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  • Writer's pictureSophie Manning

Doing It Like The Dutch: what we learned

Updated: Nov 26, 2019

Outspoken found the perfect way to launch its new online resource for parents on 12 November at London’s Conway Hall…

From left: chair Sophie Manning and panellists Mark Smith, Jonny Hunt and Ida Bruusgaard
Netherlands knowledge: (from left) chair Sophie Manning and panellists Mark Smith, Jonny Hunt & Ida Bruusgaard

As we were developing the new Outspoken site, curating the best advice for parents, we kept homing in on a particular part of the world that felt like a guiding light for British and American parents like us. One country in particular kept coming up again and again: Holland.

It has the lowest teen-pregnancy rates in Europe. Its young people have fewer STIs and abortions, sexual-violence rates are low – and it’s an impressively gender-equal country. But most importantly, Dutch teenagers are the happiest in the world, and we think this has a lot to do with its holistic sex education.

Get this: the main driver cited by Dutch boys (anonymously) for their first sexual experience is affection for their partner. Not peer pressure; not curiosity; not even alcohol.

We gathered a room full of like-minded people together over a glass of wine to learn from this world-class approach, with three fantastic professionals as our tour guides. Here are just some of the things that they had to teach us:

Mark Smith, journalist and editor; author of the March 2019 Times piece Why Dutch youngsters are the world’s happiest teenagers

Dutch parents are pragmatic; they don’t catastrophise. Because there’s no tabloid culture, they’re not wasting time worrying about the wrong things: it’s not about kids falling prey to paedophiles (because, what are the odds?) – it’s about raising confident, capable children

Jonny Hunt, independent sex education consultant and creator of the All About Me programme inspired by Holland’s Spring Fever curriculum…

There’s no such thing as age appropriate: you’re never too young to learn the right messages in the right way. For example, with consent we start from age 4 with: “Is my fun fun for everybody?”
We don’t need to demonise porn or say it’s all bad and wrong. It’s just not a teaching tool. That would be like using Grand Theft Auto to learn to drive

Ida Bruusgaard, executive producer of the BBC series Mimi On A Mission: Sex Ed and managing director of Peggy Pictures

In researching Mimi On A Mission we heard a lot about porn and sexting at school. I realised: we just cannot image what life is like growing up with a phone. Instead of having a giggle over the dictionary like we did, kids can get their phones out and actually see sex any time they like. So there’s no point in trying to shelter children from the truth: today more than ever we need to be honest

Here are some of the things you said about why you liked the event:

  • “Last night was fantastic. I learned so much and thought about things in a whole lot of new ways. The speakers were excellent. Can't wait until the next event”

  • “Loved the panel talk. Great range of speakers and I liked that it was tight and had a structure”

  • “Loved all the contributors. Has made me want to approach the topic with more vigour”

  • “So massively important to break the taboos. You totally have to have more of these events and bring more awareness”

And here’s some of what you told us you want to learn next:

  • “How to encourage my children to be more open and accepting of different types of bodies”

  • “How not to be embarrassed as a parent talking about sex”

  • “Would parents benefit from workshops – using the words out loud?” [Yes! We know this from experience with our Outspoken workshops!]

  • “Encourage children to see their bodies as vehicles of achievement rather than aesthetics”

  • “My challenge for you is how to reach out to ‘protective’ parents and bring them into the room. Not an easy task!”

  • “Equip and encouraging parents to speak up. Direct action opportunities: sign-ups, petitions, how to lobby schools and councils”

  • “Talk more without everyone getting embarrassed. (I’m not but kids are.) And I wish I’d started earlier 😊”

  • “Would love to bring my teenager to the next event”

Bring it on! To let us know how Outspoken can help in your setting, or give us your feedback or ideas on what you’d like us to do next, please email

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