The Archive for Sexology – the World’s
Largest E-learning Project
Erwin J. Haeberle
Founder and Director of the Archive for Sexology
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
For over 30 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been recommending some
special sexological training for all health professionals. Today, the internet has made it
possible to provide this training on a global scale. E-learning courses can be used by
colleges, universities, governmental and non-governmental agencies as well as by
professional organizations to reach distance students all over the world, especially in
developing countries that otherwise lack the necessary resources.
This article describes an “open access” curriculum in sexual health that is freely accessible in
several languages and has already found millions of users in over 100 countries:
Key words: Accessibility, Open distance learning, Open source, Usability
Open access to scientific information is the way of the future. Following repeated
recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO 1975, 2001), The Archive for
Sexology at Humboldt University, Berlin is offering a basic curriculum in sexual health. It
is a global project consisting of six independent, but complementary courses that cover the
most important practical issues:
1. Basic Human Sexual Anatomy and Physiology
2. Human Reproduction,
3. Physical Problems in Females and Males,
4. Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Their Prevention,
5. Sexual Dysfunctions and Their Treatment,
6. Human Sexual Behavior.
These e-learning courses have several advantages:
1. They are and will remain freely accessible.
2. They are designed without any technical gimmicks and do not require the
even on very old and very simple personal computers.
3. The courses do not require any preparation either on the part of the teacher or that
of the student. Indeed, they are written in such a way that anyone capable of reading
at college level can teach and study them without having any prior knowledge of the
4. The courses are easy to use in the classroom. The teacher can simply project the
course on a large screen. The whole content can then be taught step by step by
simple mouse click.
5. They are also easy to use at home. The students can, by mouse click, proceed
step by step at their own pace to the point where they feel ready to take their exams.
Taken together, the courses provide a body of basic knowledge about human sexuality.
Students who have acquired this knowledge can appropriately be awarded a certificate or
diploma. If amended and expanded by a degree-granting institution, the curriculum can also
lead to a B.A. or even an M.A. Those institutions and organizations interested in the courses
can use them as they are now, or they can add their own material. They can also use them
at the undergraduate or graduate level and award a certificate, diploma, or degree for their
"Sexual Health" as an Academic Major or Minor
"Sexual Health" can be studied as a major subject in its own right or as a minor, depending
on the the academic institution. Indeed, the WHO has recommended that "human sexuality
should be encouraged to develop as an autonomous discipline in the education and training
of health professionals". As a minor, it can be added to various established curricula in
education, psychology, criminal law, law enforcement, sociology, social work, nursing, and
public health, to name just a few. In some form, and in some special areas, it can also be a
useful addition to the study of medicine.
Obviously, the courses are also suitable for various forms of continuing education, especially
for the additional qualification of marriage and family counselors, clinical psychologists, social
workers, health workers, teachers, ministers of various religious denominations etc. The
training can take place on a campus or at a training center, or it can be conducted
electronically on a national or even international level. Some agencies and organizations
have found it useful to put the courses - and even my entire web site - on CDs or DVDs and
to distribute these among teachers and students who do not have internet access. This has
been especially successful in developing countries.
Colleges, universities, or organizations wanting to use my courses for a distance study
program will have to add an interactive element of their own. Naturally, this will require an
initial investment on their part. It is an investment, however, that can bring enormous returns.
It will certainly prove helpful to students living in countries that lack the necessary academic
resources. Once the courses become interactive online, far-away students can apply,
register, pay tuition and fees, contact faculty and fellow students, turn in assignments, take
examinations, etc. By the same token, any such program that serves many foreign students
is bound to profit financially. The courses may be especially useful for the world-wide
sexological training of health care professionals and sex educators. This is also one of the
reasons why I am offering the courses in several languages. At this time, my web site has
over 7000 intensive readers every day (i.e. "visitors" reading longer than 30 minutes). If only
0.1 % of these are possible applicants for a distance education program, one is already
talking about 7 candidates daily. Indeed, by attracting large numbers of potential students
from all over the world, my free curriculum can produce a considerable income for academic
institutions and professional organizations.
The present curriculum is an original work, not a compilation of texts taken from other
authors. It is therefore "all of one piece" and internally consistent. The course structure is
quite simple and will quickly reveal itself to every user after the first few mouse clicks. Overall,
while concentrating on the basics, the curriculum tries to make its students aware not only of
the biological, but also of the psycho-social aspects of human sexuality. The courses
therefore paint a larger picture than most textbooks do. The curriculum also takes great care
to describe and explain everything in simple, but precise and objective language and to avoid
prejudicial, illogical, misleading, and otherwise inappropriate scientific and professional terms.
In this respect, my courses differ from most traditional texts. However, the content as such is
not much different and reflects the current consensus in the field. In this sense, the entire
curriculum is definitely a "mainstream" project, presenting the facts as they are seen by the
vast majority of sexologists today. When covering controversial subjects, the courses try to
keep a position of neutrality, presenting both sides of the issue.
