When the German government’s Center for Health Education launched a website earlier this year to explain the various aspects of sexual relationships, health and rules to some of the country’s newest residents, the timing was unfortunate.
Just a few weeks before, hundreds of women reported being sexually assaulted in Cologne on New Year’s Eve by men they described as “North African” or “Arabic” looking. The website looked like a condescending—even racist—reaction.
The government defended itself, arguing that the site had been created to support counsellors and doctors advising migrants long before the massive refugee influx began last year.
“Zanzu—My Body in Words and Pictures” is split into sections like family planning and pregnancy, relationships and feelings, rights, and law. Some parts are pretty condescending: explaining how to wash one’s genitals, how everyone’s body looks different, and what virginity means.
It’s also extremely graphic in its depictions of sexual positions and permutations—very much in keeping Germany’s unembarrassed attitude to sex in general. “The man can be on top of the woman, the woman on top of the man or the man behind the woman,” it explains. It also has sections on sexually transmitted diseases, foreplay and how to use a condom.
Germany faces the huge task of integrating thousands of people from cultures where homosexuality is illegal or violence against women is not regarded as a crime, and the site performs a useful function in terms of explaining Germany’s laws and offering advice for those suffering from abuse.
But it has caused a fair flurry of controversy too. “Zansu is a German initiative providing sex education to refugees. Sadly lacking in the language of rights,” said one person on Twitter.
Heinz-Jürgen Voss, a sex scientist at the University of Merseburg, told the Washington Post it was “racist” to assume that Syrians and Iraqis were less schooled than Germans when it came to sex.
And, as usual, it brought racists out of the woodwork on social media: Some tweeted that the site would encourage migrant men to try their luck with German women, while others accused the government of touting German women as sex partners for refugees.