How European Kids Are Getting Their Sex Ed: From Social Media
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because everyone should know how their body works.
Would you have sex on TV? Hey, it’s for a good cause. That’s the pitch of Norwegian broadcaster NRK’s fall TV show Line Fixes Her Body, which features Norway’s pink-haired Instagram legend Line Elvsåshagen (138,000 followers and counting). The point is to teach kids and teens about sex and body positivity — and one of the ways the producers plan to do that is by showing regular people having regular sex, no porn-style plastic surgery or teeth gnashing encouraged.
As that innovative programming suggests, Norway is at the top of the pack when it comes to progressive sex education. But it’s not the only country where a sex-positive person with social media cred is playing a big role in a country’s sexual health, though Elvsåshagen certainly has more institutional backing than most. But given that a 2013 European Union report found only eight of 24 countries in the group met the criteria for providing effective sex education — Norway wasn’t included, since it’s not technically in the EU — perhaps others could take a cue.
In Spain … the government has appointed a “minister for sex” whose job is to reverse the population decline.
In some countries, it’s impossible to be so forward. The 2013 report labeled Poland as having the most difficulty among the EU’s large member states in implementing sex education; students on the receiving end of it claimed that many teachers were poorly prepared or offered opinions rather than facts. “In the curriculum, the word sex appears two times — in sex addiction and in cybersex,” says Natalia Trybus, a Polish sex-education YouTuber. “Contraception is practically compared to abortion. In general, it sends a message that sex is only good in marriage, when it serves procreation. No wonder, then, that kids are looking for knowledge elsewhere.” In 2011, Trybus began making videos about the hymen, the female condom and other sex basics, inspired by American sex education vloggers and her work in a sex shop. Now her channel has more than 66,000 subscribers, making hers the 551st most-subscribed Polish channel on YouTube.
Meanwhile, in the U.K. — which, according to that 2013 EU report, has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe — YouTuber Hannah Witton, 25, has built an empire of more than 374,000 subscribers with friendly, informative videos like “10 Masturbation Hacks” and “Getting to Know Your Vagina.” Earlier this year she ventured offline, penning a best-seller titled Doing It.
In some places, sex education is changing first at the official level. Last year, France made a stir when it was announced that a 3D-printed model of the clitoris would be used in schools to teach sexuality. Experts tell OZY that sex education is changing in France because more and more teachers (mostly women) concerned about sexism and discrimination are persuaded that change will come through education — largely by educating boys. And yet “a lot of women had no idea how [the clitoris] looks,” says Audrey Ducloux, a teacher in France who works with the organization SVT Equality to battle sexist stereotypes in school. “I think [the model] acted as an electric shock for some teachers, who then realized that their lessons were outdated.”
Ducloux also notes that last year the concept of pleasure was introduced to older students. “That was a big step — a broken taboo,” she says. “It’s a very important part of our fight for equality, because we’re not denying women’s pleasure anymore [or] the fact that they are active too. They’re not just ‘receptacles’ and baby makers.” Meanwhile, this spring, the U.K. made sex education compulsory in English schools for the first time, with training in navigating healthy relationships from the age of 4. In Spain, where sex education is sporadic and the economic crisis has sent the birth rate tumbling 18 percent in nine years, the government has appointed a “minister for sex” whose job is to reverse the population decline.
Still, none of this means that Europe’s sexual mores overall are getting more progressive. In fact, Aleksandar Štulhofer, the head of the sexology unit at the University of Zagreb’s department of sociology, says the rise of the religious right across the EU could see gains made on the continent beaten back by newly conservative views on sex and sexuality. As for Norway’s experiment with on-screen sex, which is meant to accustom teens to seeing sexuality in people of all shapes and sizes, Štulhofer cautions: “There is a risk that such an approach would be used in less permissive and more religious European countries as a showcase of moral corruption and a systematic attack on religious freedom of parents, just as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin uses same-sex marriage laws in the West for his political goals.”
But, thanks to the internet, it’ll still be just a click away, no matter where you are.