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Controversy over sex education brochure

A new sex education brochure for teachers aimed at helping them to raise the subject with kids aged between six and 12 has been strongly criticised by politicians from the ÖVP, FPÖ and BZÖ because of its emphasis on including alternative sexuality.

They branded it "disturbing" and "a discredit to the so-called core family" during a debate in parliament, saying they had received several calls from concerned parents. Catholic groups have also called for the publication to be withdrawn. Critics have said it equates "traditional" heterosexual relationships with same-sex partnerships and is an attack on family values.

But its creators say it merely reflects modern society and also it was important to inform children as the best way of protecting them from abuse.

But despite the fuss the 152-page book "Ganz schön intim" is unlikely to be taken off the market although experts that were behind its creation said they might make some slight modifications.

The book is rather tame on the illustrations and is mainly designed to prepare teachers to instruct school children on sexuality. But it also includes detailed written information on masturbation, homosexuality and intersexuality, the term denoting those born with biological characteristics of both genders.

The brochure aims to teach children to speak openly about sexuality and learn to identify their own limits. "First and foremost, good material for sexual education should not merely cement the status quo. It should surprise, inspire and challenge," write the booklet's creators, from the group Selbstlaut, which seeks to combat sexual abuse and violence. The government hired the group to develop the publication.

Controversially the brochure also presents the use of sperm banks and surrogacy as possible solutions for child-bearing, although both are illegal here in Austria.

Still the government have shown themselves to be largely unmoved by the fuss. "Conservatives and the right wing have always viewed sexual education with suspicion," said Green party member Harald Walser, adding that it is an important step in fighting the sexual abuse of children. "Children find it easier to talk about their own experiences if they are used to confronting adults with embarrassing questions or difficult feelings," he said.

Other groups have also come forward this week to defend the brochure, saying that it merely reflects the realities of today's society. "The whole thing is very user-friendly and practicable," says Olaf Kapella of the Austrian Institute for Family Research at the University of Vienna. He added that teachers in the country are often not trained to give sexual education in schools, making a brochure like "Ganz schön intim" particularly useful and necessary.

For the moment, it seems unlikely that conservatives will succeed in getting the booklet withdrawn. But it may be slightly revised. Kapella noted that a couple of improvements could be made, particularly when it comes to describing where children come from. The list, he notes, begins with adoption, "and is in alphabetical order." He suggests that it might be better to weight the list toward biology.

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