How a mobile App Breaks Taboos Playfully
The Love Land Journey to Improve Sexual and Reproductive Health among Young People
Von Karin Stierlin
When I developed Love Land - the board game for use in Swiss schools, I did not expect that it would change my life so dramatically a few years later. Not only did the game bring me to Indonesia, South Africa and additional countries in Europe for testing and playing, it also motivated me into the global mission to break the taboo around sexual and reproductive health, especially among young people. Not with a board game today, but with Love Land - the mobile App that unites Digital Health and playful learning.
The Love Land - App. Photo: ©
“Sorry Madam, but this is so boring!”
Many years ago, when I started my new profession as a sexual and reproductive health teacher in Switzerland, I faced feedbacks from students in the age between 13 and 16 years on the provided teaching material that could be summarized in one word: boring. I recall myself holding monologues on STD/HIV Prevention, mainly with theoretical content. One of the few highlights of the session was rolling down a condom over a banana.
Love Land, the board game – a way towards interactive sexuality education
This insight was the birth of Love Land - the board game. As a former teacher I had experienced the impressive potential of playful learning. In addition to trigger the motivation it also enables to break taboos around sensitive topics, such a sexual health. The playground of Love Land, an Island world, represents young people’s key tasks in a metaphoric manner: Find orientation, discover yourself and the world, gain experiences and make your own decisions.
Love Land - The Board Game. Photo: ©
Each Island picks up a specific topic in the field of STD/HIV Prevention such as safer sex, proper use of condoms and responsible behavior. It is a combination of practical and theoretical learning in a safe and appealing learning environment. Love Land can be played in the whole classroom and no individual gets exposed.
Sexual education is a global task
Love Land was also tested in Medan, the capital and largest city of the Indonesian province of North Sumatra. The numerous sessions with Indonesian teenagers were one of my most important key insights in my career: The topics around sexual and reproductive health are independent of religion and/or culture. Young people on our planet are confronted with the same challenges and tasks.
Love Land - The Board Game explained in Indonesia. Photo: ©
Limitations of the board game
The various experiences with the Love Land - the board game have shown that young individuals are highly motivated to learn about self-determined and responsible sexuality. The potential of playful methods for age-appropriate sexual education to overcome sexual taboos also has been confirmed. Nevertheless, a board game is not scalable in an efficient manner due to high distribution and training costs. In addition, the inclusion of further relevant topics and updates is strongly limited and thus cannot provide a holistic sexual and reproductive health education.
Yet the global numbers of consequences due to a lack of sexual education are speaking for themselves: Young women aged 15–24 years are twice as likely to be living with HIV than men (UNAIDS, 2019) and at least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15–19 years in the developing world (Darroch et al. 2016).
Digital Health – the Big potential to reduce Big numbers
We therefore decided to focus on Digital Health and to transfer the Board Game into a mobile App. An App has the potential to reach adolescents and young people across countries worldwide, in an age-appropriate and effective manner. Based on the WHO definition, Digital Health holds the following potential:
“The use and scale up of digital health solutions can revolutionize how people worldwide achieve higher standards of health, and access services to promote and protect their health and well-being. Digital health provides opportunities to accelerate the progress in attaining health and well-being related Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs).” (World Health Organization, n.d.)
For Love Land – the App this means that it is effectively extendable with additional topics (Islands) and adaptable to latest health knowledge and cultural standards. Even the immediate development of an emergency Islands, e.g. Covid-19 is possible. From a scientific angle, the App enables secure data collection for the evaluation of outcomes like user behavior and behavior change.
Conditions and potential of mobile sexual education
The content of Love Land – the App is based on the International technical guidance on sexuality education, written by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO 2018).
In the foreword of these guidelines the General-Director of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay writes: “…It benefits from a new review of the current evidence and reaffirms the position of sexuality education within a framework of human rights and gender equality. It promotes structured learning about sex and relationships in a manner that is positive, affirming, and centered on the best interest of the young person.” (UNESCO 2018, p. 3)
In addition to the inclusion of the content and vision of the guidelines of UNESCO, Love Land – the App provides a safe and risk-free environment. It means that the teenagers can play, take decisions and try out. All this without any severe consequences on the teenagers. “Studies showed that the use of games for sexual education «reinforce adolescents’ healthy sexual decision-making and refrain from engaging in risky sexual behaviour». (Bouris et al., 2016).
In Love Land- the App the player is the hero and helps virtual characters who are confronted with topics in the field of sexual and reproductive health that are often tabooed. On Condom Island for example, the player meets Johnny who is madly in love, yet too shy to ask about information on the proper use of condoms.
The player is challenged to help Johnny by solving tasks that foster:
a). knowledge: find the three components of a safe condom (quality seal, expiry date and size),
b). decision making: select the correct condom package out of a collection with missing/wrong information, and
c). communication skills: choose the suitable answer for Johnny to start the conversation on safer sex and contraception with his girlfriend. For more information, the player finds a link in The App to an external website with additional contents. Also, the App will be linked with local help desks in future.
Limitations of the App
An App cannot replace the real discussion in peer groups. However, the App offers more privacy and is globally accessible, also for young people in less wealthy areas, as Smartphones and internet have become more affordable. And: there are no limits to add more Islands with more content or to update existing content with new knowledge.
Current state of the App – we have a BETA Version:
Feasibility testing with closed groups in South Africa and Switzerland is ongoing. Based on the promising feedbacks from students like “why aren’t there more Islands to discover?” we decided to extend the existing Beta Version and make it available to an even larger testing audience. Our Game Design Team, based in Cape Town, SA is currently working on it.
For the Market Version 1.0, including the launch in Switzerland and South Africa, we are currently in the fundraising phase. In addition, we are constantly extending our international cooperation network. The Market Version 1.0 includes ten Islands, based on the insights and outcomes of the Beta version testing. In addition, it guaranties absolute data security. From the design angle it will provide polished graphics and sound effects as well as multiple languages.
The non-for-profit (2014) was founded by Karin Stierlin. It focuses on breaking globally tabooed topics by developing playful and mobile learning programs that are globally applicable. So far, the taboobreaker association has been supported by several foundations for the realization of the current and all former projects. www.taboobreaker.com
- Bouris, A.; Mancino, J.; Jagoda, P.; Hill, B.J.; Gilliam, M. Reinvigorating adolescent sexuality education through alternate reality games: The case of The Source. Sex Educ. 2016, 16, 353–367. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283465411_Reinvigorating_adolescent_sexuality_education_through_alternate_reality_games_the_case_of_The_Source
Darroch J, Woog V, Bankole A, Ashford LS. (2016). Adding it up: Costs and benefits of meeting the contraceptive needs of adolescents. New York: Guttmacher Institute; https://www.guttmacher.org/report/adding-it-meeting-contraceptive-needs-of-adolescents
UNAIDS (2019). Fact Sheet. Global HIV Statistics. https://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/UNAIDS_FactSheet_en.pdf
- UNESCO (2018). International technical guidance on sexuality education. An evidence-informed approach. https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/ITGSE.pdf
- World Health Organization. (n.d.). Consulted at https://www.who.int/health-topics/digital-health#tab=tab_1
Karin Stierlin is the founder of the taboobreaker association and the developer of Love Land. She is a sexual and reproductive health expert and has gained a lot of knowledge and expertise during her 15 years of professional and international experience in the fields of lecturing, teaching in the field of sexual and reproductive health.