Zanzu - going beyond traditional sex-ed – Vignette

Zanzu – going beyond traditional sex-ed

In an effort to help asylum seekers holistically adapt to German society,  the German Federal Center for Health Education — in partnership with the Flemish Center for Sexual Health — created a comprehensive and pleasure-based sexuality resource called Zanzu.

Made intentionally for migrants, Zanzu extends far beyond traditional sex-ed topics by delving into multiple ways to achieve sexual pleasure. Currently available in thirteen languages, Zanzu offers a user-friendly interface, with each term accompanied by a clear graphic and audio clip.



Developer Christine Winkelmann noticed how many pregnant women were coming to Germany and the EU and urgently need a way to communicate without shared language. Consequently, the site offers in-depth information about the entire pregnancy process from conception through after delivery, while also comparing vocabulary in different languages. This allows refugees and migrants to both learn new words and improve communication with physicians. Though developed before the start of the Syrian refugee crisis, creators hope Zanzu will be a helpful tool for Syrians.

Screen shot from Zanzu website

Screen shot from Zanzu website

Zanzu takes on a pleasure-based sex-ed approach, which is grounded in empirical knowledge that teaching abstinence is an ultimately ineffective method to prevent pregnancy, STD/STI contraction, and under-aged sex. Instead, informing individuals about how to have safe and pleasurable sex can lower risks associated with sexual activity. Germany is known for its sexually liberal and open culture, making this model helpful to aid migrants and refugees in their transition to German society.

In addition to providing information surrounding sex-ed topics such as pregnancy and STD/STI prevention, Zanzu includes more niche categories, including sex before and after pregnancy, prostitution, language surrounding sex and relationships, and sexual pleasure. The site says that intercourse can occur in a variety of positions, provides information about how to have an orgasm through masturbation and with a partner, as well as assures its users that “it’s OK if you like pornography.”

Screen shot from Zanzu website

Screen shot from Zanzu website

The “Rights and Laws” section outlines rights while living in Germany, including the right to family planning, age of consent, and sexual and gender equality. Zanzu explains that seeking help to deal with sexual violence as the abuser is not “unmanly”, addressing culturally informed beliefs surrounding manhood. In the wake of the mass New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in mainly Cologne — many of which were believed to be committed by recent migrants from Morocco, Algeria and elsewhere — Zanzu’s straightforward and clear description of what constitutes sexual violence and consequences in German law can help refugees and migrants adapt to German gender norms and beliefs of sexual expression.

As of May 2017, one year after the launch of the site, Zanzu reached a total of 1,332,057 views. However, developers are still gathering data surrounding usage, user reviews, and effectiveness of their reach to migrant and refugee populations. According to Winkelmann, two focal challenges to the site’s overall integration within its target audience are the lack of computer usage in counseling and the question of assumed cultural appropriation. Opponents of the site find it offensive to assume that migrants are entirely unknowledgeable about sex, while proponents believe the site is valuable to anyone seeking sexuality information, not just refugees.

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