Health Class

How Sex Education Is Taught To Kids Around The World, From Sweden To Cuba

Sex education around the world.

by Jon Moskowitz
Originally Published: 
The Sex Ed scene from Mean Girls

Most parents dread the “birds and the bees” conversation. What could be more awkward than sitting down with your kids to discuss penises and vaginas and their various interactions?

But somebody has to teach children the ins and outs — and ins — of human sexuality. Many parents look to schools to tackle the subject, but not all U.S. schools rise to the occasion (last sex pun … maybe). In fact, studies have shown that formal sex education has been on a steady decline in the U.S. for 20 years. Emotion and religious beliefs dominate how this topic is dealt with in America. But, how do other countries handle their kids’ sexual education?

The Netherlands & Scandinavia: Where They’re Chill About Sex Ed

In Scandinavia, everyone is attractive and the weather is cold, so it’s no surprise that sex is on people’s minds. The Dutch start teaching kindergarteners about puppy love during an annual “spring fever week.” Norway has “Puberteten,” a cheerfully explicit sex ed video series aimed at 8-to-12-year-olds that would shock even Cinemax subscribers. And, in Sweden, primary school kids watch videos about their private parts (which they call snoop and snippa) before tackling heavier subjects in later grades. These sex ed efforts have paid off: both Norway and the Netherlands have some of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world and Sweden’s is roughly one-fourth of Great Britain’s.

United Kingdom: Do We Make Your Horny?

Speaking of GB … when you think of England, you probably think “proper.” Also: Crumpets. That word (proper, not crumpets) definitely applies to formal sex ed through the UK. “Sex and relationship” education is compulsory for all students 11-years-old and up. But often these lessons are treated as an afterthought, thrown in at the end of the year as a one-day lecture. Also, parents have the option to remove their kids from class if they object to the subject matter — and many do. That leaves a lot of kids free to find out about sex from other sources. Like British television! Shows like Skins, Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, and Sex Box (in which people have sex … in a box … are doing their part to keep things randy.

China: Finally Having The Awkward Talk

In 2011, a Chinese couple made headlines for trying to get pregnant by laying next to each other in bed for 3 years. Now that’s inadequate sex ed. But, since there are over a billion Chinese, most of them presumably know how babies are made. Still, that couple is a good indication of how uneven China’s sex education has been. The Communist Party under Chairman Mao was famously prudish, and it wasn’t until the 80s that sex ed became mandatory in high schools. These days, some women pay up to half their monthly wage for private sex classes. Capitalism for the win!

South Africa: You Will Get Pregnant And Die

Sex education in today’s South Africa is better than what Apartheid wrought, when the main goal was to discourage sexual encounters between the races. But, that’s not saying much. In the official South African “Life Orientation” curriculum, having sex is presented as risky business. The focus is on diseases such as HIV/AIDS, or the possibility of unwanted pregnancy and sexual violence. Anything other than strict hetero sex is “unnatural.” It’s no surprise that most students in South Africa find these lessons boring and irrelevant. They know something that their teachers aren’t telling them: sex is actually fun.

Latin America: Where Cuba Is Actually Liberal

Generally, people think of Latin America as a sexy, passionate place. That hasn’t exactly translated into comprehensive sex ed for the young people who live there. Argentina, for instance, provides free contraceptives for everyone 14 and older, but conservative attitudes continue to block sex ed in the schools. In El Salvador, there is no formal sex ed, and it unsurprisingly has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the region. Only Cuba, with its mandatory sex ed from preschool all the way to college, has shrinking rates of both teen pregnancy and STDs. The mambo — no longer horizontal.

The Vatican: Hey, We’ve Lightened Up!

Wait, what? The Vatican has a sex ed program? Not exactly. But, Pope Francis and his crew did revise the guidelines for Church sex education recently. These new rules sparked controversy across the Catholic world, not because they argued against sex ed in school, but because they argued for it. Conservative Christian critics say the new guidelines take the responsibility for a child’s sexual education out of the control of his or her parents. Other objections to the new rules: They recommend boys and girls be taught sex ed together. They don’t encourage celibacy. They don’t explicitly condemn adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation, and the use of condoms. And, they use Elton John as an example of a “gifted and famous” person. Good point conservatives — Elton hasn’t made a good album since Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy.

This article was originally published on