Are Germans uptight? In this DW interview, Ann-Marlene Henning, Danish sexologist, TV host and author of "Make Love," reveals her insight on Germans' sex lives - and what women in particular can do to improve theirs.
DW: Why is it so difficult to create erotic films, literature and magazines for women?
Ann-Marlene Henning: It's not difficult at all! Women are very good at fantasizing. They don't need much to get their imagination spinning.
If you take for instance "50 Shades of Grey," although sado-masochism probably isn't everyone's thing, many women still get aroused. They lean back on their couch wrapped in a blanket, drink their tea, and then… Women will get excited by almost anything. Their body is ready for it.
Still, as you demonstrate in your books and your work with couples on television, the body's ability to get excited doesn't automatically lead to a satisfying sex life. Are there any specific obstacles in German bedrooms?
Many women don't have a very good relation with their intimate parts. As young girls, they learn they should simply "keep it clean." We need to overcome this type of education. Girls and boys are born very curious and want to explore their bodies - and then we forbid them to do it.
In Denmark, there are many books and TV shows on the topic. Personal exploration of sexuality has longer been accepted there. When I came to Germany, I felt people here were a lot more uptight.
Interestingly enough, former East Germany was the opposite on this aspect. Although they're not as common now, there used to be many FKK beaches there [Editor's note: FKK stands for "Freikörperkultur" and refers to the German nudist movement which was strong in East Germany]. I don't like to spread clichés, but very often when I meet a new client and think "Oh, this person is very open about sexuality," I find out later that he or she grew up in East Germany.
While the typical attitude of Americans is "I don't know enough about this, I'll take a class to find out more," Germans generally prefer to hide their ignorance on a given subject, secretely hoping no one will notice. It's strongly related to having the courage to admit you're not perfect.
What surprised you the most when you started offering sex therapy for couples in Germany, a few years after you moved here in 1985?
I was amazed at how little they would talk about sex! And those were the people who had actually decided to take action by consulting me - so they were certainly braver than the average!
But they could barely speak out complete sentences using words like "vagina," or "penis." There's a lot of shame. It's hard to imagine, with pornography being available everywhere... People can talk about sex, but as soon as it comes to their own sex, things get difficult.
'Sex is one of our basic needs!'
Our society has never been more liberal than it is today. You've just mentioned the popularity of pornography; we see nipples on almost any primetime TV show and we can love and have sex with almost anyone we like. Aren't there more important things to talk about than sex in 2015?
Germans often ask me: "Do we still really need to talk about sex?" and I'll usually answer, "No, we don't, but unfortunately there are people who really need help out there. They can't get aroused, can't have an orgasm or haven't had good sex in a long time." Yet sex is so important, it's one of our basic needs!
It's not that I care if couples prefer not to have sex or don't want to talk about it - but most of the time, one person in the couple is suffering.
The authors of the study "Wie wir Deutschen ticken" (What makes us German tick) found that Germans only use on average two or three positions during sex. Are we boring in bed?
Do you really think that's only the case for Germans? People everywhere have two or three favorite positions. Seriously, I don't think good sex is about positions. Women's magazines always say "Get to know more positions," but you can stick to just one or two if they make you feel something: A woman can simply try things out with her pelvis to obtain more pleasure.
It's true that just laying there doesn't make you feel as sexy, emotional or intense as when you're really moving your body with your partner. Many women just lie on their back in the missionary position. You can't be thinking about your to-do list to enjoy sex.
Six million people read the "Shades of Grey" books in Germany; the German erotic magazine "Séparée," which explores casual dating, sex toys and fetish parties, has a circulation of 20,000. Are Germans more open about sex now than they were a few years ago?
Absolutely. I'm getting positive feedback from all over Germany through my TV shows.
Things get moving when people have access to material they can discuss, like good books, magazines like "Séparée," and interesting TV shows - and I'm referring to those dealing with traditional forms of sexuality. It's not necessary to always show off the edgiest sex.