I'm interested in how cultures around the world teach sex-education and which may be the most effective at preparing kids to make smart, informed decisions about when sex is okay and what the consequences could be. I've heard it said that poor sexual education leads to more teen pregnancies, abortions, etc.

I'm a parent of three under 7 years, and I try to be as straightforward and rational with them as I can, but when it comes to the topic of "sex", it's hard to know what's acceptable and what's considered too much. I thought maybe we could take advice from other cultures that may have a different perspective on this topic.

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    Hi Nate, welcome to Parenting.SE! Can you edit to help explain what you mean by "most effective" — is the goal that the kids avoid sex, understand but avoid it, be respectful partners, or what? This is a broad question at the moment, I'm not sure how easy it will be get to get good answers. Finally, while you wait for responses, take a look at some of the other Questions related to sex education to help you get started on your research. Again, welcome :)
    – Acire
    May 31, 2015 at 12:31
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    This question is tricky to answer. You can look at wikipedia and get a list of teenage pregnancies by country. But then you need to work out if a low rate is because of better education or cultural practice.
    – DanBeale
    Jun 1, 2015 at 7:20
  • @DanBeale I'm not sure there's a real difference between cultural practice and better education; the biological need for kids in puberty to jump each others bones is univeral.
    – Erik
    Jun 6, 2015 at 19:56

5 Answers 5


My kids grew up in two cultures (Germany and the US) and there are significant cultural differences in sex education. To see which one is better, we can look at a few metrics. For example:

  1. Teenage pregnancy rate is about 4 times higher in the US than in Germany (see http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/dyb/dyb2009-2010/Table10.pdf and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_teenage_pregnancy#cite_note-ustats-births-1)
  2. Rate of sexual assault is about 3 times higher in the US (http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Rape-rate)

Really good summaries of US vs Europe are http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/419-adolescent-sexual-health-in-europe-and-the-us and https://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/euroteens_summ.pdf

Both studies clearly conclude that European teens are much better at making healthy choices about sex while there is no significant difference in sexual activity level.

So what's the difference then?

  1. A lot of sex education in the US is subject to strong religious or socially conservative ideology. It basically consists of the word "No". This simply does not work. Ironically the most conservative states that focus on "abstinence only" education have the highest teenage pregnancy rates. See for example http://mic.com/articles/98886/the-states-with-the-highest-teenage-birth-rates-have-one-thing-in-common Germany is much more open and far less ideological about this.
  2. It's a by and large a taboo that many parents are not comfortable taking about. We have repeatedly tried to have an open discussion with the US parents of various boy and girl friends showing up in the house. We wanted to talk about what the "rules of the road" are and what the parents would be comfortable with (or not). Dead silence and stone walling in every single case. It is simply not something "one talks about". One of the most stupefying response I got from one mother was "if he ever has sex, I don't want to know about it".
  3. Easy access to contraceptives and protection. Many US parents try to restrict access of their kids to contraception.
  4. General lack of knowledge. With US parents being reluctant to talk about this and with the orthodox churches trying to control the curriculum in the schools, the kids have a lot less actual information. This means that the most common source of information are other kids on the school bus, which leads to massive misinformation.
  5. US sex education tends to over focus on the physical risks (STDs, etc) but does cover very little of the emotional risks, which are far more complicated but also far more likely to occur.

One example: that illustrates the problem. One of my sons and his long-time girlfriend had a condom accident. There was absolutely no way the girl could talk to her parents about this. Fortunately they had a trusting relationship with my wife and so my wife went and got the morning after pill, just in case.

Here is what worked for us and by "work" I mean: all of our kids are in stable healthy long term relationships and there were never issues with health scares, pregnancies or severe emotional damage.

