Sex and the NEMO Science Center

December 11, 2008 at 8:00 am 6 comments

Early on in our Netherlands trip, Ryan Somma and I noted the credit card receipts didn’t have a line item for “Tip”. Solution? We started carrying around cash so we were able to leave an extra 20% to our wait staff. So it turns out there is a reason the credit card receipts were different. There was already a service charge automatically added to the bill! That was probably the most expensive cultural difference we ran across. Zwarte Piet was definitely the most perplexing cultural difference. The cultural difference that was most interesting… and inspiring… is the open attitude towards sex.

And I’m not talking about the famous Red Light District with the sex shops, the peep shows and the window ladies. I’m talking about what you can see in the NEMO Science Center— the children’s museum.

The exhibits were not squeamish about nudity and did not shy away from the topic of sex. On the nudity front, you could see it throughout the museum. One of the many optical illusions on display asked viewers if they could see lovers or dolphins. A great “Bizarre and Beautiful” exhibit displayed photographs to show how beauty varies from culture to culture.

What do you see? Dolphins or lovers? (If you have trouble spotting the dolphins click on the picture to see Flickr notes)

Bizarre and Beautiful Display

Another exhibit allowed you to press a button and see how different hormones and proteins sounded if they were translated to music. Next to each item there was a representation so you could see what you were playing. So say for example you were playing the DNA of a mosquito. Next to the button was a mosquito. One of the musical scores was the “Human Sex Hormone”. For that representation, they simply put two naked dolls on top of each other.

Human Sex Hormone

And then we got to the third floor which featured more detailed exhibits geared towards teenagers. They had a display demonstrating sexual positions.

Sexual Position Displays at the NEMO Science Center

They had multiple displays on contraceptives, including novelty condoms.

Novelty condoms at the NEMO Science Center

The museum is a hands-on museum. What kind of hands on display can you do with sex? Hmm…How about allowing two children to move giant tongues to simulate a French Kiss?

Hands on display for French Kissing

A cartoon movie explaining the changes of puberty featured a confused cartoon boy ejaculating.

The befuddled cartoon boy on the left is ejaculating. Obviously he hadn’t visited the NEMO Science Center when he was younger.

They even had a booth were you could put on headphones and watch snippets from Beautiful Agony, a site which captures the human orgasm… from the neck up.

Explanation of “The Little Death” with still shots from Beautiful Agony

With so much talk about sex, surely the teenagers must be running wild in the Netherlands. It’s got to be worse than any invasive species– their teen birth rate must be through the roof!

NOPE! According to a 2001 Unicef report, their births per 1000 women, ages 15-19 was 6.2. Ours– 52.1, over 8 times as much.

Oh gawd, silly me. Of course! The reason their birth rate is so low is there are more abortions!

NOPE! Their teen abortion rate per 1000 women, ages 15 – 19 was 3.9. Ours — 30.2. That’s 7 times higher.

United States
Births per 1000, women ages 15-19 52.1 6.2
Abortions per 1000, women ages 15-19 30.2 3.9

Numbers from a 2001 Unicef Report

As a recap:

Easy and encouraged access to information to make knowledgeable decisions.
Less teen births.
Less teen abortions.

What exactly is the drawback here?

I may have my doubts and reservations about the Dutch’s Zwarte Piet, but not their attitute towards sex. I left the NEMO Science Center with a great respect for their culture.

Additional Reading
Sex Education: Why the British Should Go Dutch published November 28, 2008
Let’s Talk About Sex – Op-Ed Piece from the New York Times, published September 6, 2008

Entry filed under: Amsterdam, sex, Sex Education, Travel.

Hertford Tree Memorial Chariots of Fire

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. trailmagick  |  December 11, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Whoa – you mean informed, knowledgeable people make smarter decisions when they are able to comfortably discuss the matter at hand? That’s almost scary!


  • 2. Clint  |  December 11, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Try convincing a conservative that 🙂

  • 3. Lee  |  December 11, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Fascinating observations, Vicky (as usual!).

  • 4. Thomas  |  December 14, 2008 at 8:58 am

    My parents would croak if you showed them this data…
    But then, it has always been interesting to me. The ease they had in not seeing this kind of information.
    They are SO old school….. small minded anyway…

    I’m still working on them though!!! You get more flies with honey!!!!

  • 5. geekhiker  |  December 14, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Eight years ago California decided that it’s sex ed training would include safe sex, not just abstinence. In doing so, California turned down millions of dollars from the federal government for sex ed programs. Net result? While the teen-pregnancy trend in almost all other states went up, California’s went down. Imagine that.

    And as I side note, I’m a little depressed that a museum is getting more action than I am. *sigh*

  • 6. NEMO Science Center: Teen Facts |  |  February 16, 2009 at 1:01 am

    […] thing? How does it compare to our American-brand, “Abstinence Only” education? Vicky did some research on Amsterdam teen pregnancy and abortion rates, and found the following empirical […]


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