Sweden launches sex books for disabled teens

A series of sex education books has been launched to help Swedish teens with special needs get to grips with puberty, love and masturbation. The Local has spoken to the teacher behind the project.

Sweden launches sex books for disabled teens
A new series of sex education books has been launched. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Puberty can be difficult enough for the average Swedish teenager. But how do you explain this challenging transition from childhood to adulthood to a child with special needs?

“Ten years ago I talked to a mother whose daughter was autistic and was wondering how to discuss menstruation with her when the time came,” Margareta Nymansson, one of the authors behind a new series of textbooks for special needs education dealing with sex, love and puberty, told The Local on Monday, explaining how the project began.

“I wrote a book explaining that all girls bleed and what happens when you do and when she got her first period she was not worried because she was prepared for it, in fact she felt proud,” she said.

A decade later, she and her colleagues Vija Bjelvenfeldt and Hillevi Tärmö have now, with the help of the education department at Uppsala Council, put together a book series designed to help pupils with special needs navigate thorny areas such as puberty, love and sex.

“It is a sensitive topic and therefore a topic where special needs education is very behind. We always felt it was something that had to be taught in class but we never had the right material. These books are supposed to form part of that future material,” said Nymansson.

She explains that children with special needs often struggle with nuances, so the idea is to explain these concept in a straightforward way.

For example, 'sex' in Swedish, which means both sexual intercourse and the number six, can be confusing. Instead the books use the slang word 'knulla' (best translated as 'to fuck'), which may be perceived as vulgar, but has the benefit of being unambiguous.

“We don't necessarily feel comfortable using it ourselves, but it is a word that many understand,” said Nymansson.

One book explains the love someone has for their mum, dad or pet and then when they get older and become a teenager, the different kind of love a boy may instead feel for a girl or for another boy. Another discusses masturbation.

“It talks about where and when you are allowed to masturbate and where you are not,” said Nymansson.

Yet another book, which is still in the making, discusses the right to refuse physical contact.

“It is about the right to say no, that nobody is allowed to do anything to you that you don't want them to do. It's not unusual that girls with disabilities get abused,” said Nymansson.

Sex education has been a compulsory subject in Swedish schools since 1955. But taboos are still being broken in the Nordic country, famous for its liberal stance on gender norms and sexual relations.

Earlier this year the new word 'klittra' was adopted by campaign group RFSU for female masturbation after a nationwide competition to come up with a term.


Swedish opposition proposes ‘rapid tests for ADHD’ to cut gang crime

The Moderate Party in Stockholm has called for children in so called "vulnerable areas" to be given rapid tests for ADHD to increase treatment and cut gang crime.

Swedish opposition proposes 'rapid tests for ADHD' to cut gang crime

In a press release, the party proposed that treating more children in troubled city areas would help prevent gang crime, given that “people with ADHD diagnoses are “significantly over-represented in the country’s jails”. 

The idea is that children in so-called “vulnerable areas”, which in Sweden normally have a high majority of first and second-generation generation immigrants, will be given “simpler, voluntary tests”, which would screen for ADHD, with those suspected of having the neuropsychiatric disorder then put forward for proper evaluations to be given by a child psychiatrist. 

“The quicker you can put in place measures, the better the outcomes,” says Irene Svenonius, the party’s leader in the municipality, of ADHD treatment, claiming that children in Sweden with an immigrant background were less likely to be medicated for ADHD than other children in Sweden. 

In the press release, the party said that there were “significant differences in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD within Stockholm country”, with Swedish-born children receiving diagnosis and treatment to a higher extent, and with ADHD “with the greatest probability” underdiagnosed in vulnerable areas. 

At a press conference, the party’s justice spokesman Johan Forsell, said that identifying children with ADHD in this areas would help fight gang crime. 

“We need to find these children, and that is going to help prevent crime,” he said. 

Sweden’s climate minister Annika Strandhäll accused the Moderates of wanting to “medicate away criminality”. 

Lotta Häyrynen, editor of the trade union-backed comment site Nya Mitten, pointed out that the Moderates’s claim to want to help children with neuropsychiatric diagnoses in vulnerable areas would be more credible if they had not closed down seven child and youth psychiatry units. 

The Moderate Party MP and debater Hanif Bali complained about the opposition from left-wing commentators and politicians.

“My spontaneous guess would have been that the Left would have thought it was enormously unjust that three times so many immigrant children are not getting a diagnosis or treatment compared to pure-Swedish children,” he said. “Their hate for the Right is stronger than their care for the children. 

Swedish vocab: brottsförebyggande – preventative of crime