NL 2008/07

"To Study Together With Your Partner"

German Beate Uhse published her first sex education 60 years ago

The first of Beate Uhse's many scandals happened 60 years ago when, using a borrowed typewriter, the young German widow wrote her "Schrift X" or "Leaflet X". In compensation for printing 2,000 copies, the printer got five pounds of butter. In her leaflet, Uhse explained to prude post war Germany the cycle of safe and unsafe days, proclaiming that "It is our social responsibility ... to clearly separate sexual satisfaction from procreation...", July 1st, 1948 was the first day in the cycle calendar of the leaflet.

Nowadays, we barely understand any cause for this scandal. The content of "Leaflet X" was nothing new since twenty years before, the Austrian gynaecologist Hermann Knaus and his Japanese collegue Kyusaku Ogino had solved the puzzle of safe and unsafe days in the female cycle. Beate Uhse had learned about it from her mother, a medical doctor.

During the Nazi-dictatorship, however, childbearing was a civic duty and contraceptives were banned. Even the knowledge itself was lost. As Uhse observed, "People did not know even the basics of life". During the first post-war years, many women experienced another birth as another catastrophe since either their husbands had not returned from war imprisonment or were back but jobless. "Without a home, an income or a future..." one does not desire children at all. The abortionists' business flourished and the number of abortions escalated. In 1950, the annual conference of the doctors from German province Bavaria established a committee to examine the issue of abortion in order to "combat the epidemic plague of abortions". In Bavaria alone, the reported numbers of pre-term births and miscarriages rose from 22,000 in 1948 to about 27,000 each in 1949 and 1950..... every reasonable person (knows) that the officially reported numbers account for only a part of the procedures undertaken to provoke an abortion", wrote the medical journal "Münchner Medizinische Wochenschrift".

Does sex education affect people's reverence for marriage ?

The request for Beate Uhse's leaflet was tremendous and for two Reichsmark each, she sold about 32,000 copies in the first year alone. At the same time, Josef Hirschvogel, a Catholic priest in the little German town of Lindau, was forbidden by the Augsburg diocese’s chapter from any further lecturing on the subject, since discussion and publications on birth control would affect people's reverence for marriage and the secret of life. Hirschvogel's series of talks concerning "Birth control by nature" had attracted listeners in droves.

Hirschvogel fought against the interdiction – but in vain: "Does anybody truly suppose that concealing the Knaus-Ogino-method would raise people's ambition for children? Concealment will not raise the numbers of births but rather that of unnatural procedures.... May the church, as guide of god’s people, keep silent - out of wrongly understood priestly wisdom - and leave married couples to their plight? This is like handing over a scorpion when bread was asked for."

The scandal surrounding "Schrift X" did not come from its content but from the fact that it spoke openly about contraception. Twenty-three years later, in 1971, Beate Uhse broke another taboo when, together with German sexologist Günther Hunold, she published a "Sexual-Atlas for Adults", illustrated with over "130 pin sharp colour photos, some of them close-ups, which show every topic with details... Looking at the pictures will give you an unforgettable impression", Uhse wrote in her advertisement.

Uhse maked good use of the recently liberalized legislation. A few years ago, her "Atlas" would have fallen under the anti-porn law. Even so, Beate Uhse frequently visited the courts. In over 2,000 lawsuits, she fought and largely succeeded in removing legal intrusions in people's private sphere.

Testimonies and documents from every day's life can be seen every Wednesday thru Sunday 02.00 p.m.- 06.00 p.m. in Vienna Museum of Contraception and Abortion. Mariahilfer Guertel 37, 1150 Wien.

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