When dating someone from a different country, there are bound to be a plethora of cultural differences and misunderstandings. For me, and for dating a man from Sweden, there has been one topic that continually evokes a dialogue of different views and opinions: sex.
Before I started dating my Swede, and I hate to admit this, I didn’t know too much about Sweden, nor did I think very often about it. Honestly, I could probably tell you Ikea, H&M, Volvo and meatballs, and that would be the extent of my knowledge on the country. Since being formally introduced to Sweden, I have learned about it profusely: from its history to its language, to its food and culture and to its liberal approach to speech and, well, sex.
Now, in America, we have freedom of speech as well. Also, I was by no means raised in a strict religious household. I think we had pretty open dialogues about sex, if I ever wanted to have them, and it was never portrayed as something strictly taboo. However, when it came to sex, I was taught to wait until I was with someone “special” to do it and that it was something that two people do when in “love.” I also wasn’t allowed to watch movies or TV shows that contained “adult content” until I was of the appropriate age, in my parents’ opinions.
The education my boyfriend received on this topic and the attitude that was instilled in him was a little bit different. In our discussions on the topic it seems he was introduced to sex at a much younger age and was taught that it was a thing of pleasure that it was ok to experiment with. Of course he was taught to be safe and to always respect whichever sexual partner he was to have, but he was never told not to do it, and in my opinion, was almost encouraged to try.
Coming from a country where abstinence has been the forerunner in sexual education for so long, this was a little shocking to me. Of course I don’t live under a rock and I know how ridiculous it is to tell hormonal teenagers to just not have sex, but to out rightly tell them to do it, I could never imagine such a thing.
I was shocked even more recently when watching the first episode of Sweden’s Paradise Hotel television show where, on the first night, two of the contestants on the show slept together and the act was played on TV. Yes, we have Big Brother and other similar shows in the U.S. where participants sleep together as well and it is put on TV for all to know about. It is shown in the same way: night vision cameras, mostly just lumps under the covers in the bed, showing just enough movement for you to guess what is going on. But on Swedish TV they leave in all the explicit dialogue of the event so that little is left to the imagination: “Wait, I want to do it doggy style” “No, just stay like this” “Oh, I am coming now..” “Wait for me so we can come together” “No, no I am coming now, ohhh, I’m coming” “Can we do it again in the morning so I can come too?” (this is my attempt to translate this from Swedish, so I apologize if it isn’t quite accurate, but hey, I tried).
This complete lack of privacy was, again, shocking for me. This was on regular television, for anyone to see. My boyfriend argued that it was on later in the evening, so children probably wouldn’t have been able to watch it. But come on, if I can figure out how to watch this show online and in France, any 10 year old Swedish kid could do the same.
The thing that puzzled me the most was how sex could be shown so explicitly and as if it is no big deal on public television. Is this the kind of message that a country wants to be sending to their young children, who are being told it is ok to go out and experiment with sex?
But then I thought, what is the big deal? I myself am making sex taboo—something that should be hidden behind closed doors. Perhaps when putting it out there, completely naked and uncensored (literally) it really does promote a healthier sexual lifestyle for a people.
The Local today published an article about the Green Party politician Sofia Bothorp who made explicit comments about Sweden’s views on sex during a local council debate (http://www.thelocal.se/23506/20091126/). Again, I am pondering that maybe it is me who needs to loosen up and embrace this freedom of sexual expression. Ok, maybe Bothorp should have saved her comments for a more appropriate time and not during a political meeting, but I think she is right to be proud and grateful for the openness Sweden has for speech, expression and sex. I’m not quite sure how that would work for America, and I still do get a bit uncomfortable on the topic, but I’m willing to push my sexual self to not be so rigid.
Who knows, maybe teaching kids about the best ways to pleasure themselves and slang words for their sexual organs is a good thing (see other article on The Local about sex education in Sweden today http://www.thelocal.se/23032/20091102/). Maybe it makes for a happier and healthier people and a more peaceful country. Swedes seem pretty content to me.