By: Rhianna Wesson

The existing sex education system in the Netherlands is actually named “sexuality” education: an homage to the broader concept it aims to teach (Walia 2015). This includes information about sexual orientation, gender, identity, and boundaries and is considered a prime example of “Comprehensive Sex Education” (CSE) (Walia 2015; BZga 2018). This education starts at four years old, and continues throughout school (de Melker 2015).

What is the System praised for?

The Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the world (births per 1,000 women aged between 15-19), which many correlate with their straight-forward sex education approach (WorldBank 2019). The Netherlands also has relatively high contraceptive use, higher than the average of high-income countries in 2013 (WorldBank 2013). Additionally, the Netherlands is praised for the fact that sex education is mandated by the government, and its comprehensive nature, which includes topics of tolerance, gender (identity), and sexual orientation (BZga 2018; de Meker 2015). Also praised is the emphasis on contraception and safe sex in equal relationships – rather than an abstinence-only or blind-eye approach (Cense 2019).

But there are some Shortcomings…

One downfall described of the Dutch policy on sex education is that it gives quite a lot of freedom to teachers and schools to direct how much time is spent on, and what exactly is focussed on, in sexuality education (Cense 2019). It is argued that therefore what students learn, and the quality of their sexuality education, is more dependent on teachers’ and schools’ beliefs and resources rather than what is directed in the government frameworks and guidelines (BZga 2018; Cense 2019).

Additionally, experts suggest that there is a lack of quality assessment and evaluation of the programme, especially since the Netherlands has such a strong constitutional principle of freedom which inhibits tighter controls over what goes on within schools (BZga 2018; Cense 2019).

Finally, another strong criticism of the Dutch approach is its lack of diversity. Namely, it fails to include a variety of perspectives on sex education, but rather defaults to the normative liberal discourse (Cense 2019). In as much, it distances the Netherlands’ varied cultural groups and potentially reinforces stereotypes and ideals (Cense 2019). Especially concerning is the normative attitude towards sexuality education, with some scholars interpreting Dutch guidelines as being exclusionary of LGBTQ+ and reinforcing existing sexist, racist, and classist assumptions (Cense, 2019).

What might the Future hold?

Much of the research shows there ought to be more done to include a wider variety of experiences into sexuality education in the Netherlands, and a closer look taken at the informal, everyday practices which shape children’s understanding sex, sexuality, and gender (Krebbekx 2018; Cense 2019).


Cense, M. (2019). “Navigating a bumpy road. Developing sexuality education that supports young people’s sexual agency.” Sex Education 19(3), 263–276.

de Melker, S. (2015). “The case for starting sex education in kindergarten.” PBS NewsHour. At

Ketting, E. and O. Ivanova (2018). “Sexuality Education in the WHO Eurpoean Regions—The Netherlands.” The Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA). At

Krebbekx, W. J. P. (2018). “Making sex, moving difference: An ethnography of sexuality and diversity in Dutch schools.” UvA-DARE. At

Naezer, M., E. Rommes and W. Jansen (2017). “Empowerment through sex education? Rethinking paradoxical policies.” Sex Education 17(6), 712–728.

Schutte, L., R. M. Meertens, F. E. F. Mevissen, H. Schaalma, S. Meijer and G. Kok (2014). “Long Live Love. The implementation of a school-based sex-education program in the Netherlands.” Health Education Research 29(4), 583–597.

Sneen, S. Y. (2019). “The current state of sex education and its perpetuation of rape culture.” California Western International Law Journal 49(2), 463-[ii].

Walia, A. (2015). “The Netherlands Sex Education Starts In Kindergarten: Here’s What They Tell Them & Why.” Collective Evolution. At

WorldBank (2013). “Contraceptive prevalence, any methods (% of women ages 15-49)—Netherlands, High income | Data.” WorldBank. At

WorldBank (2019). “Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)—Netherlands | Data.” WorldBank. At

What are the Shortcomings of the Sex Education Program in the Netherlands?

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