Playing Doctor: Herbert Rogge et al

(Last Updated On June 11, 2022)

A few years ago, I acquired this understated but frank sex education book published in Germany. I was told it was a cult classic in its time, but the dealer may have been buttering my bread to make a sale.

The book is called Tanja+Fabian (1974) and was published by Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn. With text written by Joachim Brauer and Gerhard Regel, it is a short picture book meant for children ages 4–8. It was groundbreaking, in a sense, because it reflected the emerging liberal attitudes of the time.

Tanja and Fabian are friends and share a lot of experiences together. In one of the first images, we see a gender role reversal. While Tanja plays with trains, Fabian is playing with dolls.

Herbert Rogge - Tanja+Fabian (1974) (1)

Herbert Rogge – Tanja+Fabian (1974) (1)

Tanja lives alone with her mother. The text explains that even though everyone has a mother and father, they don’t always live together. Tanja helps her mother with household chores and shopping so that they’ll have time for a little fun at the evening meal.

Herbert Rogge - Tanja+Fabian (1974) (2)

Herbert Rogge – Tanja+Fabian (1974) (2)

Before bath time, Tanja takes the time to examine her body and notes that she is different from her mother, most notably the lack of breasts and public hair. The book explains that when she grows up, she will look like her mom and will then be a woman.

Herbert Rogge - Tanja+Fabian (1974) (3)

Herbert Rogge – Tanja+Fabian (1974) (3)

A similar anatomical comparison is made between Fabian and his father and all relevant organs are named and described. Fabian has a baby brother named Torsten. When Fabian’s mother was pregnant, Tanja came to visit and investigate. It is also explained that men do not become pregnant or give birth.

Herbert Rogge - Tanja+Fabian (1974) (4)

Herbert Rogge – Tanja+Fabian (1974) (4)

The book is quite explicit, showing a picture of the fetus and even a picture of the birth. The pain of childbirth is also mentioned and that the father is allowed to be nearby. Nursing is shown and discussed as well as Fabian’s jealousy that he does not have his parents to himself anymore. There is even a frank explanation of the parents making love, how the penis gets erect and the use of birth control.

Tanja and Fabian play in the garden, but because it is hot that day, they take off their clothes and splash each other with water.

Herbert Rogge - Tanja+Fabian (1974) (5)

Herbert Rogge – Tanja+Fabian (1974) (5)

As you can imagine, I got a real kick out of this one. The children decide to play doctor so that the entire body can be seen and examined. Again, the traditional gender roles are reversed, with Fabian on the table and the girls as doctors.

Herbert Rogge - Tanja+Fabian (1974) (6)

Herbert Rogge – Tanja+Fabian (1974) (6)

Tanja and Fabian like each other very much and want to marry each other some day—but not until they are grown up.

Herbert Rogge - Tanja+Fabian (1974) (7)

Herbert Rogge – Tanja+Fabian (1974) (7)

The notion of playing doctor is sometimes a topic of amusement, but there is ample evidence that boys and girls, generation after generation, reinvent this game. It is also fodder for bawdy jokes as when Hawkeye Pierce played by Alan Alda (M*A*S*H, Chief Surgeon Who?,1972) remarks that he wanted to be a doctor as far back as he could remember: “Just ask any little girl I grew up with!”

10 thoughts on “Playing Doctor: Herbert Rogge et al

  1. The doctor play scene reminds me that at the turn of 1960s and 1970s many leftist intellectuals believed in non-coercive, anti-authoritarian education allowing children total freedom, including also the liberation and emancipation of child sexuality. Gerhard Bott’s documentary “Erziehung zum Ungehorsam” (Education for disobedience) was broadcast on ARD television in December 1969. I have found only a low resolution copy on YouTube The scene at 1:45 shows a bunch of preschool children engaged in a doctor play. It reminds the picture of Fabian: the boy is stripped so that he can be examined and the clothed ‘doctors’ rub lotion on his penis. At the end of the scene, the camera slightly pans over to reveal that the play was witnessed by a preschool teacher who sits in a corner of the room smiling, in a silent and discrete way, without disturbing the children. The first part of the movie is also interesting. Starting from 12:33, a group of kindergarten kids can be seen walking down the streets, some of them completely naked. Interestingly, the passersby were indifferent to the sight. Perhaps it would be good to have a separate post about this document and the anti-authoritarian education movement in general?

