How parents talk to their children about sex helps them understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. In the United States, that conversation, about the, um, birds, and the, um, bees, is famously awkward.

European countries take a different approach, says Pamela Druckerman, who explored the traditions of French child rearing, which are at times frank and harsh by popular American standards, in her book “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting”.

On one of Druckerman's recent trips to a science museum in Paris, she experienced a degree of public sexual education that would be hard to find in the U.S. She describes one exhibit designed to teach nine to fourteen year-olds about puberty: 

“I’m asked to identify a smell (it’s armpit) and step on a pedal that makes small white balls — representing sperm — fly out of a pretend penis.”

In the Netherlands, the approach is less frightening but begins earlier. Children start receiving sexual education lessons while in elementary school, and there is apparently little worry that such information will result in reckless sexual behavior.

Sanderijn van der Doef, a psychologist with the Dutch sexual health group Rutgers WPF, recommends that parents begin normalizing sexuality when their children are three or four years old: 

 “You can start to explain, in a very simple way, that Mommy has a little egg in her belly, Daddy has very small sperms in his body, and when the sperms meet the egg, a baby grows in the belly of the mother.”

Data actually suggest that the European approach to sexual education may result in healthier teenage populations. Teens’ first sexual experience occurs at about the same time in Europe and America, at a approximately seventeen years of age, but Europe’s teenage pregnancy rates are far lower than in the United States — in France and Holland, they’re nearly five times lower.

Read more at the New York Times

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