As a matter of principle, the curriculum does not reference well-known facts, familiar
quotations and other standard texts that are easily found and verified in the internet with the
help of search engines. A pedantic overabundance of footnotes would have needlessly
cluttered the screen. Fortunately, the large web site of the Archive contains a great deal of
additional reading material. Thus, many links inside the courses lead directly to books and
papers in my online library. This a great advantage in countries and regions that lack
adequate academic resources. If students follow all the links and read all items on the lists of
additional reading, they will receive a more comprehensive education than they might have
In the long run, it will not be possible to keep scientific information restricted to paying
customers. Eventually, all of it will become freely available in the internet and other electronic
media. There will be only two obvious exceptions: 1. Research that is classified by
governments and 2. research that is undertaken by private companies and kept secret for
business reasons. Governments will always try to protect its secrets from foreign spies, just
as businesses will try to prevent industrial espionage.
However, scientific research publicly supported, conducted and discussed in universities
does not fall into either of these categories. Such research has always been published in
print, but the new electronic media are expanding its reach and increasing the speed of its
distribution. They are also changing the economic ground rules, because they can make all
public research freely accessible to anyone who is interested. Still, so far, few academic
institutions seem to have grasped the implications of the electronic revolution. Most of them
continue to restrict their information to their own pre-paying students. Yet increasingly these
same students can find comparable or even identical information free of charge in the
internet, very often in updated form. A similar observation can be made with regard to the
publishers of scientific journals. Some of them sense that the economic ground is shifting
beneath their feet. Therefore, they insist on owning the copyright to all articles they publish
and try to restrict access to subscribers or pre-paying online readers. Quite clearly, this is not
in the interest of their authors who receive neither honoraria nor royalties and who would
welcome more readers. Indeed, the unpaid authors will eventually come to see this
arrangement as an unnecessary obstacle to the free exchange of ideas. Since many of the
journals are the official organs of scientific organizations and are largely financed through
membership fees, the members will one day realize that they can "cut out the middleman"
and reach a much larger readership by publishing freely accessible issues directly online.
In the end, the remaining resistance to "open access" will prove useless. Indeed, thanks to
powerful sponsors, some of the world's best universities (Harvard, MIT) already provide
valuable information at no cost to the reader. Similarly, more and more free online journals
offer serious, peer-reviewed scientific articles. Given the growing world-wide demand for
higher education and its increasing cost, the general trend seems clear: Libraries will not
have the money for the purchase of every new book and journal subscription. Neither will
electronic journals be able to charge reader's fees. After all, once a text is available in the
internet, it is easily copied by "authorized" readers and distributed to "unauthorized" friends
and colleagues, and these, in turn, can do the same. Trying to prevent this kind of
multiplication will prove to be a futile exercise. This means that, in the future, scientific
articles will either be free and online, or they will find no readers and will end up being
ignored. For this reason alone, important scientists and scholars will insist on letting their
own texts appear in the internet free of charge. By the same token, professors will no longer
be able to give standard lectures in overcrowded classrooms when their colleagues in other
cities or countries make the same content freely available in the internet (again, Harvard and
the MIT are harbingers of things to come). In view of the growing online competition, I also
do not see a great future for the traditional textbook. In short: It may take some time, but
eventually universities and academic authors will have no choice but to offer free access to
all of their research and to look for alternative ways of financing its publication.
The entire Archive web site is an attempt to anticipate the inevitable and to hasten its arrival.
When it comes to teaching sexual health, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. The WHO
Reports contain very clear blueprints for action. They spell out who should learn what from
whom and provide detailed outlines for the necessary courses. It is now up to those active in
this field to take advantage of this free offer. Colleges, universities, professional associations,
national and international agencies as well as non-governmental organizations – they all are
invited to make full use of this curriculum:
1. World Health Organization (WHO), Education and Treatment in Human Sexuality: The
Training of Health Professionals, Technical Report Series Nr. 572, 1975
2. World Health Organization (WHO), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO): Promotion
of Sexual Health: Recommendations for Action, Proceedings of a Regional Consultation,
Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, May 19-22, 2000, published in 2001
Founder and Director of the Archive for Sexology:
Prof. Dr. phil. Erwin J. Haeberle, Ed. D., M.A.
b. 30 March 1936 in Dortmund, Germany
1956 - 63 Studied Drama, German, English, and French Literature at the universities
of Cologne, Freiburg Br., Glasgow, and Heidelberg.
1964 M. A. Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
1966 Dr. phil. in American Literature, Heidelberg
1966 - 68 Postdoctoral Fellow in American Studies, Yale University
1968-69 Postdoctoral Fellow in Japanese & Korean Studies, UC Berkeley
1977 Ed.D. in Sexology, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San
1977-88 Full Professor, The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San
Francisco, with the following interruptions:
1982-84 Research Associate, Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
1983-84 Visiting Professor, University of Kiel Medical School, Germany
1984 Distinguished Visiting Professor, Department of Biology, San Francisco
1984-85 Visiting Professor, University of Geneva Medical School, Switzerland
1988-94 Director, Information & Documentation, AIDS Center, Federal Health Office,
1991-93 Visiting Professor, Humboldt University, Berlin
1994-2001 Founder and Director, Archive for Sexology, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin
2001 - Director, Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology, Humboldt University,
2005 - Honorary Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine,
University of Hong Kong
(Some of the above positions were held simultaneously.)