    • Interesting supplemental information and, indeed, we may need to follow up on these. There are already a handful of sex education films that are quite liberal in the Pigtails library. -Ron

      • Ron, would you perhaps be able to shed some light on these films with the blog? I know my professor has cited your blog a few times during our lectures, and has used this specific post as an example of the difference in educational literature attitudes between modern time and the 1970s-1980s.

        I am sure I would not be alone in appreciating the ability to see the differences between modern sex education films and similar films from the 1970s and 1980s. Germany is such an interesting quagmire with educational material specifically, so I would definitely be curious to see how different our current films are when compared with those ones.

        • There is certainly a difference in time periods. The 1970s was a time of frank sexuality, a backlash to an overly-controlled society. But then there is always a counter-backlash. Social trends tend to follow a pendulum pattern. We are currently experiencing a reassessment of the overly protective attitudes toward children right now. Anyway, liberals really believed that open-minded attitudes and sex education would be a panacea. We are still in it’s aftermath. People are surprised to learn that I don’t whole-heartedly support that. I am not opposed to sex research but human sexuality has a natural circumspection that works and cannot be realistically suppressed. Good luck in your research. Some relevant films are listed on our Pipeline Films page. -Ron

    • UPDATE
      That You Tube link now comes up as:

      “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines”

      Unfortunately not a surprise, because in recent years all depictions of child nudity have been taken down from You Tube.

  2. It should be pointed out that in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s, sex education books were different. Even in those published the United States, it was acceptable to include photographs of nude children, as a way of directly educating a child about what the opposite sex looks like.

    In present times, a sex-ed book provokes angry protests if it even dares to include DRAWINGS of the bodies of children and/or adults.

    Some such books were:

    “GROWING UP” By Karl De Schweinitz (Specifically the 1968 edition)
    [Caution: There exist some other books, on other subjects, with that same TITLE.]

    “WHAT IS A GIRL? WHAT IS A BOY?” By Stephanie Waxman

    “GROWING UP FEELING GOOD” A later work by Stephanie Waxman [Again, CAUTION: There is a least one other completely different book, by somebody else, with the same title.]

    “BODIES” By Barbara Brenner With Photographs by George Ancona

    “MAN AND WOMAN” By Julian May (Part of the series “Follett Family Life Education Program”)

    “MAKING BABIES” By Sara Bonnett Stein Photographs by Doris Pinney (Part of the “Open Family” series)

  3. I wanted to relay some comments I received in a private email. -Ron

    I noticed that on picture 6 that there is another child on a table in the background. This picture reminds me of a few photos that I saw years ago. I can’t recall the photographer, but they showed something almost identical – a German preschool or kindergarten where children were playing ‘doctor’ in exactly the same way – even down to total lack of clothing on the patients’ part and the use of lotion. (I note the two ‘doctors’ are rubbing lotion on Fabian.) In the photos I saw, two showed some children, boys and girls, lying down on pillows or ottomans being tended to by the ‘doctors’ (here the ‘doctors’ were also unclothed in addition to the patients, with one ‘doctor’ applying lotion to a girl ‘patient’). Another picture showed a girl giving ‘birth’ to a baby doll with the help of a ‘nurse’ and ‘doctor’ (here, also, all three were unclothed). The ‘pregnant’ girl was lying with her head and shoulders against a wall, while the ‘nurse’ held the doll over her lower abdomen – the doll in a head down position just as with real babies.

    I found these pictures in a German photographic yearbook from 1975 (? – in that time frame, anyway) and were part of a photo essay.

    It got me wondering if this type of exploratory play was common at the time in German preschools or kindergartens and was part of a curriculum. And, was this type of play helpful in educating children about their bodies and pregnancy (after all, the ‘nurse’ had the doll in the correct position!)? Maybe some readers from Germany could shed some light on the subject. With today’s political climate I doubt this type of play is still done.

    It is also interesting to note that this book came out at about the same time as Will McBride’s ‘Show Me’. Were ‘Tanja and Fabian’ and ‘Show Me’ just a couple of examples of this genre and were there more published?

    It would be curious indeed to discover that this kind of curriculum was taking place freely during the mid-1970s and is not an isolated case.

  4. Can any reader here recommend any OTHER books of this nature:
    That is, European sex-education books with photographs rather than just drawings.
    And not already mentioned on this site, like this one and “Show Me!”.

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