Pre-departure Thoughts 3

Things I want to take back with me from Freiburg: Sexual Health

SEX! Oh mah gawd!  Great!  So now that I have your attention let’s get down to some serious talk about sexual health.

If you know me well, you already know that this past academic year I worked at a student organization at UW-Madison called Sex Out Loud.  The organization, which is funded by students for students, primarily provides the UW-Madison community with sexual health education and sexual health materials (i.e. condoms and so on).  The organization does this entirely with the mission to promote healthy sexuality through sex positive education and activism.

While employed at Sex Out Loud I was a Peer Facilitator (a peer-to-peer educator) and learned a copious amount of information about sex and sexual health (Sex Out Loud’s website is a great resource if you want to learn more).  The experience I had there and shared with the 2011/2012 Sex Out Loud staff greatly impacted me as a person.  For the first time ever I understand the importance of health in our lives and the undeniably significant role sexual health plays within that.

In the United States though, I don’t think that understanding is very wide spread.  Even within in liberal circles, which are more likely to promote comprehensive sex education, some of the more in depth qualities of truly comprehensive sex education are lost on people.

In my opinion, which I think many others hold as well, Americans have a very Puritan cultural response to sex.  Although it is ubiquitous in the media, sex is more or less shunned and hidden away in American society.  The problem with that is it affects the health of people who engage in sexual activity (a.k.a. most people in the world who have pasted the age of puberty).

The effect of this puritan ethic in American culture is qualitatively and quantitatively apparent.  Americans stand out amongst developed countries for continuously ranking as the country with the highest rates of STI prevalence and transmission and unplanned and teenage pregnancies.  These rates are often not marginally higher than other countries either.  The difference can be significant.

Germany on the other hand, where I will live for the next year is an entirely different world.  Germany and its neighbors seem to hold very different attitudes towards sexual health, as indicated by looking at studies of STI rates and unplanned and teenage pregnancy rates (one study in particular connects better sexual health education in Germany, the Netherlands, and France with lower STI transmission rates, fewer unplanned and teenage pregnancies, and more consistent use of barrier methods such as condoms as opposed to the United States).

What makes this difference though!?  What is it about these two parts of the world, North American and Western Europe, which leads to such cultural differences?  They have a similar religious and ethnic heritage (people of German ancestry account for the largest single ethnic group in the United States for example) and went through similar political, economic, and social developments at the same time.

Along with issues relating to sustainability, I want to take my time in Germany getting to know the culture as it relates to sexual mores.  The purpose is once again to try and learn something about German culture than can be reapplied in the United States, particularly with my work at Sex Out Loud.

I should note here though, I am very liberal in regards to my personal views on sex and sexuality.  I am aware though, that it can be a bit taboo for some people.  I will always aim to write in a way that is both comprehensive (I want to cover all the bases), but also professional and competent.

Anyhow, on a lighter note I think a theme of my sexual health related articles should be goofy stories from the world of sex.  The first article I found, which is a little old, but appropriate enough considering the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London is literally around the corner, is about the ridiculous number of condoms used by athletes attending the games.  To put the number condoms used in perspective, it takes Sex Out Loud a year to distribute the same number of condoms Olympic athletes use in two weeks.  Enjoy: