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Two German childcare centres in Nordrhein-Westfalen issue child sexuality manifestos, waxing poetic about the benefits of masturbation and outlining rules for child sexual play
A few of you have asked about reports of “sexual exploration rooms” in German childcare centres, where young children are encouraged to masturbate and touch each other. While I have no doubt the field of child sexual pedagogy is unusually depraved, I suspected the reports were exaggerated or lacking important context. In this, I was very wrong. I have spent about six hours exploring this very disturbing rabbit hole, and I need a shower. Maybe ten of them. Read the rest of this post at your own risk.
The recent reports all come from an article published yesterday in Welt:
Children should be able to “withdraw into a protected space” “to discover and satisfy themselves physically,” proclaims a day-care centre in Kerpen. In its sexual education plan, the institution promises to offer “children free space to experiment with their childlike sexuality. Masturbation is normal. Allowing masturbation” in day-care centres is “of great importance.”
In a day-care centre in Rheinberg, allowances are made for playing doctor in side rooms – but with rules for the little ones: “They [should] carefully choose the child to play with.” And before they do so, “the children are told that no objects are to inserted into bodily orifices (e.g. genitals),” according to their plan, which was recently made public by Alternative für Deutschland.
Should such schemes be tolerated or banned? There are different views on this nationwide. Nearly identical statements were reported earlier this year from a day-care centre in Hannover, where the Youth Welfare Office and the state of Niedersachsen put a stop to it.
In Nordrhein-Westfalen [where the Kerpen and Rheinberg day care centres are located], views are somewhat different. When asked how the Child Ministry there, now under Green leadership, regarded the handling of masturbation in the these two day-care centres, they replied that “sexual behaviour by children” could “not be prevented.” The Ministry emphasises that “separate rooms solely for sexual self-exploration in day-care centres” are “not provided for.” The Ministry, however, refuses to intervene at the day-care centres.
Welt reminds readers that parents, at least in theory, have the right to exclude their children from this depravity. The Ministry also told Welt that separate child-exploration rooms would be forbidden by the Child Welfare Office in NRW. “You can float all manner of crazy ideas in plans and programmes – but not in reality.”
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This last point is misleading at best. I think Welt have made a small error in their reporting, which a Child Ministry spokesperson then exploited for the purposes of issuing a misleading denial. It is specifically the dedicated rooms for mutual sexual exploration that the Ministry claims are forbidden by the Child Welfare Office. Everything else – sexualised “doctor play” and opportunities for developmental masturbation – appear to remain on the menu, at least for children of parents who don’t actively intervene.
As Welt notes, a childcare centre in Hannover tried to implement a nearly identical child sexuality programme earlier this year, only to be shut down by the Niedersachsen Child Welfare Office. The details are important:
The “body exploration room” announced by a day-care centre run by the Workers’ Welfare Association of Hannover has been stopped by the Niedersachsen Youth Welfare Office. According to the office, the pedagogical plan in this form endangers child welfare and is unsupportable … Previously, the Bild had reported that the day care centre had announced such an exploration room in a letter to parents, complete with rules for conduct.
Among other things, one rule from the letter obtained by Bild reads: “Each child [should] decide for himself whether and with whom he wants to play physical and sexual games.”
According to the chairman of the board of the Workers’ Welfare Association in Hannover, the letter to parents had not been coordinated with the Association or approved by their experts.
Articles on the Hannover controversy brought to general attention a curious “child protection expert” named Jörg Maywald, whose full importance will become clear only further down. Maywald criticised the Hannover plans, but not for the reasons you’d think. Children, he said, need to conduct their “body exploration games” not in side rooms, but under direct adult supervision:
When it comes to so-called body exploration games in childcare centres, it is always a matter of carefully guiding the child’s curiosity about his bodies, Maywald told the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung … “I would find it strange to set up a separate room for this” …
Maywald said: “We should not overemphasise adult ideas about sexuality.” All children, he said, have curiosity about bodies, and their educators need to provide rules for this. Childcare centres have to make sure that children do not cross boundaries and are not assaulted. He emphasised: “Body exploration and sexual education do not have to take place in the childcare centre solely through touching. You can also use picture books, for example.”
I am not an expert on childhood development, but all of this makes me extremely, profoundly uncomfortable, and I’m pretty sure it would’ve made me massively uncomfortable when I was a child too. I’m also not sure which is worse: Childcare centres which encourage child sexual activity in front of adults, or childcare centres which set aside separate rooms where it can happen out of sight.
Anyway, I’ve consulted the “Sex Education Programme” of the (alas) Catholic St. Rochus childcare centre in Kerpen, and can confirm that somebody has taken a tactical decision to keep all the weird sex stuff, while jettisoning the separate rooms idea.
From the introduction on p. 3:
A sex education programme is an important part of our overall childcare programme. Sexuality in the day care centre is no longer a taboo subject.
In a community, children quickly notice the differences between their own bodies. This is a completely normal sign of healthy psychosexual development. Children are driven by curiosity, not by sexual desire. This is a worry we adults have, but it is completely unfounded. This sexual phase is important for children to gain learning experiences for the rest of their lives and develop relationships with other people.
We make it possible for our children to have these experiences, for example by playing doctor. For these games there must naturally be clear rules, and they must always take place under the watchful eye of educators.
“Playing doctor” is a strange recurring obsession of this document, the subject of a whole section on p. 20:
13. Roleplaying - “Playing Doctor”
Between the ages of 2 and 3 and beyond, sexual curiosity increases significantly. Children not only want to discover their own bodies, but they also look at, observe and explore with interest the bodies of other children, parents and siblings. Children compare themselves to the opposite sex and there is nothing more exciting than looking closely at and “examining” themselves while “playing doctor.” Doctor’s visits are familiar, concrete experience for children. When they play doctor, they act out what they have experienced during their doctor’s visits. They give each other injections, administer medicine, listen to each other or take a temperature.
