05/22/2006 03:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

While You're Down There: U.S. v. U.K. on Teen Sexuality

Last week, the Washington Post ran an unusual package of stories on the subject of adolescent sexuality, headlined, "Is Teen Sex Bad?"

Rather than starting from the assumption that it must be-- because that appears to be the conventional wisdom in the U.S.-- the article compared how America and Western Europe look at the issue. It showed that while teen sex appears equally common in the U.S. and Western Europe, Western Europe has far lower rates of teen pregnancy, sexually-transmitted disease and abortion.

It was refreshing to see a major paper recognize that American cultural conventions are not universal and that other cultures may have something to offer in addressing these issues. Unfortunately, such coverage tends to be more the exception than the rule.

Consequently, it was not surprising that the articles were conceived by an American who is married to a Swede. Often, only when you are personally exposed to a different point of view do you recognize assumptions you have made without thinking them through. More American journalists should seek such perspectives in their coverage.

The extreme differences in basic assumptions was made vivid to me this weekend when I finally got around to reading Lynne Truss's Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door, which is a real treat for Anglophiles like me.

While the U.S. has responded to our alleged epidemic of teenage oral sex with panic and calls for more abstinence-only sex education, the British reaction, according to Truss, has been more pragmatic. Viewing teen sex and various fads in it as normal, one major British charity apparently thought some good might come of it. They started an anti-littering campaign showing sexy young people headlined, "While you're down there..."

Can you imagine how such a thing would be received here, even aimed at 18-year-olds as this was?