Like any other country, the Germans endure their share of stereotypes. The folks my great grandpa called “The Jerries” are described as strong, silent types who lack passion and humor. They also love beer and sausages, apparently. German lovemaking has been touted as quick and efficient. Germany seems to have an “anything goes” attitude toward kink, fetishes and alternative sexualities. As a result, modern Germans are more open about nudity and sexuality than you might think. That’s one of the reasons the German Federal Center for Health Education built an informative website designed to help newly arrived refugees understand German sex.
You can check out the English version of the site here.
Good Intentions Not So Well Received
Zanzu, Germany’s new instructional website, has inspired its share of ire. Some claim that aiming the site at refugees implies that immigrants are ignorant of proper etiquette, while others balk at the depictions of interracial or homosexual couples presented in a positive light. There have been claims that the site is a response to accusations that refugees have been committing a wave of sex crimes since arriving in Germany. I know, I know…nobody comes to Kinkly.com to read about war refugees, rascism, or homophobes. Suffice it to say that not everyone is as thrilled with Zanzu as I am.
Until this new website debuted, advice for dating in Germany was pretty generic. A 2015 article from expatia.com claims that "German men sometimes date much younger women that they do not intend to marry." You don’t say! Meanwhile, German women are said to "hate machismo" and to be unimpressed when propositioned in the streets. Again, not very shocking … or even unique to Germany. Even advice like "be punctual" isn’t very useful if you’re looking for advice on the sexual norms of another culture. Unhelpful and vague information like this leads to people like me believing that Mike Myers and “Sprockets” presented an accurate portrayal of German dating.
So, What's Zanzu All About?
What kind of advice does Zanzu have to offer? Lots! First, it’s divided into sections: Body; Family Planning and Pregnancy; Infections; Sexuality; Relationships and Feelings; and Rights and Laws. Each section has multiple subsections that cover a plethora of aspects of sexuality. What if you think your penis is too small? What exactly are the pelvic floor muscles? Who should I talk to about sex when I can’t talk to my partner?
Zanzu is so full of information that even those of us enjoying awesome sex lives can learn from it. Did you know that girls and women can apply for asylum to avoid female genital mutilation? Or that domestic violence - even when it isn’t physical - can be punished by at least one year in jail? And that anyone you report such a crime to is legally obligated to respect your privacy? I also found a list of resources for those who fear honor-based violence. That can all be life-saving information for people.
Zanzu is particularly impressive because of its openness and availability. The site is offered in 12 languages. While it’s largely heteronormative (presuming that male-female relationships are “normal”), the site is also clear and accepting of homosexuality while condemning sex with minors. Zanzu is also surprisingly upfront and supportive of masturbation, sex work, and even offers options for what you might do if you find yourself dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.
Zanzu recognizes and lists common issues that can interfere with enjoyment of sex - including addiction to pornography. In a statement more logical than most of those we hear in America, the site says, “It’s OK to watch pornography, but to much too often can cause problems. It can cause you to have unrealistic expectations of sex. It can also influence your social life or lead to problems in your relationship.” So keep those Rammstein videos to a minimum, kids. (This one is edited, but probably still NSFW, even in Germany!)
Government Sponsored Sex Manuals: A Bad Idea?
Noted University of Merseburg sex scientist, Heinz-Jurgen Voss implies that immigrants from Iraq or Syria are just as sexually savvy as Germans. He seems to feel that government-sponsored sexual etiquette lessons are a bad idea. “It’s important to promote this kind of open and free sexuality…[but] it’s not something that the state can force people to do, to live openly.”
I can’t agree that giving people information is akin to forcing them to do things. Frankly, that’s just the sort of argument people use to keep sex ed out of American public schools. The idea that knowing how to do something will make everyone run right out and do it is laughable. I know how to mow a lawn, but that’s certainly not going to make me get up and leave the air conditioning. Why? Because I don’t want to do it. Having information doesn’t make us want things we wouldn’t have wanted anyway, does it?
The German Federal Center for Health Education spent more than $100,000 building and maintaining Zanzu. This investment implies that Germany understands the value of a healthy sex life. It also means they see the importance of education as a component of sex that is consensual, physically and emotionally satisfying, and safe. When it comes to sex and sexual education, Germany seems to know what’s up. Whether all that will give the German people a more active sense of humor is anyone’s guess. Maybe this will help.