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Feature Sexual health

Could Dutch style sex education reduce pregnancies among UK teenagers?

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 05 January 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:j5930
  1. Tony Sheldon, freelance journalist
  1. Utrecht, the Netherlands
  1. tonysheldon5{at}

Some UK local authorities are using Dutch “sex positive” educational materials in the hope of increasing contraceptive use, reports Tony Sheldon

As the UK government opens a public consultation on what English schools should teach in sex education classes, Rutgers, an influential non-governmental organisation that promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Netherlands, recently celebrated its 50th birthday. It is justifiably proud that the country’s teenage pregnancy rates are among the lowest, and contraceptive use the highest, in Europe.1

For pregnancies in teenagers aged 15 to 19, recent international data placed the Netherlands second lowest out of 21 countries with complete data, at 14 per 1000 a year. England and Wales rank 19th, with 47 per 1000 a year. The same figures, but for births, placed the Netherlands with the second equal lowest rate in Europe with five out of every1000 15 to 19 year olds every year giving birth; England and Wales has among the highest European rates at 21 per 1000.1

Rutgers’s birthday was publicly celebrated. At an event in Utrecht, politicians, professionals, and young people spoke confidently about sexuality.2 The Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, attended, giving the event a royal blessing.

Perhaps such public and prominent support for sex education helps Dutch parents to accept their children’s sexuality. Two years ago, Clare Bennett, a lecturer at Worcester University’s Institute of Health and Society, interviewed a small number of UK parents for her doctorate about how they discuss sex with their children. Recently, she spent five weeks repeating the study in the Netherlands “to learn about how Dutch parents …

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