If you follow me on Twitter, you know I spent a few weeks this summer in Germany with my two kids visiting my mother. It was a lovely vacation.
Here are some things I noticed that struck me as very different from America, and of interest in this space:
Swimming (or Comfort with bodies and sexuality)
Germany has some of the best pools I’ve ever seen (and playgrounds, for those of you with young children), and me and my kids love to swim, so we spent a lot of time in pools.
At these pools, almost all of the women were wearing bikinis, the men we wearing speedos, and children of both genders were wearing underwear or panties. Why? Probably because these are some of the simplest, most comfortable things to wear when you’re swimming. Body types and age didn’t play into the choice in swim wear, which was hugely refreshing. Old people, young people, thin people, fat people, everyone was wearing skimpy bathing suits. I saw many, many bellies, and it they all seemed like happy ones. Also, babies and children happily changed or lounged naked on their towels. Rather than being shuffled off to an uncomfortable changing room.
The other thing I noticed at the pools was lots of what would probably be deemed inappropriate public displays of affection by teenagers if they were in the US. But it was fine in Germany. There were plenty of adults around, making sure things didn’t go overboard, but the young people were able to express their physical affection for each other without separating themselves off into a private place where things might go too far.
Statues (or Nudity, in public!)
People were actually naked in the art! Here’s an example of a statue:
And here’s another:
While it’s difficult to see the specifics of these statues in these pictures, there is detail. And these were only two examples of many nude statues we saw while we were in Germany. (Both of these pictures were taken in Berlin.)
Condom advertisements (or Sex sells, even condoms)
They were actually prominently displayed! So useful, so effective! Here are a few examples, one from this most recent trip and one from several years ago:
All of these different ways of being awareness of sexuality in the public sphere point to a level of comfort and openness with bodies and sexuality that simply doesn’t exist in the US. While it was refreshing to me, to see such open acceptance of our physical humanness, there is are far more important reasons than refreshment that we need to work towards this here in the US. This acceptance and knowledge and experience that is so prominent in Germany also leads to substantially lower STD rates, abortion rates, and teen pregnancy and birth rates when compared to the US (see this page for many of the supporting statistics).
Our bodies are not only naturally beautiful, they also feel good. I see much of my work in sexuality education to help men, women, teenagers, children, everyone move towards this more open understanding of themselves and the people around them in order to improve everyone’s sexual and psychological health.
Beautiful post, Karen. I know my own uncomfortable body image is a product of this culture; I would love to live around the comfortability you write about.
I remember visiting Berlin 10 years ago when I was 17. It was my first experiences spending more than a few days in a city, and it was my first experiences spending time in a city w/o my parents. I saw my first advertisement with nudity in it… it was, I believe, for some art thing, and it had a naked man on it. I was a little shocked and surprised, but I played it cool. I also remember seeing my first prostitutes. It was during this time that I had some of my first times actually having real intercourse, and it was my first experiences using condoms. It was a real interesting time for me… I had a great partner who was learning as well, and I got to experience a new culture and a new people.
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