If these mutual examinations become more intensive, it is important that the children know and adhere to applicable rules for this.
Playing doctor has nothing to do with adult sexual desires, but only with children’s curiosity and their spirit of discovery.
In our childcare centre we offer the children space to try out their childlike sexuality. We see it as our task to support and accompany the boys and girls in their development.
There are rules for “playing doctor” on p. 13:
The age difference between the children playing with each other should not be too great. The developmental stage of the children playing should be taken into account.
Each child should decide for himself whether and with whom he wants to play “doctor.”
Older children and adults have no place in these games.
The children should not hurt each other.
Nothing may be put into bodily orifices and/or tied off.
Each child should decide for him- or herself whether and where he or she wants to be touched.
The game is always voluntary and the child may leave at any time.
There is no pressure to talk or be silent about it.
The children are allowed to talk to the staff and ask for help at any time.
There’s also a whole section on masturbation at p. 17:
Masturbation is something normal, it is not harmful or sick.
By masturbating, children discover their bodies and their feelings. It helps childrenfeel very close to their bodies and experience pleasure.
In this area as in others, every child develops differently. Some children discover masturbation in the womb as a satisfying activity, others much later.
When a young child plays with its genitals and touches them with obvious enjoyment, he knows nothing of social taboos, of what is “improper,” let alone that what they are doing is considered indecent or dirty. He explores and discovers his body and lingers at points where it feels particularly good.
If you stop your child and tell him that it is not allowed to touch himself “down there,” you can do great harm, because the child learns: There is something wrong with my body that is not right, not good and somehow indecent or disgusting.
This is fatal for body positivity, which is an important part of a child's self-confidence. A child must be allowed to take possession of his body, because it belongs to him and no one else has the right to regulate him in this respect. It is precisely this bodily awareness that is important for your child to be able to clearly say “no” when he or she finds that something is unpleasant.
Masturbation is something very private that does not belong in public.
We respect and accept it as part of the child’s privacy. Masturbation is of great importance for the development of the child’s self-identity and for good bodily awareness.
Children are sexual beings from birth and have a sense of pleasure which they like to act out because it is fun, feels good and can sometimes be comforting. What we teach children, is that masturbation is an intimate matter that can take place in a safe and personal setting.
So, there will not be mutual “body exploration rooms” at St. Rochus, merely masturbation rooms, where “individual children may be allowed to withdraw into a protected space … in order to discover and satisfy themselves physically” (p. 12).
The other facility mentioned by Welt, the “Sunflower” Caritas Childcare Centre Reichenberg, have also put their “sexual pedagogy programme” online, and in reading it I noticed a weird thing: The worst bits are phrased almost identically to the worst bits of the St. Rochus child sexuality manifesto. The same contradictions (“playing doctor is just about curiosity, it’s not sexual, that’s why it’s important for the development of childhood sexuality!”), the same weird list of sexplay rules – everything. The Hannover letter to parents about “body exploration rooms” also has some of the same verbiage, right down to the rule (quoted by Bild) that “Each child [should] decide for himself whether and with whom he wants to play physical and sexual games.”
As it turns out, this is because all three documents have been plagiarised from a 2013 book called Sexual Education in the Childcare Centre: Protecting, Strengthening and Guiding Children. Its author is none other than Jörg Maywald – the very man who criticised the Hannover plan because he thinks children should engage in their sexual play in front of adults rather than in dedicated rooms.
It is Maywald, in this book, who calls for developing “sexual education programmes” like those published by St. Rochus, and who laments the lack of them “in most German childcare centres.” He has an entire chapter on “Playing Doctor, or Sexual Assault?”, which explains where our childcarers got this obsession from. He even provides “Rules for Playing Doctor,” which the child sexuality officers at St. Rochus and Sunflower have changed in some curious respects. In addition to prohibiting penetration, for example, Maywald also writes that children are not to “lick each other’s bodies” during their sexual play, and he says that if staff are insufficient to oversee all of these games, they should impose further restrictions – “for example, they should not allow the children to play doctor naked.” I wonder why they left those points out? Perhaps they were wary of making the topic seem too obscene?
Maywald’s book is a house of horrors. After outlining the rules for playing doctor, he turns to the problem of childhood sexual assault – that is to say, instances in which playing doctor goes wrong. Maywald is greatly interested in this aspect; to judge from the pages he spends on it, he finds it vastly more interesting than “playing doctor” itself.
He provides various examples of the problems you can expect in Maywald Childcare Horror Land and how to handle them. For instance:
Enrico, Emre, Dominik and Tobias like to retreat to the quiet room at the childcare centre. The room is freely accessible to the children during the afternoon hours. Up to five children can use it for half an hour at a time by appointment. For some time now, the four- and five-year-old boys have been hanging a cloth in front of the glass door during their quite time so that they cannot be observed from the outside. One day, Tobias’ mother angrily tells the head of the day-care centre that her son has complained to her because the other boys are forcing him to participate in “humping.”
Clearly, Maywald explains, the boys are pantomiming some kind of "sexual intercourse,” and the problem is that one of them doesn’t like it. The staff should “assure the mother that they take the incident seriously and will ensure it doesn’t happen again.” They’ll meet with the offending boys and emphasise the importance of “boundaries” and explain that nobody should be forced to play any games he doesn’t want to. The four boys should also be prevented from using the quiet room together, and the staff should work harder to ensure the room remains visible from outside. That’s it, no big deal, problem solved!
I could continue, but I don’t have the strength for any more. This stuff is disgusting and insane.
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