In this essay, I will review a documentary film by James Houston, Let’s Talk About Sex. I compare the cultural attitudes and approaches between the youth in America and the youth in Netherlands, namely that sex happens. I contrast the cultural attitudes and approaches to sexual discussion based on different cultural contexts.
In the United States, sex is glorified and is used as a marketing tool. There is no possibility to escape sexual allusion in the United States. However, In the Netherlands, sex is not exploited to the same extent that it is in the United States. Suggestive advertising exists in the Netherlands and in most of European culture. However, in the United States, sex is exploited without shame…unless you are a parent who needs to discuss sex with your child.
In America, sex is like salt water; it’s everywhere, but if you dare drink it (talk about it) the topic dehydrates and withers away. The introduction featured an archetypical American character, Dan O’Connor, from Roseanne, having a sex talk with his son DJ. He says: “Sex is good, there’s nothing wrong with it it’s just…you know that people don’t talk about it.”
This film, by James Houston, is brought about by his reflections on living in the United States and Australia and the Netherlands. He comments that although sex is blatantly used in the entertainment industry, that no one in America is comfortable talking about it. The first family he documents is a mother with two daughters. They supposedly talk openly about sex but the mother, Jamie, does not know that her daughter, Kelsey, is not a virgin.
The documentary cites that 70% of teens have sex in the United States, but only half of moms actually know or believe that their teen is sexually active. A doctor is interviewed who states that “You don’t eliminate sexuality, so you want to treat it with a sense of purpose and respect.”
Many students in the United States equate their sex ed classes more like scare tactic classes. Like a disclaimer on a commercial, teachers would list off all the possible diseases one could get, and one student remembered having things like genital warts brought in to display in science jars. The South Park example truly illustrates the extent of what sex ed is about: DISEASE!
Religious convention is not the answer in the United States, where many young girls take oaths at their churches to remain a virgin. The young girl being interviewed said that she didn’t even understand what sex was when she took the oath. A few of her friends jumped on the bandwagon and also took the oath, but all agreed that the oath was meaningless.
In Portland Oregon, family is emphasized in sex education. One mother daughter team seem to resemble more the attitude in the Netherlands; they discuss sex openly and for the purposes of having an open and honest relationship. However, it is evident from the daughter’s peer group that not all teenagers have accomplished an open relationship with their parents.
In the Netherlands, sex is not a taboo family topic. The interesting thing is that there are less teenage pregnancies and less STD transmission in the Netherlands. One of the interesting comments in the documentary was that in America it seems that the older generation is concerned that by giving the younger generation information about sex that they will be inclined to have sex at earlier ages. However, studies have shown this is not the case, and it is evident if one compares the culture of the Netherlands to that of the USA.
In the Netherlands, sex is not a topic that turns anyone’s cheeks red because everyone has been conditioned to being able to freely discuss it. Moreover, when children feel free to ask their parents questions about sex, children do not have to resort to asking their peers. One doctor commented that he doesn’t know of many thirteen year olds who give accurate anatomical advice, nor emotional advice.
One of the parallels I noted between the Portland family and a typical family in the Netherlands was that the Portland family discussed sex as a means of keeping communications open and to prevent their daughter from putting herself in harm’s way. The mother commented that she didn’t want her daughter up on Lover’s Lane in a car doing “it”. Just as the first doctor commented, sex is like nutrition, it’s not going away, so in order to treat it responsibly it is important to treat the subject with respect and to be open about discussing it.
The United States culture is the opposite of this approach. The media does not respect sex and presents it as a casual and expected and desired activity for young people; however, young people have no external counterforce to discuss these impressions.
The youth in America has conflicting ideologies presented to them; on one hand, sexual promiscuity is expected and respected, but, on the other hand, sexual promiscuity is a taboo topic for conversation. The dichotomy is not healthy, and Americans have higher pregnancy rates and higher rates of STD’s because of their lack of communication.
It seems that the United States should structure their educational system to be similar to the Netherlands; the sociological statistics do not lie. Obviously, communication is key. In the United States, the conflict between popular culture and one’s own inner life presents a struggle for young teenagers.