Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Despite its long tradition and broad reach, sex education in Germany is based on the premise of teaching biological facts in a purely technical manner. A common focus is on the dangers of sexuality, such as unintended pregnancy, sexual violence and sexually
transmitted diseases, all of which tend to overwhelm young children who might not have entered into puberty. The Federal Bureau for Health Education (BZgA) for example, which has the legal duty to educate on sexuality, focuses on providing materials and some workshops. In one of these workshops, 10 year olds earn a “condom license” by putting a condom on a banana. Studies show that this emphasis on the dangers of sexuality scares children who are not yet knowledgeable about their own body functions and are often far from reaching sexual maturity themselves. This can lead to them starting off into the most exciting period of their young lives with feelings of intimidation, shame, and fear.
Sex education in Germany is formally provided in schools, incorporated into general education in primary schools or in 5th or 6th grade biology classes. The issue of sex education as taboo abounds: teachers in charge do not feel comfortable talking about these topics in the context of co-education classes. The complexity of the biological facts as well as the limited amount of time dedicated to the topic (usually only a few 45 minute lessons) result in students acquiring very little technical knowledge about sexuality and body functions. They lack a coherent understanding that can help them to connect emotionally to themselves.
Apart from that, a strong attitude in society exists that such a personal and intimate issue should be discussed in families. Parents often lack the sufficient knowledge as well as an approach appropriate to their children’s age. Studies show that sexuality is not discussed at all in 30 to 70 percent of German families, figures varying depending on family background and educational level. Reality is that youngsters acquire their ‘knowledge’ on the issue from peers, teenage magazines and, due to the vast availability of Internet and smartphones, often through pornographic material. This results in half-truths, myths being passed on and misperceptions among youngsters.
Sex education in Germany generally fails to create a deeper understanding of one´s own sexual body functions and does not connect factual information to emotional experiences and individual body awareness. These shortcomings in sex education and therefore body competence have consequences for the way a child experiences and appreciates his/her own body and influences his/her self-image and self-confidence. The lack of knowledge and comprehension as well as the prevalent misunderstandings and myths among peers has a multitude of ramifications. For example, 33 percent of 6,000 girls visiting an anonymous consultancy in Vienna in 2011 came worried about their own (harmless) vaginal discharge, which they did not know about neither how to deal with it.
Negative self-perception and the rejection of biological processes of transformation during adolescence may result in feelings of inferiority due to deviance from the social norm, such as appetite disorders or psychological problems, which are widespread problems in Germany. In fact, one out of three girls between 14 and 17 as well as 13 percent of boys are diagnosed with such disorders. Furthermore, almost 13,000 unintended pregnancies with 6,500 abortions a year in Germany are to a large part a result of missing knowledge and awareness.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Elizabeth’s initiative MFM-Project challenges this long spread paradigm in sex education in Germany that focuses on the dangers associated with fertility and sexual maturity. For its work with women, MFM stands for Mädchen, Frauen, Meine Tage (Girls, Women
, My Days), and for its work with men MFM stands for Männer für Männer (Men for Men). The program’s leading principle is “I can only protect what I appreciate and respect.” In short, the motto embraces the idea of respect of oneself and one’s body, which she fosters in children before they even enter puberty. New—and key to her success— is not only the educational design, but also the involvement of parents and teachers.
Testimonies about the validity of her work indicate that more than 90 percent of the children feel far better informed and comfortable with their body and sexuality as a result of attending the workshops. Elisabeth builds a new and improved body competence, self-awareness, cross-gender understanding and informed decision making for young people. Her approach overcomes previous shortcomings in traditional body and sex education in Germany. She improves young people’s relationships with their own sexuality, which ultimately has a preventive effect on severe disorders like anorexia, unintended pregnancies and lasting psychological problems.