New sexuality education materials for teenagers and young adults with learning difficulties

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In future, teenagers and young adults with learning difficulties should be given the opportunity to find out about the body, love and sexuality independently or with support of their own choosing. An international project by Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and the German Federal Center for Health Education has developed new materials for this purpose. These include a digital game on friendship, love and consent.

Sexual self-determination, social participation and the protection of sexual integrity are all part of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. ’Even if it is often taboo in our society: Young people with learning disabilities have the same need for friendship, love and sexuality as everyone else,’ says Daniel Kunz, lecturer and researcher at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU). He goes on to explain that access to sexual education is much more difficult for them, however. Parents and professionals in education and childcare regularly feel overwhelmed when it comes to explaining relationship and sexuality-related topics to this target group. The available sexuality education material is also often incomprehensible for young people with learning difficulties.

This is why the HSLU has joined forces with the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) to implement the ’herzfroh 2.0’ project. This is a further development of the successful sex education manual ’herzfroh’. This was taken over and distributed by the HSLU after the death of the author Aiha Zemp. The materials have been in use in Switzerland since 2007 and played a key role in uncovering the biggest abuse scandal to come to light in Swiss care homes in 2011 because they taught those affected self-protection skills. The follow-up project will bring this successful series of booklets into the digital age and further develop its content for the new target group of teenagers and young adults with learning difficulties. This will give them access to sexuality education that is appropriate to their abilities.

Important contribution to equal opportunities

The new materials are intended to meet the special information and support needs of young people with learning difficulties and translate them into the digital age. They were therefore developed in a participatory process with young people and young adults from the target group. The six new booklets on the topics of ’Friendship and love’, ’Body and puberty’, ’Contraception’, ’Diversity’, ’Sexuality’ and ’Boundaries’ are now also available digitally. They are written in simple language and supplemented with illustrations to make them easier to understand. ’Digitalization gives the target group low-threshold access to educational material,’ summarizes Kunz. ’In this way, we are making an important contribution to equal health opportunities and social participation for young people with learning difficulties,’ says the project manager.

Digital game helps distinguish between love and friendship

An important component of the new materials is a narrative serious game developed by researchers from the HSLU Department of Computer Science. In the game, players take control of protagonists who interact with AI characters. Depending on the decisions players make, they either remain friends or develop a romantic relationship. The game teaches how a relationship can be formed or how to recognize whether another person finds you attractive. ’In the broadest sense, it’s about being able to differentiate between friendship and love, and in a narrower sense, it’s about recognizing what consensual action is,’ summarizes Daniel Kunz.

herzfroh 2.0
The materials of ’herzfroh 2.0’ are barrier-free and can be accessed on and integrated on

People with learning difficulties
The target group of ’herzfroh 2.0’ are teenagers and young adults with learning difficulties who, rejecting the terms ’intellectual disability’ and ’learning disability’, which are perceived as discriminatory, use the term ’people with learning difficulties’ for themselves. The materials have adopted this term as an appropriate way of addressing the target group.

More about the project

In our article on News & Stories, we delve even deeper into the topic, provide insights into the serious game developed and talk to the developer Ariana Huwyler.