Sweden's previous cinematic effort to teach people about the birds and the bees, “Language of love” (Ur kärlekens språk), came out in 1969 and is often cited as one of the reasons why the country became synonymous with sex.
The film, which featured live actors, contained authentic scenes of intercourse and masturbation, and despite the fact that many of the scenes consist of serious round table discussions, the film sparked protests in the UK and was confiscated at the US border, spawning a free speech case that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court.
In the intervening years, societal attitudes toward sex and talking about sex have changed considerably. The advent of the internet has also made images and information about sex more readily available to young people and adults alike.
Despite increased access to information about sex, young people in Sweden nevertheless seem in need of a refresher course. Chlamydia infection rates are on the rise, and many seem to be lacking basic knowledge about human procreation.
Thus, public health and education officials in Sweden thought the time was ripe for a new film to increase sexual awareness among Swedish teens.
Entitled “Sex on the map”, the new film, co-produced by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) and the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company (UR), is the first sex-ed film for Swedish schools for 25 years.
It's set in a school library where five teenagers, Abdu, Melody, Kim, Hanna and William, have met to do some extra maths study. The stand-in teacher, Jao, knows less about algebra and equations than he does about what's really on the teenage mind: sex.
While the set up may sound like something out of a low-budget porn production, “Sex on the map” is about as far from the San Fernando valley as the Ice Hotel.
In a frank and open way, the maths teacher explains everything about sex to the students, from the anatomy of the genitals (including the ‘vaginal corona', as the hymen was recently christened by RFSU), to the act of sex in all its variations and interpretations.
The subject matter in the film, which ranges from the most basic sexual information to quite complicated emotional and physical issues, is based on real questions that Swedish teenagers have asked RFSU.
Rather than relying on live actors like “Language of love”, the new 28-minute film is animated, featuring detailed anatomical drawings and intimate encounters between semi-life like cartoon characters.
The film's writer and director, Annamaria Dahlöf, found in researching “Sex on the map” that teenager's questions about sex had become more and more basic in recent years. It wasn't uncommon to be asked “Can you get pregnant if you have a bath in the same water that a boy has ejaculated in?” she told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
Sweden has led the way in terms of frank discussions of sex for generations, and sex education has been obligatory in Swedish schools since 1955. The open attitude towards sex is largely thanks to the RFSU organisation, which was founded in 1933.
From its inception, the organisation has fought for issues such as the right to an abortion and contraception, sex education in schools and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. When it began, RFSU was funded through sales of prophylactics. Even today a large part of the group's income comes from the sale of condoms, as well as other products including lubricants, dildos, vibrators and pregnancy testing kits.
A sexuality education expert at RFSU, Hans Olsson, served as project leader for the film and did his best to ensure the accuracy of both its anatomical and emotional content.
According to Olsson, it was high time for a new sex education film for Sweden. The film shown currently shown in schools is a Danish film that made 25 years ago. Being an animation the film has stood the test of time well, but things needed to be updated for a modern audience.
Although the new film is very explicit, Olsson doesn't think people will be too shocked by it.
“We have already previewed it to a group of 300 people in Gothenburg and it got a good reaction. The audience wasn't shocked as there's nothing new in terms of its explicit content. Most people have seen sex on the Internet,” Olsson explains.
When it comes to grading Sweden's efforts to promote sexual awareness, Olsson gives Sweden mixed marks. By some measures, Sweden is doing very well in comparison to other European countries. There are fewer teenage mothers than in the UK, for example, and attitudes towards sex and sexuality are open.
Overall, says Olsson, Swedish teenagers are “satisfied with their sex lives”.
On the other hand, infection rates for Chlamydia have been on the rise over the last few years and condom use is particularly lax among the 19- to 21-year-olds. However, if a sexually transmitted disease is caught or there is an unwanted pregnancy, there is less of a taboo in Sweden to talk about it and seek help.
The fact that the new film is animated makes it a lot easier to show sex in both an explicit and anatomically detailed way. On an emotional level, cartoon characters also allow the viewer to detach themselves from the action.
Current plans call for it to be shown throughout the Nordic region. A version with English subtitles will also be released, although there are no plans as yet to distribute the film to the wider international market.
And while the new film probably won't generate as much controversy as Sweden's last foray into sex education cinema, its creators hope it will help young Swedes learn and talk about sex.
The philosophy of RFSU, and by extension, the forthcoming film, is to be non-judgmental about sex and instead to offer factual advice, rather than take a moral stance.
“Society has to accept that young people have sex and that it is a part of their lives. At RFSU we aim to support rather than restrict young people, in order to help them make healthy decisions,” says Olsson.
“Sex on the map” (Sex på kartan) will have its premiere broadcast on Monday 17th January at 10.30pm on Svergies Television (SVT 1).