In both Europe and America, the age at which most people start having sex is 17. But that’s where similarities about teen sexuality begin and end. Teen pregnancy rates in the United States are three to six times higher than in Western European countries. This means that one out of every three American teenage girls becomes pregnant at least once before she reaches the age of 20. (Even poor countries like Algeria, Sri Lanka, China, and Estonia have lower teen birth rates than we do.) The gap between Europe and the United States for sexually transmitted diseases is even greater—gonorrhea and chlamydia rates are 20 to 30 times higher here than in the Netherlands, for example.
What explains these hugely varying outcomes? At the heart of the answer lies a contrast in attitudes toward teen sexuality. This is clear from research about how families talk about sex. And it’s also clear from advertising campaigns. The caption for this light-hearted German ad reads “Prevents Shortsightedness.” Can you imagine an ad like it in the United States?
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