Teenage pregnancy rates are extremely high in the UK and extremely low in The Netherlands. Sex education is acknowledged to be a determining factor. While it is by no means the most important factor, it provides a useful comparative lens through which to examine the very different approaches of the British and Dutch to policy-making in this sensitive area.
The issue of sex education is controversial in both the UK and The Netherlands, but while the political debate has been fierce in the UK it has been largely absent in The Netherlands. Our research used documentary sources and interviews to investigate the recent history of policy-making on sex education at the central government level; compared a selection of key texts used in secondary schools; and drew on exploratory fieldwork in three English and three Dutch secondary schools. We find that the approach to the issue is in large part determined by the struggle over ideas in respect of the wider issues of change in the family and sexuality. We suggest that the adversarial nature of the politics of sex education in England and Wales results in a message that lacks coherence, which is in turn reflected in what happens in the classroom. We do not advocate any simple attempt at ‘policy borrowing’, but rather highlight the importance of understanding the differences in the nature and conduct of the debate.