Vera Starck-Romanus was one of the leading figures of Swedish sexual education. She was also a strong proponent for the introduction of sexual education in schools.
Vera Starck-Romanus was born in Stockholm. She was the daughter of Gunnar Starck, a lecturer and chemist, and his wife Karolina Rosenbaum. Her maternal aunt was Julia Kinberg, a doctor, feminist, and sexual educator, whose book Handledning i sexuell uppfostran, published in 1909, served as a source of inspiration for Vera Starck-Romanus. In 1934 Vera Starck-Romanus married Ragnar Romanus, a surgeon. They had four sons together, born during the years of 1939 to 1951 and named Gabriel, Bertil, Mikael, and Bill.
Vera Starck-Romanus gained her school-leaving certificate in 1929. She completed her medical training in 1938. Her student years proved demanding as she contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and was subsequently seriously ill for a time. After gaining her medical qualifications she worked as a junior doctor in Helsingborg from 1938–1942, followed by a stint at the St Göran hospital from 1942–1947, and finally at Radiumhemmet from 1947–1958. She specialised in dermatovenereology, namely diseases of the skin and sexually-transmitted diseases. Syphilis and gonorrhoea had long been untreatable and widely spread diseases. It was not until the late 1940s that penicillin was introduced as a cure. According to the Communicable Diseases Act of the day those who suspected they were infected were required by law to seek medical attention.
Upon Ragnar Romanus’ appointment as professor of surgery at the Sahlgrenska hospital in 1956 the whole family moved to Gothenburg. There Vera Starck-Romanus initially worked at the Holterman hospital, a facility for venereal patients, but from 1960 onwards she was employed at the dermatology clinic at the Sahlgrenska hospital until she retired. Vera Starck-Romanus carried on working at the sexual health surgery at Sociala Huset in Gothenburg for several years after retiring.
Vera Starck-Romanus was interested in sexual education throughout her life. She had already made contact with the newly-established Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning (RFSU) (national association for sexual education) in 1933 and during the mid-1940s she began to give lectures for the RFSU summer courses. From 1958–1970 Vera Starck-Romanus was chair of the Gothenburg division of the RFSU and was responsible for running the sexual health advice bureau at Sociala Huset. She was also a member of the RFSU board where she formed a close and treasured collaboration with Elise Ottesen-Jensen.
The issue of sexual education in schools became an important matter for the RFSU during its early years, along with the establishment of advice bureaus. They also wanted to hand out contraception free of charge to the poor and give women the right to free abortions. Another recurring theme of their work was the sexual needs of women. Vera Starck-Romanus defended women’s rights to the same sexual freedoms which men had enjoyed since ancient times. She saw diaphragm trials and extra after-work surgeries as obvious options. She informed the public on sexually-transmitted diseases and campaigned for the rights of homosexuals. Although she initially faced strong opposition later her ideas increasingly gained acceptance. One of her milestone achievements was the provision of free abortion, which became legally enacted in 1975.
Vera Starck-Romanus became a widow after 50 years of marriage and sexuality amongst the elderly became a new point of interest for her. She became a proper celebrity when she began to appear on radio and television to discuss the subject and even more so following the start of her relationship with Thorsten Samuelsson, a doctor whom she met in 1985, and their joint appearances on the Go’kväll TV-programme where they discussed sexuality amongst the aged.
Vera Starck-Romanus was also involved in other political matters. She was one of the co-founders of the Israeli village called Oasis of Peace, where Christians, Jews, and Muslim children attend the same school. Vera Starck-Romanus was also a long-term supporter of the Israeli peace-project called Neve Shalom.
In 1989 Vera Starck-Romanus was awarded the Gothenburg city merit badge. She died in Gothenburg in 2010.