  1. Talk open and without reservation. Make information available. Be fact oriented and use data. Don't be preachy. Make sure that data, fact and your opinion and wishes are clearly distinguishable.
  2. Develop trust. Accept that teenagers will explore, push limits, try new things and will sometimes do really dumb stuff. Be there to bail them out without making to much of a fuzz about this. All of our kids had one "get out of jail" card. When you are in trouble or a situation that you can't handle, give us a call and we get you, no questions asked. Only one was every cashed and it was for something I felt was reasonable harmless.
  3. Have clear behavioral values and make sure you live them consistently yourself. In our case that was simple stuff: "no damage to people", "no damage to properties", "we don't lie". Apply them to the problem: teenage sex only potentially interferes with the "no damage to person" rule. Have a discussion around this: what does sex do to people, what are the risks, both emotionally and physically, and how do you know that there will be no damage.
  • Nice answer, @Hilmar, but I just realized that the OP asked "how cultures around the world teach sex-education," and that we have been neglecting to answer that part of the question. I am interested to know more about what gets taught in school in Germany, and how, and when, and how that has changed over time. Jun 10, 2015 at 4:51
  • @aparente001 What you're asking (especially "how that has changed over time") is really a different question. Thus far, this is the only answer that clearly explores two different cultural approaches and even includes citations.
    – Acire
    Jun 10, 2015 at 10:00
  • @Erica, I believe the OP wrote ""how cultures around the world teach sex-education" in the question. Jun 11, 2015 at 3:35
  • @Erica It's true that I added "over time;" I'll explain why. My guess is that sex education in school in Germany has changed drastically since my husband was in school in Germany. It hit me that judging how a country approaches sex education in school at the current time, based on people's experiences a generation or more ago, would be completely unfair and unrealistic. Jun 11, 2015 at 3:37
  • I'm glad you mentioned the emotional aspect of sex education as well. Plenty will site the facts on how teen pregnancy has a strong correlation with abstinence education and similar 'anti-sex' standpoints, but few bring up the emotional part. discuss consent, what it means, why it's important, why you should never pressure or bully your partner into giving consent (it's not really consent if one is forced into it!), and how any partner that would pressure you into sex when you are uncomfortable clearly doesn't care about your or your well being and probably doesn't deserve to date you.
    – dsollen
    Jun 16, 2021 at 20:57

It is true that different cultures think about sex differently (for some it is a sin before they involve in sexual activity before marriage, etc.). I think for all parents regardless of their cultures needs some planning about openly talking about sex.

Below is something, I would say to my kids.

I'll make sure that my kids understand that " sex is one of the greatest pleasures we humans beings can get and it is not a sin to have sex.

But as much as pleasure it is, it also has negative effects. On one side, I will try to educate on STD's and avoid pregnancies. I would also ask the kids, not to involve in sex at least they are 16 years of age (particularly girls). For boys, I would emphasize more on treating the girls with respect and if they involve in sex, they do it thoughtfully.

If you haven't done so then go to youtube and type "How to talk about sex with kids" and you might get some ideas that will make you comfortable.


As with anything else, I'd say the right time is when they ask questions.

As for how much information is too much information, it's a judgement call depending on what you know about your child. I generally tend towards giving a simple bare-bones answer first, then seeing if they follow up with another question based on that.

For instance, one of my daughters got as far as learning that Daddy's sperm had to meet Mummy's egg, but didn't inquire further about the 'mechanics' of how that meeting happened. (I must admit that when she got to a certain age where I felt she probably needed to start being a bit more aware I nudged her a bit by asking her how, and she eventually worked it out.)

I haven't answered the 'different cultures' bit because we are a two-culture family living in a third culture, and quite honestly, we're just making it up as we go along, with not much reference at all to where we come from.

  • Sadly, waiting until the child asks a question isn't a perfect solution for all children, especially the child who is likely to hear nonsense from a friend or older sibling. However, it is certainly a good rule of thumb to make oneself available to answering questions! Jun 9, 2015 at 15:49
  • @aparente001, true, but ideally parents would cultivate openness such that children would feel free to come and ask for confirmation of whatever they hear. Ideally...
    – Benjol
    Jun 10, 2015 at 4:31
  • Yes, @Benjol, it's helpful for children to trust that they can ask questions and get answers. But there are some children, some situations, where a parent may want to take the initiative and lay some groundwork. Consider: most children haven't learned to be very skeptical yet. If a peer tells the child nonsense, how can the child distinguish fact from fiction, when he is starting completely from scratch, with no previous knowledge to use to judge the veracity of the peer's strange story? Jun 10, 2015 at 4:43
  • Also, providing ever more detailed information, in a slowing spiralling, will be less shocking for the child and let him/her approach understanding in a natural way.. Jun 10, 2015 at 5:27

There are books that can guide you through this. For the youngest children, you would start with the concept that a baby girl grows up to be a woman and a mother, and a baby boy grows up to be a man and a father. Make sure they know the correct terms for body parts -- teach these in a casual way, without sexualizing the parts. Answer their questions, but you don't need to introduce a lot of information at this stage. Gradually, over the years, your story about how babies come into being can become more refined and detailed, letting yourself be guided by their questions.

