Talking about your body and relationships: most primary schools in the Netherlands pay attention to sex education in the classroom. But education about this needs to be more diverse, says knowledge centre for sexuality Rutgers.
According to new figures from the centre, 98 percent of primary schools provide sex education. A positive development, according to the Rutgers. But one third of those schools do not pay specific attention to sexual diversity, such as homosexuality, when they should.
“We are shocked by those numbers,” says Rutgers researcher Elsbeth Reitzema. Schools have been obliged since 2012 to teach about this and to do so in a respectful way, but that doesn’t always happen. Still, according to Reitzema it is important that children are not only taught about their own bodies and relationships, but it is at least as important that they learn about sexual diversity at an early age.
“Young children can already have homosexual feelings. You have to tell them that those feelings are okay, so they feel accepted.” Reitzema adds that diverse sexual education is also needed for heterosexual children. “They need to learn that such feelings are normal and not something to bully others with.”
The knowledge centre carried out a survey among more than 400 schools, but cannot identify a clear reason for the lack of sexual diversity in the curricula. Religious beliefs could be a reason not to treat sexual diversity, says Reitzema. Other reasons are, for example, parents who do not want such education, or teachers who find the topic uncomfortable.
The COC recognises the Rutgers’ conclusion. According to the organisation, many schools still pay too little attention to sexuality but also to gender identity (e.g. being transgender) and this is a serious matter. If, for example, children get stereotyped ideas about homosexuals from the media and are not talked about in their surroundings and at school, those ideas do not change, says the COC.
According to the organisation, it can work, for example, to invite a guest who is gay or lesbian himself. That person can then talk about this in front of the class. “At the end of the class, the children may still find homosexuality weird, but they have gained empathy for the other person and understand better that everyone wants to be themselves. That’s already a step,” says COC spokesman Jan-Willem de Bruin.
No good teaching methods
The Rutgers has another major criticism: too few schools use a recognized teaching method. 40 percent of the schools in the study used a teaching method specifically for relational and sexual education. As a result, the quality of teaching on sexuality often leaves much to be desired. Whoever makes the teaching methods changes. The knowledge centre has drawn up its own method, but companies also make them. A recognised teaching method has been approved by the RIVM.
A good teaching method also includes sexual diversity, says Reitzema. It’s not treated as a separate subject, but it’s interwoven into the teaching that’s about relationships and sex. Reitzema: “In a lesson about relationships, for example, you can explain that some children have two moms and that that’s normal too
Reitzema thinks the criticism that primary school pupils are too young for sex education is nonsense. “Very young children are already asking questions about sex, for example, where babies come from.” What’s more, the younger children receive sex education, the easier it is for them to learn to talk about it, research shows. And it is precisely young people who are able to indicate their wishes and limits well that start having sex later, says Rutgers.
So sex education is also about safety. “If something happens to a child, for example abuse, you want them to be able to tell what happened and have learned that saying ‘no’ is allowed,” says Reitzema.
Both organisations therefore argue for stricter educational standards for sex education and diversity. Reitzema: “Schools can now decide for themselves how they pay attention to this theme. That should be more specific, schools should know better what is expected of them. Politicians have the ball rolling in this respect”