Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sex education in Denmark will teach kids how to have babies, not avoiding them

Empty and sophisticated, a Viking land no more
According to the World Happiness Report from the United Nations, Denmark was ranked as the world's happiest country for 2013. The rich and generous Danes also have one of the best child-welfare systems in the world. Their birthrate, however, has been stuck around 1.7 for a long time. There could be two reasons to explain this apparent paradox:

1. Governments can help a lot with the raising of an already existing child, by giving his/her parents more free time, convenient childcare facilities or monthly checks. Yet, there's not much a democratic government can do, in the first place, to push fertile-age people to settle down earlier or stay in stable couples. Unlike other mammals, most humans, for now, are still born into steady unions of two parents, married or not. The majority of early-formed and stable couples also tends to have more than one baby. As people settle down late in life, and their unions are less stable than their parents', the chance is now much lower that they will have, at the end of their fecund years, more than one child. The root cause of sub-replacement fertility is our modern lifestyle, not a lack of material aids for born children.

2. Regarding lifestyle choices, democratic governments are not supposed to tell voters how to live their own life. Presidents and prime ministers cannot force their citizens, who are by definition the owners and masters of the state, to settle down earlier or to avoid divorces. As respected celebrities, they can always give advice, but that may cost them votes. You don't want to tell your bosses how to live his/her life, especially when you're spending their tax money. When able-minded adults prefer parties/research/procrastination to an early marriage, that's their choice. The country and the government are theirs too, after all.

Governments around the world are increasing aid to parents in the hope to reverse low fertility. Those measures will certainly help, but only to a degree, for the two reasons listed above. The Scandinavian countries have had the best welfare systems for decades, yet their fertility rates are always below replacement. Taking out the input of the recently arrived and still prolific immigrants, and the natives' birthrate will be even lower than the averages. Immigrants will gradually become locals, with local habits... which means their outsized contribution won't be long-lasting. 

Lastly, the fact that the Danes have fewer than 2.1 kids and can still be the happiest country in the world shows that these two things are not mutually exclusive: a country with few children can still be a happy one.

Sex education in Denmark is about to shift focus after fertility rates dropped to the lowest in almost three decades.

After years of teaching kids how to use contraceptives, Sex and Society, the Nordic country’s biggest provider of sex education materials for schools, has changed its curriculum to encourage having babies under the rubric: “This is how you have children!”

Infertility is considered “an epidemic” in Denmark, said Bjarne Christensen, secretary general of the Copenhagen-based organization. “We see more and more couples needing to get assisted fertility treatment. We see a lot of people who don’t succeed in having children.”
“We have for many years addressed the very important issues of how to avoid becoming pregnant, how to avoid sexual diseases, how they have a right to their own bodies, but we totally forgot to tell the kids that we cannot have children forever,” Soeren Ziebe, head of Copenhagen University Hospital’s fertility clinic, said by phone. “There is a biological limit.”

Part of the problem lies in the message sent to young adults to get advanced degrees and delay starting a family until they’ve finished their studies, Ziebe said. In the meantime, a woman’s fertility diminishes as her eggs, present since birth, “have tasted every cigarette and every glass of wine that she’s ever had,” he said.

Ziebe also says men need to know that “if they want to party till they’re 45, they’re going to miss the train, because when they wake up and want a family, their wives will no longer be able to conceive.”
“We hope to raise a discussion in society about how to advise young people,” said Christensen, whose group helps organize an annual Sex Week to focus schools’ attention on the subject. “It’s a problem that fertility in Denmark is reduced.”

Sex and Society’s new focus, unveiled on Sunday, includes information for school children explaining what fertility is, when the best times to have children may be, and what the effects of aging are.
Health and sex ed are mandatory subjects in Denmark, with schools teaching children about puberty, gender roles and contraception from the sixth grade. Basic instruction can start at kindergarten level.

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