“You Americans,” the Dutch woman told me, her cigarette delicately perched between two fingers. Everything about her was brimming with sensuality, but the smoking was particularly sexy. “You’re such a violent country. Your movies and games are so bloody, so violent.” She took a drag and exhaled smoke rings that lazily floated away from her red painted lips. “But you are all so afraid of sex.”
She was right. The sultry 20-year-old I met on holiday in Amsterdam chatted with me about sex outside the red light district club we had met in 10 minutes prior. We escaped the loud music and the couples grinding on the dance floor for a breath of fresh air. I was a visiting Canadian; she was a local (and legal) prostitute.
This attitude with sex was a common theme I encountered during my brief European vacation after a study abroad trip in Africa. Reluctant to return home immediately, I took a detour to Europe to imbibe in some of the finer things in life. I did not anticipate one of rampant, sexual openness. As I stood under the midnight sky with this assertive woman who made her living with her body, I could not help but marvel at the strange dichotomy of our two worlds.
There is an extraordinarily distorted approach to sex in North America. Near-pornographic ads of women are acceptable as long as it’s selling slinky underwear, but women are sometimes criticized for breastfeeding in public. Men are typically heralded for their sexual conquests; conversely, women are often viewed as sluts if they sleep with many partners. Collectively, the country fears genitals and sex so much that in 2002 then-Attorney General John Ashcroft covered the partially-nude Lady Justice statue so her aluminum breasts would not offend the public.
This backward mentality demonstrates an unbalanced and unfair societal view, not to mention an unhealthy relationship with one of the greatest aspects that define our humanity. When politicians try to dictate what happens based betwixt the bed sheets, when teenagers enter sexual relationships without proper knowledge of intercourse and birth control, or when any child can access a violent, explicit video game but not know where babies come from, there is something wrong with our priorities.
The Netherlands is notorious for being the most sexually-open country in the world, with its nude beaches, thorough sex education and legalized prostitution. It was also the first country to embrace same-sex marriage. This open-minded attitude positions the Netherlands as a progressive and informed society with statistics to support its successes. According to BBC News, the Netherlands has the lowest teen pregnancy rate in Europe. Their children are equipped with comprehensive sex education that isn’t treated like some taboo, forbidden topic. Their society is confident with sex, instead of being apprehensive and judgmental.
Throughout Europe, the sentiment is similar. While not all countries accept prostitution – and that industry is not the sole way to gauge a country’s sexual openness – there are many that are simply not repulsed or horrified by sex.
Advocates for Youth, a non-profit that works to give American teens a solid sex education, channels the European approach when it comes to teaching kids what they need to know. Citing the States’ avoidably high teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS rates, AFY believes a “pragmatic approach” with “public acceptance of adolescent sexual development as normal” would be one of the most effective tools.
While the U.S. certainly isn’t as prudish as it was in, say, the 1950s, this country still has a long way to go and can start by implementing a better sex education program in schools and ceasing to make society feel shameful of its sexuality. There’s a lot to be learned from our European counterparts.
The Dutch woman fixed her gaze on me. I knew I’d consumed more than a few beers, but it was more than the alcohol that was intoxicating; the liberating atmosphere of this society that feared little was invigorating. She asked if I would care to join her, for as they say, “When in Rome!” or in this case, when in the Netherlands. I’ll let the reader decide what happened.
– Evan Pretzer is a junior communication major from from Weyburn, Saskatchewan. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.