How Scandinavia Looks at Sexuality

Brace yourself for sexuality in Scandinavia

Hamnoy, Norway: A view of the Eliassen Rorbuer cabins as the light starts to disappear from an incoming snowstorm
••• Andrew Stranovsky Photography / Getty Images

Don't be surprised to see exposed breasts here and there when you travel to Scandinavia. There's a certain liberty about sex issues in Scandinavia that you'll rarely find anywhere else. Sexuality in Scandinavia is treated more openly, which can be quite shocking to visitors from other parts of the world.

Sexuality and Nudity for Travelers 

Travelers are often surprised at how liberal Scandinavia is.

You may see pornographic movie theaters and sex shops, along with naked breasts in the media or at the beach. Bathing topless is common, not just in Scandinavia, but all over Europe.

In Norway, a visitor may see mainstream magazines with Q&A columns about sex and sexuality. Note that while sexuality in Scandinavia is a liberal issue and you can buy as many erotic magazines and videos as you want, pornographic materials with children are absolutely illegal.

Sexuality in Scandinavia is treated with ease since locals haven't been brought up to think of it as a taboo. Sex education is compulsory in schools in all of Scandinavia. Teaching children about sex is considered crucial to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, the government of Sweden believes. It seems to work. Numerous studies show that Scandinavian teenagers have better sexual health, fewer sexual partners and start being sexually active at the same age or later than teenagers from the U.S.

Sex on TV in Scandinavia

Most of the time, Scandinavians treat displays of sexuality on TV as just another part of the regular programming. Clear sex on TV in Scandinavia, along with frontal nudity, is usually shown after a certain time at night, typically past 11 p.m.

Sexual Attitudes in Scandinavia

As a whole, Scandinavia views sexuality with a relaxed attitude and more liberally than any other region in the world.

Premarital sex has been acceptable in Scandinavia for centuries. In Denmark, this even has roots in old Nordic customs, like the "Night Courtship." 

As writer Kari Teiste (1652-1710) noted: 

"Night Courtship allowed boys who visited girls to lie in bed with them (bundling). It was another matter that unmarried girls often had the responsibility for the cattle and therefore slept in the byre. The court records show clearly that it was considered self-evident that young unmarried men and women shared shelter for the night." 

As in many other parts of the world, the average age for marriage keeps increasing. However, in Scandinavia the rate for divorces is much lower than in the U.S. For example, in Norway, twice as many people lose their partner by death than by divorce.

Recent Sexuality Issues in Scandinavia

  • Abortion has been legalized in Scandinavia for more than 30 years. In the past few decades, gay and lesbian people Scandinavia have obtained nearly equal rights as heterosexual couples. Prostitution in the form of selling one's sexual services is legal, but the industry is controlled for health reasons.
  • Scandinavia also offers health centers with free abortion counseling, abundance child care centers, paid maternity leave and high child care benefits for families.