I'm basing this answer on my experience reading Making Babies: An Open Family Book for Parents and Children Together, by Sara Bonnett Stein, with my children when they were small. There is helpful guidance for parents, and the picture book can be read on different levels.

I'm sorry I don't have anything to contribute in terms of other cultures.

Edit, 6/6: My birth culture is United States, mid Atlantic, raised by Jewish, non-practicing mother born in Germany, emigrated to the black South. I had a second cultural education in my twenties in provincial Mexico. I lived in a sequence of three European countries later on for several years each. The book I recommended is the only thoughtful approach to the question that I have come across in any of the countries I mentioned.

Edit 6/7:

Living in several countries I didn't grow up in has given me a chance to see what doesn't work well in terms of helping young people make smart, informed decisions about when sex is okay and what the consequences could be, through thoughtful, age-appropriate sex education. What I've seen is that good communication between the two parties is key, whether it's two young people feeling an attraction to each other, or two young people already in a committed relationship. I've seen lots of problems stemming from partners not being able to talk to each other comfortably about sex.

There's an interesting This American Life podcast about sex education in high school, covering an innovative approach using a robotic "baby" gadget that cries and carries on if it's not fed on demand. According to the podcast report, use of this gadget helps young people understand what a tremendous commitment having a baby is. Here's the link: Act Two: And Baby Makes 0011 I don't know if this addresses your question, though, because of the high school context vs. your children's age level.

Edited 6/10 to address the "how cultures around the world teach sex-education" part of the question, assuming this is asking what is taught in school.

In New York state, elementary teachers are required to do some health lessons every year, covering certain mandated curricular content, which may be found here: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/sss/schoolhealth/schoolhealtheducation/

I think it's in first grade where anatomically correct dolls begin to be used.

I just remembered spending a month in rural Mexico and hearing from a friend there a very judgmental statement (with which I happened to agree) that her sister wasn't careful about when she made love with her husband in their one-room hut, i.e. she didn't care whether her children were awake or not. But in that environment, there was no formal sex education. There was an itinerant primary school teacher who taught mixed grades in that community occasionally. No blackboard; I'm not even sure if they had any books.

  • Thanks for your response. That is helpful. I'll have to check out the book.
    – Nate
    Jun 5, 2015 at 21:40
  • Hmm. Why the downvote? Jun 6, 2015 at 3:14
  • I can't account for the downvotes. This one got an upvote from me.
    – Nate
    Jun 6, 2015 at 10:05
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    I'd assume that the downvote(s?) is because this is answering a slightly different question and/or doesn't mention the cultural background of the answerer.
    – Acire
    Jun 6, 2015 at 11:05

I'm not sure what part of the world you are in; I live in California. I immigrated from South Africa but have Southern European cultural background.

Kids should be taught to abstain from sex until they are adults and in a monogamous (marriage) relationship. I don't buy the argument that teenagers are "going to do it anyway, so let's give them contraceptives".

Kids should be given healthy, age-appropriate education about the biological function of sex but also the spiritual aspects. Sex is a beautiful expression of love, a gift that is to be shared between marriage partners. When they see it in this context, they will want to wait.

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    Welcome to Parenting.SE! Can you provide more context for the cultural background which gave rise to your opinion, so it's directly answering what the OP asked for?
    – Acire
    Jun 3, 2015 at 0:04
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    Do you have anything to back up the assumption that "they will want to wait"?
    – Erik
    Jun 3, 2015 at 5:14
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    This doesn't help answer the original posters question.
    – user7678
    Jun 6, 2015 at 22:05
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    I'm surprised this is getting so many negative votes. It's clearly responsive to the question asked just because I happen not to agree with the posters view doesn't, I think, warrant downvoting. The only result is we completely shut out one of the type of voices in the conversation. To the OP I would point out it would be nice if you added where and how you were actually taught sex ed. (if at all) Church ? school?
    – DRF
    Jun 10, 2015 at 5:40
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    Evidence seems to point the other way. The OP cites US vs Germany, and the pattern is repeated across other countries. If you preach abstinence you stigmatise contraception more than you reduce the incidence of sex. And the argument that by making contraceptives available you encourage sex and thereby increase pregnancy rates is just wrong. As for the spiritual aspect making them want to wait: maybe that will work, but if it doesn't you really want them to take precautions. Jun 16, 2015 at 18:27

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