided you are mature enough to understand.  Once she started college, we were fine with her boy friend sleeping over in the same room.  My daughter is a good student and has all her priorities in the right place.

    My own parents treated me the same when I was a freshman in college, back in 1974.  I never was promiscuous and grew up to have a wonderful family and long marriage.

    My feeling is that the key for teens to to avoid having sex unless you have a loving partner.  That is a healthy approach.  The challenge is that our culture finds this whole idea abhorrent.  My wife and I feel otherwise.

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