I make no assumptions and explain everything. Between Algiers and Kabul, there is no transfer of theoretical knowledge in biology class and there also aren't any bicycle stands behind the school where practical knowledge can be shared in the form of kissing. There is no Dr. Ruth in Damascus. "Everybody knows how to fuck," I hear over and over again. But that's not true. Sex is a cultural technique that must not only be learned, it also has to be talked about from time to time. About sexual needs, contraception, family planning and hygiene. How do you establish intimacy? How do I approach a woman? When is the moment that I should get undressed? I answer all the questions that end up in the mailbox, without exception.
How often can a condom be used?
My best friend says that having sex in water protects against pregnancy. Is that true?
I have bad skin / am short-sighted / have rapidly growing hair / like to eat cucumbers – am I masturbating too much?
All of the questions reflect insecurities. A significant element of sexuality has always been the urge to compare oneself with others. That, though, is no longer necessary when everybody learns what his penis can do and -- more importantly -- what it can't do. I never ask about sexual desires, proclivities or experience. My focus is on the removal of taboos and determined elucidation.
Much of the time is spent discussing what is allowed and what is not, and role playing is extremely helpful. A man who, in the brightly lit doctor's office, suddenly finds himself in the role of a woman being badgered by three men, instinctively does what women in clubs, subways and crowded city squares do: They back away and use their hands to defend themselves. It is a powerful lesson and some slam the door behind them as they leave. A look in the mirror is not always pleasant.
Sex education is also a question of patience. In the first hours, particularly, I find myself talking to a wall of giggling, clucking and comments like "wait until you've seen mine." Some actually carry through with their offer, at which point I amiably remind them of the dangerous germs lurking in doctors' offices.
I buy a case of bananas at the local green grocer, Mr. Yilmaz. "Why do you need so many bananas?" he asks in surprise. "I need them for a sex education class," I respond. Mr. Yilmaz leans over to me: "If only we had known all that stuff, the stuff about sex. My wedding night was a catastrophe. Madame didn't talk to me for four weeks." Madame waves at me.
My classes don't just focus on theory. Sex, after all, is a question of practice. Twenty red-faced men sit in a circle, each holding a banana in their hand. They also each get a condom and I show them what to do: Open the condom package. Don't tear it! Set the condom ring on the tip – the end of the banana in this case – and slowly but firmly roll it down to the base. Of course, seven of them squash their bananas, three break through the condom and two others insist that it's the woman's job. Sex education is also a question of repetition, and ultimately the condoms, the bananas and the young men get on just fine.
How does my penis find its way into the vagina?
How can you tell when a woman wants sex?
My friend says that a penis will grow two centimeters per year if you apply snake oil.
Of course, some people in the small town I live in call out "Frau Fucky-Fucky" when they see me on the streets. Everyone ultimately pays a price for what they decide to do. Many of my friends also ask me if I'm not embarrassed to talk to strange men about sex. The answer is "no," I'm not embarrassed.
Because sex education also means that you have to learn how to talk about sex. And the language used is extremely important. "I would like to sleep with you" sends a different message than "I want to fuck your dirty hole." And if the best sex begins in the imagination, you have to find the right words to convey what you want once you're in bed. Every person has the right to know about their body and to be able to articulate their sexual desires.
A lack of sexual knowledge often translates into hypersexual behavior and aggression. Men who are comfortable in their own skin and who can communicate their needs are much less likely to grab women between the legs without asking. Self-confident men can endure a "no" without feeling disparaged – something that the advanced-placement physics students often understand better than the class heartthrobs. Those who understand their own bodies understand that the bodies of others have their limits. I am in favor of clear formulations. In my classes, I persist that rape and sexual harassment are criminal acts of violence. Nobody can say that they didn't know better.
Can I eat sperm?
When a woman kisses me, does that mean that she wants to have sex?
Will my penis get harder if I rub it with sperm / coconut oil / glue?
My experience thus far shows that the sooner young men attend a sex education course, the better are the chances to prevent the kind of group dynamic where sexual posturing combined with alcohol results in sexual assault. Sitting on colorful chairs with a banana in hand, even the most boisterous showoff soon quiets down and everybody in the room realizes that they all suffer from the same insecurities.
My sex education course is specifically for refugees, but it is open to all men. Sometimes, I am also approached by young German men who, for example, work as bouncers at the local clubs. "Aren't you the woman who always talks about sex?" I nod. "The second mailbox next to the door of the doctor's office," I say, adding that we meet every third Monday of the month at 6 p.m. They almost always show up. The refugees learn that even two-meter tall men from Germany don't have penises of steel and the tough young men learn that they didn't know quite as much as they had thought.
Sex education is needed everywhere. When I go jogging, I often pass by the bicycle stands behind the school. Music blares from smartphones and the girls and boys, refugees and locals alike, are bent over the displays. "Everything okay over there?" I call out, and I really do sound like the strict aunt from Damascus, because safety in public spaces is also dependent on all of us paying attention – or, as they say in the town, showing regard for each other. The refugees and locals roll their eyes and I can hear their exasperation through my headphones.
Is oral sex perverse?
Can the vagina be too narrow for my penis?
Does a woman lose more than a liter of blood her first time?
Sex education isn't a cure-all. It's not enough to prevent assaults and rapes. But if, in every group of men, there is one who is confident enough to say "no, I'm not doing that," then it's a start. In 2016, there were two documented cases of rape in the slum in India. Ten years ago, there were around 1,000.
There should actually be a sex education task force in every refugee hostel. Video cameras may be helpful in solving crimes, but they can't flip a switch in the minds of men, reminding them of the limits and perhaps making them stop. Sexual violence seeks to silence and rape always seeks to make its victims quiet and ashamed. As long as we keep talking about sex, sexual violence has competition.
After 10 years of talking about sex, I know that those who yell "Frau Fucky-Fucky" the loudest are usually the ones who are most ashamed later and will ultimately bring me flowers. Sunita, who came to me in India so long ago because of problems with her penis, is now a midwife and provides sex education herself. The young man who heckled the loudest, clucked with his tongue and spit on the ground in front of me now has a stable relationship. He sent me his greetings through the doctor. At some point, he says, he would like to talk about sex all day too.
But on the Mondays of my class, I always have to start from the beginning. "If you have a penis," I say, "you need to know about the vagina." The 20 men in front of me stare at the floor as I describe the difference between testicles and the prostate and write the word "vagina" on the board in German and Arabic. As usual, one of them yells out "cunt!" "Oh," I say. "An expert." I hand the young man a felt-tip pen and point to the outline of the female body. "Would you please be so kind as to draw in the vagina for us?"
Editor's note: To protect the author and her clients, we have declined to include names and details of the sex education course.
Translated by Charles Hawley