“Sicher Verliebt” (safely in love) coordinator Naomi Lämmlin told The Local one of the interesting aspects of the German system was that while sex education has been a mandatory part of the curriculum since 1992, a teacher does not have to take the classes.
Nor do they have to be present if someone else takes the class – unlike in the UK, for example. This means that someone more accessible can take over – like a Sicher Verliebt student volunteer, of which there are around 300.
Sending in a someone new “means pupils can ask questions they might be too embarrassed to ask their teacher,” said Lämmlin. Talking about pornography for example – a topic discussed in depth in German schools – “is easier with someone nearer their age.”
Germany has teenage pregnancy rate way behind many other European countries and the US.
In 2008, just 16 in 1,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 got pregnant, according to government figures put together by family planning organisation Pro Familia.
Compared with a rate of 84 per 1,000 in America, and 47 and 45 in the UK and Canada respectively, Germany was only bettered by the Netherlands and Belgium in avoiding teen pregnancies.
There are hundreds students in 28 different towns and cities offering sex education for Sicher Verliebt, sitting down with 5,400 youngsters this year alone. Starting with puberty and anatomy and moving up to teen pregnancy, HIV, homosexuality, and pornography there's not much they won't tackle.
“We talk with teachers beforehand and get a feel for what they want the class to learn,” said Lämmlin. Sometimes pupils are also invited to submit questions anonymously for the guest teacher. Rarely do they get joke questions, “most are serious,” she said.
Organised by the national German Medical Students' Association (BVMD), the aim of Sicher Verliebt is not only to ease a squirming teacher's angst, but to create a more “relaxed atmosphere in which young people can learn about sexuality.”
The idea originated in Sweden and was initially focussed on raising awareness of HIV, but has become more broad ranging in Germany. “We talk about HIV with kids in the sixth grade, [when children are 11 or 12 years old],” said Lämmlin.
“They are more open-minded and curious that you'd expect,” said Lämmlin. By the ninth grade, when kids are 14 and 15, and when teen pregnancies and STDs come onto the agenda, pupils are often less receptive and often embarrassed to talk, she added.
And talks can be tailored to fit the needs of particular classes and pupils - so, for example, if a gay kid is having trouble in class, the Sicher Verliebt team will talk about homosexuality and homophobia.
“We have a lot more freedom than in other countries,” said Lämmlin, adding that what was on offer was much more than simply condom guides.
She even said she did not think Germany's solid sex education programme was responsible for the low teen pregnancy rate. “Of course it's really important to explain contraception, but I don't think that alone is preventative," she said.
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