Youth Perspectives: Let’s Talk about Sex. Q& A with Lois van der Minnen and Anne Lipps from Amsterdam, Netherlands.
This month we are featuring a candid talk about sexual health, teens, and why having open conversations are so important. Lois and Anne are graduate students in Amsterdam. They also volunteer as peer educators for Tienerwijs and Het Voorspel, organizations which provide comprehensive sex education to primary and secondary school students across the Netherlands.
What does your organization do?
Tienerwijs provides lessons about relationships, puberty, sexual diversity, safe sex, contraception and consent for students ages 10-12 years in the Netherlands. Het Voorspel provides lessons about safe sex, STIs, sexual diversity, contraception and consent for students ages x.
What are the most common questions kids ask you?
What is the normal age to have sex? When do you usually lose your virginity? Kids really want to know what time schedule they should be on and what is normal. We always answer this with: ‘There is no normal age to lose your virginity. It is important that you feel ready, trust your partner, and have taken the necessary precautions for safe sex (and never feel pressured).
Why is providing sexual health information important for kids?
It shapes behavior in adolescents and adults and teaches the students acceptance of all sexualities and people in general. With open and non-judgmental attitude children and adolescents will learn to look at sex and love in a healthy and positive way instead of thinking of it as dirty.
Why are using peer educators in schools a good model?
Peer educators are often younger than parents and teachers. Peer education is a more comfortable and easier way for children and adolescents to talk and think about their own choices and opinions of sex and love. In our lessons, we try to achieve an open conversation with the children and adolescents in an interactive way, with different games, simulations and discussions and hopefully shape them into more secure adults when it comes to sexuality.
What do you think is rewarding about your experience with the group?
We often get questions like "how do I tell someone I like them?" or "What was your first period like?" I think it's nice for them to hear our stories and show them that everyone goes through these changes and feels awkward. We can give them advice from personal experience seeing as the age gap isn't that big. I can imagine that most students wouldn't ask their teachers these questions, but they seem to enjoy hearing our stories and advice. Furthermore, I think children sometimes have the mentality "my parents don't get it." This way we can give advice most parents would want to give, but it's coming from someone who's advice they trust as a peer.
Do kids speak to their parents about these issues?
I think it depends. Here in the Netherlands we see a big divide. Some kids will tell us that they can discuss everything with their parents and have already received some sexual education from them. Others tell us that they've never discussed any of these topics at home and don't think their parents would be open to this type of conversation. Generally, I think a lot of parents do discuss topics like puberty, condom use, consent and contraception. However, topics like masturbation, pornography, and sexuality seem to still be taboo during parent-child conversations.
Any advice to adults regarding talking to kids about sexual health?
Keep the conversation open! Let your children or students know that they can come to you with questions about anything. Even if you feel like you've said it a thousand times or that your children already know. It's important to repeat so that they know they can come to you with questions or concerns. They're still going to be embarrassed to talk about certain things so try to lower the barrier for them to seek advice. Furthermore, don't try to tackle all sexual health related topics with one huge loaded conversation. The conversation should continue throughout their teenage years as more aspects become important to their sexual health. Having one big talk can often make children feel that they can't talk about it at any other time or ever again.
Lois van der Minnen was born in the Netherlands, raised in Switzerland and the USA, and is currently a medical student at the University of Amsterdam. She is also President of the Tienerwijs chapter of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA-NL). She would like to obtain a masters in global health and then do a residency in obstetrics and gynecology. Anne Lips is from the Netherlands. She is also a masters student and head of Het Voorspel for the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. Tienerwijs and Het Voorspel are projects organized by IFMSA-NL, hosted by local foundations, and managed by university student volunteers.