Sweden has a reputation of having a sexually open culture. For example, non-Swedes have asked me far too many times if I go to saunas with my parents while we’re all completely naked (by the way, the answer is no). America on the other hand, has a bit of a different reputation. Slut-shaming, sex education that focuses on abstinence, and people not being all over each other at bars. I don’t remember the last time I was at a club in Europe and didn’t see someone having a heavy make-out session in the middle of the dance floor.
Personally, I think the Swedish openness helps create a safer sexual environment. At sex ed we got to sit in groups and learn how to put on condoms, the teachers making sure we would all be able to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancies. They showed us a movie about sexual harassment and slut-shaming, taught us how badly it can impact the victim’s life even though the people doing it didn’t see it as a big deal. I don’t mean to say that Sweden doesn’t have a lot issues regarding sexual harassment and the like – we definitely do – but being able to openly talk about these issues makes it a whole lot easier to move towards a society where these things aren’t part of everyday life.
One of the biggest signs that Sweden is moving in that direction was from the law of consent we enforced this past June. This redefines rape as sex you didn’t agree to, rather than sex you declined; a simple shift to lacking a ”yes” instead of requiring a ”no.” This will make it easier to prosecute sexual abusers, which encourages more victims to come forward and file reports. The law was enforced as a result of #metoo, that started a big debate in Sweden. All the people opening up about their experiences made it okay to share the stories, and made it not okay to be creating them. It taught us to listen to the words of victims, and that the harassers – just like any other criminal – should be held accountable for their actions.
A popular reaction to the whole discussion about sexual consent is people (American and Swedish alike) claiming that they are now too scared to flirt or touch others because they can now get accused of harassment. I would beg to differ. Setting more distinct limits for what sexual harassment makes it easier to avoid them. Making it the norm to ask the person you’re with where their boundaries are, and sticking to them, allows all people involved to feel comfortable and safe in what you are doing. Be open, listen to others, and you’re good to make out with anyone consenting on the dance floor.