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Guest speaker compares U.S. and European sexuality

History students and professors met on March 28 to explore a modern-day American taboo.

Sex was the topic for this year’s annual Armstrong history lecture, where Dr. Anna Clark discussed on “Sexuality in the 20th Century.” Clark is a professor of history at the University of Minnesota and author of four books on gender and sexuality.

During her time at Bradley, Clark also attended History Department Chair and Associate Professor John William’s Renaissance class, where she discussed a chapter in her book Desire: A History of European Sexuality.

Clark’s lecture focused on “Sex: Why is Europe Different?” She discussed the popular idea that Europeans are more open with their sexuality than Americans.

“Europeans tend to regard sex in a matter of fact way,” Clark said.

Many European couples live together, have children and only marry years later or “out of order” compared to Americans. The teenage birthrate is 15 to 19 percent compared to the United States’ 40.2 percent. Abortion rates are also lower in Europe than in America, Clark said.

Sex education must be taught in European schools and parents cannot pull their students out of the class. Schools provide condoms and birth control for students.

“One of my friends was taken out of [sex education class] because they were talking about protection,” junior second education and history major Kaitlin Pell said. “It’s interesting how forward they [Europeans] are having education.”

Clark said European sex education is much more “realistic.”

“There’s none of this abstinence stuff. Teenagers are going to have sex,” Clark said.

Clark credited the welfare state and sexual liberation movements of Europe for the openness.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Europe saw a backlash against the church and its strict rules regarding homosexuality and pre-marital sex. After World War II, consumer societies replaced the church’s role. Women and teenagers began working, giving them a new-found independence and the birth control pill was introduced in 1961. The church could no longer respond to the changing society and church attendance fell.

Better welfare was also introduced. The government gave allowances to families, childcare for single women and universal healthcare.

“I always wondered why Europe was more liberal with sex, but the welfare state explains that,” said senior history major Kyle Mathers.

Europe is not perfect, though, Clark said. Female prostitutes who are mostly immigrants are penalized by the law instead of the men soliciting their business. Clark explained this makes the prostitutes scapegoats for problems regarding crimes in Europe.

Young adults in Europe are also turning to a “casual” exchange of sex with acquaintances for things like money or even dinner. However, these people do not consider themselves prostitutes. These exchanges often result in violence and sexually transmitted diseases.

Clark said Europeans still regard Americans as “puritanical” in their attitudes toward sex.

Freshman industrial engineering major Sarah Handler said Americans’ attitudes are “still pretty prudish.”

“It’s about time we become more progressive,” freshman television-arts major Meghan Grott said.


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