Date of Award

5-2007

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Sandra L. Caron

Second Committee Member

Cynthia Erdley

Third Committee Member

Nancy Fishwick

Abstract

For decades, the U.S. has had the highest rates of teen pregnancy, births, abortions, and STIs of all industrialized countries. On the contrary, the Netherlands has the lowest rates. This retrospective study investigated American and Dutch college women’s sexual behavior, attitudes, and comfort while in high school, in an effort to better understand the factors that lead to the disparity between these two countries. A total of 289 college women aged 18-22 attending the University in Maine and Wageningen University (WUR) in the Netherlands participated in a survey and ten college women from each country were interviewed. The interview results supported previous research findings that significant differences exist between the U.S. and the Netherlands. Compared to the Dutch sample, the American sample knew more high school classmates who experienced pregnancies, births, abortions, and STIs. More American girls experienced various sexual behaviors at a younger age and with more partners. The Dutch girls showed a better use of contraceptives during high school, talked more with their parents, and got more sexuality education at school of which the content was based on love and pleasure. Several distinctly different themes emerged between the American and Dutch women from the in-depth interviews. The Dutch college women discussed how they were motivated by love and had control over their bodies while in high school, whereas the American girls were driven by hormones and peers when they experienced different sexual behaviors. External factors such as the girls’ parents, teachers, friends, doctors, books, and the media formed their attitudes on sexuality issues. The American mothers had warned their daughters about sex and its consequences, and the young women discussed how much their views on sexuality were influenced by the media. The Dutch young women experienced positive teachers, doctors, and both mothers and fathers. The Dutch women discussed in the interviews how comfortable they were with their bodies, masturbation, boyfriends, and parents. Unlike the Dutch, the American women discussed that sex was something negative, and they revealed how uncomfortable and silent their parents were with sexuality. Limitations and implications for future research are discussed.

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