My name is Katrin Putschbach and I am currently working as a sex educator for youth groups at the Berlin family planning center BALANCE.
I got my first experience with the issue of sex education when I did an internship for my studies in educational sciences. At that time, I conducted class sessions where the young people were allowed to discuss topics of their choice. I don’t know if it was still due to my unconscious interest in the subject or just because of the children, but the themes of “love, friendship, sex” were by far the most popular topics of discussion.
I realized in that time that I like both the work with children and adolescents, as well as the topic of sex education, and so while I was still studying, I planned my entry into the workforce at a small advice center of “Pro Familia”, which is one of the largest sexual counseling centers in Germany.
When working with children and young people, practical experience is the Alpha and Omega. Because of my volunteer work during my studies, I already knew methodological basics, but I really matured in my job gradually. I have been working for BALANCE for seven years now, and give lessons in sex education for classes that visit us on a regular basis. Most of the employees also do cross-section tasks, so that sort of I became an assistant to the management by now.
We support children and young people on their way to becoming sexually matured, and to set the basis for sexual health. Currently, we have far more requests from schools than we can cover. The need in this area is immense. However, at the moment, we are affected by financial cuts; in the whole of Germany the section of sex education is underfinanced.
But this is a problem of preventive work: the consequences of missing prevention are not calculated in advance.
BALANCE teaches children from the second grade to vocational school. However, the focus of our work lies on the nine- to fifteen-year olds, an age, where most of the changes occur, in which the children begin to ask the most questions on the subject. When we teach fifth graders and those above, we separate the sexes, and I am responsible for working with the girls. This approach can be seen critically, which is never the less important for practical work. I think at this point, I am also a bit feminist, because the work with the girls is especially precious to me. I want to teach them that sex should be something beautiful, that they are also allowed to say no, and they don’t have to define their worth through their sexual contacts. Of course, it is also important not to judge if someone decides to have a frequent change of partners. This is of course legitimate.
The “hot topics” in most classes are, also due to the age of the target group, issues of adolescence:
“I have not had my period yet. Am I normal?”
“I have my period already too early. Am I normal?”
“I am in love but he/she is not in love with me. What should I do?”
And then, of course, a look ahead or into the future… “What about sex?”
Overall, our teaching sessions don’t last longer than one and a half hours. Some of you may be wondering how much you can possibly achieve in such a short time. But when I see how some of the students leave the room relieved, how we took a load off their minds, then I am always convinced that these experiences will continue to have an effect on them. Also, when I talk about my job at parties and celebrations, I often get to hear stories from the people about their first lesson in sex education. Also, I still remember mine, even though it was not very good and although you cannot remember most of your school hours.
It is a nice thought that I can give 90 minutes to these children, which they may remember for a lifetime. Who knows, maybe in thirty years they attend a party and talk about my lesson?
The interactive methods as important features of our work are only possible because we are working in our premises and with group sizes of about 15 students. I can imagine this is hardly possible in Ghana with class sizes of over 40 students, and I truly have a lot of respect for every teacher or educator who can keep such a large group at it.