Sex and 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

If you're traveling to Scandinavia, especially in the warmer summer months, you shouldn't be surprised to see exposed breasts and even some public nudity across the country. That's because there's a certain liberty when it comes to sex and sexuality in Scandinavia that you'll rarely find anywhere else in the world.

Sexuality is treated more openly in Scandinavia, which can be quite shocking for visitors from other parts of the world—a topless female, for instance, is not viewed in any sexual context there—but the Scandinavian openness to nudity isn't the only thing the residents of this country are progressive about.

Abortion has been legalized in Scandinavia for more than 30 years, and in the past few decades, gay and lesbian people in Scandinavia have obtained nearly equal rights to heterosexual couples. Additionally, 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.

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 question and answer columns about sex and sexuality, but it's important to 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 still absolutely illegal.

Sexuality in Scandinavia is treated with ease since locals haven't been brought up to think of it as a taboo, and sex education is compulsory in schools in all of Scandinavia. That's because, according to the Swedish government, teaching children about sex is considered crucial to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases—and 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 United States.

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.