The wonders of Dutch sex education at primary school

The wonders of Dutch sex education at primary school (Or a lesson in just saying how things are)


Dutch sex education, there is certainly a lot of talking about it. But how is it really different from the rest of the world? Say, British sex education?


My three sons started in a Dutch primary school last year. Call me cruel or a bad mother but they didn’t really speak Dutch. I had spoken Dutch to them when they were very young, but as soon as the English school journey had started, it seemed impossible to keep that up. They were fully integrated in the English way of life, complete with shirt, tie and the most unattractive black all-year-round school shoes. Yes, I was worried when they started at the “basisschool” but the teachers were so relaxed about it. “Don’t worry, we just won’t speak English to them and all will be fine”. I believed them.

I remember the first few days standing in the playground. The boys would run off and we desperately tried to keep an eye on the youngest. But he disappeared in the sea of blond heads. Uncomfortably we stood waiting for the bell to ring. My husband would “guard” the fence, so we wouldn’t lose our baby. It was an impossible task in the scramble of kids walking and cycling in and out. The school playground in the Netherlands is a fairly open affair still and not yet security checked and guarded like a military base.

To make conversation with my husband who was overwhelmed to put it mildly, I pointed out to him the headmaster in the playground. “I don’t know who you mean”, my husband replied, “I only see a guy in faded jeans?!”


So, how actually does the sex education in the Netherlands work in public schools?

dutch sex education
‘Mummy, what is sex education?’

The boys, then aged 12, 10 and 4, all loved the freedom and relaxed-ness of Dutch school. The learning curve they were on was more or less vertical, but they enjoyed every minute of it. By Christmas they were –certain verbally- more or less bi-lingual.
Then came “Lentekriebels week” (loosely translated to “spring butterflies-in-your-tummy week”). The whole school (and this means everyone from the age of 4 through to the age of 12) was to receive an age appropriate form of  dutch sex education. When we read the jolly message which announced this week was coming up (complete with website information point), my husband’s eyebrows raised a little, but we were keen to find out what this meant.

The beginning of this week was a gentle introduction to the wider topic of being nice to and care for other people. The children came home with heart-shaped balloons to which they had attached self-written or drawn caring messages to people they loved. There was a sense of relief in our house, as we looked at each other with that “Aw, that is so cute” kind of look only parents can share.

But the week developed from there and needless to say when you want to introduce sex education, you cannot leave it at writing a caring message to someone. By the time we were at the dinner table on Thursday evening, things had taken a different turn. Our three boys were by chance all sitting in age order and told their story. The youngest began and for the benefit of their Dad, they explained their experiences in English.

Our take on Dutch Sex Education

Our take on Dutch sex education started with a farm story. There was a baby goose in an egg and another baby goose who had already broken out of the egg. And one went tic-tic-tic on the other egg: “Will you come and play?” They had acted out the whole story on stage and there had been other baby animals. The middle boy – then in group 6- laughed and said they had talked about boys and girls. The differences, the similarities, the fact that boys can like girls and vice versa, but also that boys can love boys and girls can love girls. At 10, he said all of this giggling. He didn’t know his classmates that well yet, so it had been challenging on many fronts.

It was the 12-year old’s turn… “Well”, he said, “all the boys went off with meester Menno (you address Dutch teachers by first name) and all the girls went off with juf Roos. They talked about having periods and things, I think….. We were allowed to put all our questions on a piece of paper and throw them at him as if throwing a paper aeroplane…. anything you wanted to ask! About having sex, when you are ready for it and stuff. I learned a whole lot of new words! Natte droom (wet dream), ha, I didn’t know that one, mum. But the boys were really good at helping and translating!! And you know the Dutch word “pijpen” mum, that has nothing to do with a pipe!”

It was a while after the kids had gone to bed, that we were able to laugh our heads of thinking back at the whole dinner experience!

American Kids Dutch kids
‘You wouldn’t believe what we have learned today!’

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Kirsten de Bouter Shillam
Kirsten de Bouter Shillam
For 26 years Kirsten lived abroad before returning to her “home” country the Netherlands. The re-integration has been a weird and wonderful journey as described in her TEDx talk, but she is slowly settling back into the flat, cold and honest land. With a family that “crosses borders” there are still plenty of daily eyebrow raisers and hilarious confusions. Kirsten works as a speaker, coach and writer.
  1. I am Dutch and got sex-education at school in 5th grade. It was not totally a shock for my parents had already share a lot with Us.People look strangly at me when I share this with them. But I always point out That if You combine it with the low teenager births in the Netherlands, it maken sense. Does it mean we did not experiment? No, but we were careful,er, respectvol,er and knew how to use protection. It beats the things I encountered here in the US when working years for Child Protective Services. The abuse, rapes and teenage pregnancies were rampant, as well as the ignorance of these young children. I never, ever will forget the 16 year old girl that was referred to us by her parents, because she was raped. I had several in-depth conversations with her and her parents (apart) and as it turned out, she had never had sex-education, was raised very shielded and was told by her parents: when a boy kisses you, you can get pregnant. And that was what had happened, she was kissed( with tongue) by a boy at school, so now she was pregnant, right? I know, it is only one story but I can write a book full. Give me Dutch sex-education every time.


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