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Carnal knowledge: A sex scandal made in Sweden

Carnal knowledge: A sex scandal made in Sweden
Classroom warfare has erupted in Sweden as conservative commentators are appalled by what they view as a "try everything" approach to sex education in the nation's schools, writes The Local's Christine Demsteader.

A is for anal sex, B is for blow job and C is for clitoris; the ABC of sex education in Swedish schools has been branded by some as carnal knowledge too candid for the classroom, following an exposé on Swedish television.

A war of words broke out recently after cameras followed a lesson at an Uppsala school for the TV programme Skolfront, which was recently aired on public broadcaster SVT. The report was billed as a behind-the-scenes look at sex education today.

There’s an echo of giggles from a group of 9th-grade boys when asked for slang terms to describe their genitalia. Meanwhile, girls stare at a whiteboard drawing to correctly locate the clitoris. The tutor sings a fanfare as she hits the spot with her marker.

This is Sweden’s take on human biology; the birds and the bees are banished and replaced with the topics of ‘cock knowledge and cunt facts’ (kukkunskap och fittfakta).

Helpful tips are bandied about as free condoms are handed around. “The anus doesn’t have any natural lubricant,” the tutor tells them. “So that’s important if you are thinking about having anal sex.”

The class is run by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) who have been offering the service to schools for the last 13 years. Sex education has been mandatory in Sweden since 1956, but some schools opt to outsource lessons to the organisation.

The programme also interviewed shocked parents who labelled the lessons, “vulgar,” and “too advanced.”

The debate was then taken up in the media with outcries that studies of “sexual techniques” are not suitable for 14-year-old students who are under the legal age of consent.

Further criticism suggesting that the lessons fuel a “sexualised society” has come as a surprise to RFSU.

“I didn’t expect that kind of reaction,” Pelle Ullholm, teaching officer at RFSU told The Local. “I thought we could broaden the subject and talk about sexual practice as a subject for knowledge, not only values.”

Their philosophy maintains that knowledge empowers young people to get to know their body in a healthy manner.

“For example, there are many people in Sweden that don’t know the clitoris is 7-10 centimetres long,” Ullholm adds.

“By giving young people information they can make their own decisions, feel good about themselves and take responsibility. In that way we can prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexual diseases. ”

According to RFSU, the need for their services comes from a lack of expertise in the existing education system.

“Sweden has a reputation of being open about sexuality but we don’t talk about it,” Ullholm says.

“Only six percent of teachers are qualified to give sex education classes. Schools invite us to do this because they don’t have the means to do it themselves.”

Tutors are typically in their early 20s and the teaching style is on a level with the youth of today.

“We use their kind of language,” he adds. “We talk about what happens when you get sexually aroused and then you don’t tend to think of genitals in a biological way.”

Ullholm says the fear of promoting sex this way is largely unfounded.

“We don’t think that abstinence is a method,” he says. “But we know that with the right information young people tend to become sexually active later in life. And studies show the school is the best environment to get these messages across.”

Yet, the privilege of educating their children on such issues should remain with the parents, according to journalist and commentator Roland Poirier Martinsson who joined the debate in the Skolfront programme.

In a follow up article in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper he considers the lessons nothing short of sexual propaganda and compares the style of teaching to what can be found on the sports field.

“Try everything, train hard and specialise later, like a decathlete,” he wrote. “Do parents know that schoolchildren are learning anal sex techniques in the classroom?”

Since the lessons have come to light, Poirier Martinsson advocates the management of sex education by schools alone.

“An organisation with liberal ideals should not be brought to run classes like these,” he tells The Local.

“It would be equally wrong to bring in the Catholic Church to teach the subject.

“A lot of people in Sweden don’t reflect much on these matters,” he adds. “But if this were to happen in the US there would be outrage.”

While admitting his view is shared by a minority in Sweden he maintains there is a consensus that basic morals are at stake.

“The conservative religious faction is small in Sweden,” he adds. “But the opinion that sex should not be perceived as a hobby – like playing soccer – is something a lot of Swedes agree with. Children should be taught to abstain from sex until they are older,” he says.

In his article, Roland Poirier Martinsson encourages parents to contact schools to control the way sex education is being conducted.

However, new legislation to be introduced in June 2010 will lessen the power of parents to remove their children from class, Bertil Östberg, state secretary at the Ministry of Education tells The Local.

“All students have a right to the knowledge as stated in the curriculum,” he says.

“So the possibility to skip certain parts of the curriculum in school will be reduced in the future. How sex education lessons are implemented remains something that the individual schools can decide for themselves.”

RFSU have no plans to change or review their approach. “We are staying with our programme,” Pelle Ullholm says.

“And we will be happy to continue this debate because we are sure we are doing it in the right way.”

Those at Sweden’s Ministry of Education and other government officials can take the opportunity to brush up on their own cock knowledge and cunt facts this week: RFSU is staging a special sex education lesson for politicians in a makeshift classroom at the Swedish Parliament.

The aim is to further discussions to make sex education mandatory in teacher training courses.

It is unclear as to whether anal lubrication is on the agenda.

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