We all know European countries have a different take on sex education, and that many European countries also have some of the lowest teen pregnancy rates. The US, on the other hand, has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. According to the California Department of Heath, the California teen birth rate in 2008 was 35.2 for every 1,000 females; for Hispanic teens it was 56.9; and for African American teens it was 39.9. Although the teen birth rate in California has been declining, compare with 37.1 per 1,000 females in 2007, teen pregnancy still remains a public health challenge, especially for teens from ethnic minority groups who still have extremely high teen birth rates. The amount of sexually transmitted infections among American teens is also phenomenal, with nine million new cases of STIs among 15 to 24-year-old youth and more than five thousand new HIV infections among 13-to 24-year-old youth.
Contrast these high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections with that of Germany, France, and the Netherlands. The United States’ teen pregnancy rate is over eight times that of the Netherlands, over four times that of Germany, and over three and a half times that of France. The percentage of the United States’ adolescent and adult population that has been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS is six times greater than in Germany, three times greater than in the Netherlands, and one and a half times greater than in France. Meanwhile, young people in the United States are significantly less likely to use contraception than youth in these European nations.
Why do some European countries have such a lower teen pregnancy rate than the United States? Well, of course this isn’t an easy answer, but the 3Rs program by Advocates for Youth is an intelligent look at the differences between our sex education and sexuality practices, and that of other European countries, and also offers solutions on how American sex education could become more like the European model. To get an understanding though of how differently our two cultures treat sexuality, especially among teens, all one needs to do is take a look at our different advertisements for condoms.
The first ad is a German ad which says “For My Health,” the second, a US advertisement for condoms with a wrapper that states “Don’t be Stupid.” These advertisements show a clear juxtaposition between Germany’s stance towards condom use, that it’s healthy and comparable to eating an apple a day, and the US’s, which uses fear tactics to reach US teens.
Here is another German ad which states, “Give the gift of love,” contrasted with a US ad which says, “If you’re going to have sex, don’t get screwed.” The US ad does not say anything about love, respect, or pleasure; instead, it again relies on fear to get its message across.
Not all US ads take such a fear-based stance, here is a Trojan ad where all the men without condoms are portrayed as pigs, and the one man with the condom “evolves” into a hunk of a man who gets the girl. Originally though, this ad, in commercial form, was banned from some television channel.
The differences between Europeans’ attitudes towards sex and Americans can be clearly seen in these advertisements. But the hard part is, how do we instill a more progressive view of sex and sexuality into American youth, when we have a history of consistently negative views toward sex and fear-based approaches towards contraceptive use?
Pictures provided from: http://www.slate.com/id/2272631/