More than half of U.S. schools do not require sexual education to be taught, and when they do, there is a strong emphasis on abstinence. In Denmark, sexual education courses play a critical role in a child’s development and education.
Since 1970, sexual education has been mandated in the Danish school system, beginning at age six. The curriculum, set by the Ministry of Education, emphasizes an action-oriented approach. Active participation and dialogue among students is crucial to this process, according to the Danish Family Planning Association.
“In Denmark sex isn’t really a taboo,” said Sara Brun Nielsen, a university student who grew up in Denmark. “My parents had talked to me about it, I had seen movies with sex scenes and me my friends talked to each other about it. For me sexual education was all good, but I think the school system, at least back in 2006-2007, forgot to teach us about the importance of consensus and lust.”
Mandating sexual education has proven to be beneficial against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. Figures from Statistics Denmark show that teen pregnancy fell from 995 in 2008 to 584 in 2016.
In 2015, only 0.5 percent of Danish teenage women ranging from ages 15-19 had a child, according to the World Bank. The rate for teen pregnancy among 15-19 year old woman was six times higher in the U.S. Due to a lack of sexual education in the school system, students in the U.S. are less likely to be open minded and comfortable talking about sex.
Only 24 U.S. states mandate sexual education in school, according to Guttmacher Institute. Sexual education, when discussed in schools, has a strong emphasis on promoting abstinence. According to a study conducted by Planned Parenthood, one in four teenagers attend an abstinence-only program in school. Not only is this method unrealistic, but students are not taught the necessary information if they do decide to have sex.
Sex and Education, a nongovernment organization in Denmark, deals with sexual health on a national level. The group is known for their contribution to the Danish school system, providing tools for Week Six. Six, pronounced “sex” in Danish, is a week long sex education program across Danish primary and secondary schools. The program promotes a positive behavior and open environment towards sexual education.
Beginning in grade “0,” students learn what it means to be healthy on both a physical and mental level. Students are also taught the meaning of respectful and loving relationships with peers, friends, and family.
Once students enter fourth grade, sex education focuses on identity, puberty, gender, feelings, and family. Social media and boundaries have been added topics of discussion in recent years. The last three years of sex education emphasizes adolescent youth, sex, and sexuality, pregnancy and contraception.
“My youngest daughter was the first part of their “week 6” initiative grade “0” last year at age six,” said a Danish mother, “and obviously this was not about sex or puberty at all, but about expressing emotions and understanding and respecting other’s emotions. I think they are doing a great job.”
Although teen pregnancy rates are declining on a global scale, the United States still has the highest teen pregnancy rate, according to Guttmacher Institute. In 2015, the rate of teen pregnancy was 57 per 1,000 15-19 year old teen female. Sex is considered a secretive, uncomfortable act to talk about in public, resulting in a lack of information and understanding among young people.
In a study done by Planned Parenthood, only 57 percent of U.S. parents say they feel “somewhat comfortable” or “very comfortable” talking to their kids about sex. Denmark’s holistic approach towards sexual education boosts self-confidence among the youth and allows for strong, healthy relationships with friends, family, and partners.