A Dutch sexual health foundation is campaigning for young people to remember how to flirt again in time for a “summer of love”.
As lockdown loosens, some are concerned that the younger generation has missed out on vital physical and emotional development by not being able to hook up during the pandemic.
Although the Dutch public health institute last year briefly encouraged singles to have a ‘sex buddy’, research for the Rutgers centre of expertise on sexual health found those aged 16 to 20 had half as many romantic encounters during lockdown this year.
‘The number of young people who had dates fell from 51% before corona to 21% during the second lockdown,’ according to Luc Lauwers, programme manager of sexual formation at Rutgers. ‘Limiting social contacts has put young people’s love life pretty much on hold.’
So its Summer of Love campaign, launched on an online platform run by sexually transmitted disease expert Soa Aids Nederland, the Dutch government and local health centres, suggests ‘five steps for a fun, sexy summer’. Young people are advised to ‘come as yourself’, flirt and party, have carefree, safe, consensual sex, if appropriate, and ask for help if needed. Rutgers is running a parallel campaign stressing that unwanted sexual behaviour is not okay.
Ymke Kelders, a spokeswoman for Rutgers, told DutchNews.nl that as life returns to normal, we may need to rediscover forgotten skills. ‘From [Saturday], nightclubs and festivals open again and it’s important to remind ourselves: how did we do that again? How did we flirt with people and interact with them? The majority of people find it important to be intimate with someone else and explore what you like: that’s part of forming your identity.’
The campaign, however, also has a serious message that coronavirus is not the only rampant, infectious disease; a public health institute report showed that although the numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were down, a higher proportion of people who got tested at a clinic last year, were indeed infected. Hanna Bos, a consultant in infectious diseases for co-organiser Soa Aids told DutchNews.nl: ‘Everyone is allowed a summer of love, and we wish them well, but if you have multiple partners, there’s a risk of STIs, so protect yourself and if that doesn’t work, get tested. That’s our message. It’s clear that STIs are going to go up.’
Dr Margriet van Heesch, a sociology teacher at the University of Amsterdam, added that while sex education and some campaigns have a positive influence on sexual happiness and wellbeing in the Netherlands, pop culture and the internet are just as important. ‘Guiding young people towards a pleasurable sexual coming of age, depends on all kinds of influences (positive and negative),’ she said. ‘Netflix series such as Master of None, TikTok and Instagram are treasure chests full of information for young adults. Maybe Cardi B. singing WAP did more for the summer of love that any institution ever will.’
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