Gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer has an interesting article out about how we tend to educate future generations about sex, based on Amy Schalet’s book Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex.
American parents, Schalet claims, use a strategy of “connection through control.” By imposing rules (curfews, blanket prohibitions on pre-marital sex), parents seek to demonstrate love and to maintain a vigilant presence in their children’s lives. Parents in the United States pursue connection through control even when they know it won’t work; the American adults Schalet interviewed were often pessimistic about their own ability to regulate their adolescent children’s behavior. Contemporary parents often assume that their kids will have sex anyway; they describe their own efforts as “swimming against the tide.” But because American parents tend to see teenagers as fundamentally irresponsible, they often believe that they have no choice but to continue to do whatever they can to regulate their teens’ private lives, even if they doubt the efficacy of the strategy.
In the Netherlands, according to Schalet, parents also want to protect their teens. But their technique is the reverse: “control through connection.” Like American adults, Dutch mothers and fathers believe adolescent sexual experimentation is inevitable. But rather than grimly soldiering on in the effort to repress teen exploration like their American counterparts, many Dutch parents seek to integrate teen sexual discovery into family life. Teens are expected to bring their boyfriends and girlfriends home to meet the relatives and to participate in family activities. Sons and daughters are encouraged to integrate their romantic lives into communal domestic routines. In due course, typical Dutch families will permit their teenage children to invite boyfriends or girlfriends to spend the night. Unlike in my family, the luggage and the bodies all sleep in the same bedroom. Sexual discovery is private, but it’s also sanctioned. The end result is, Dutch parents hope, a safer and happier experience for their children.
Schalet cautions against over-idealizing the Dutch example. Parents in the Netherlands also want to control their teenage children; they’ve just settled on a different strategy for achieving that goal. At the same time, the hard data makes clear just how much more effective the Dutch strategy has been. Sexually active teens in the Netherlands are, as Schalet shows, much more likely to use contraception than their American counterparts. Rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion are also substantially lower. With the sudden re-emergence of birth control and sexual mores as campaign issues in the 2012 American election cycle, Not Under My Roof serves as an indispensable reminder that proscriptions of carnal behavior invariably end in failure.
Read the entire article here.
Header image by by Hajime Nakano.