‘Lack of sex a political problem’: Sweden orders study into why its citizens aren’t getting it on

© Maxim Shemetov
Reputed to be one of the most sexually progressive countries in the world, Sweden is launching the first major government sex study in two decades, after smaller surveys revealed that Swedes are enjoying less and less lovemaking.

“Sexual politics is not just about problems, it must also be about what is pleasurable,” Public Health Minister Gabriel Wikstrom writes in an editorial announcing the research initiative in the Dagens Nyhater tabloid. “In fact, if the social conditions for pleasurable sex are deteriorating – due to stress or health problems – this is in itself a political problem.”

The survey will begin imminently, but it will take until 2019 for Swedes to find out if reports of their sexual dysfunction are exaggerated – as that’s when the state will implement its solution for encouraging more and better sex.

Sweden's Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport and Social Democrat Gabriel Wikstrom (C) © Maja Suslin

“Sex is not, and never has been a purely private matter,” writes Wikstrom, a Social Democrat who became one of the world’s youngest ministers when he was appointed to his post two years ago, at the age of just 29. “The implementation of recommendations will be done by the ministry in conjunction with the relevant authorities, and civil organizations. The results will also be presented at a regional and local level, which will facilitate the task of conducting a systematic, knowledge-based health campaign.”

Wikstrom’s preliminary diagnosis deviates little from Sweden’s progressive orthodoxy, based on feminist ideals and centered on the importance of changing public attitudes. The minister states that the attitudes, such as the “objectification of women by pornography” and “discomfort in talking about sex,” are major stumbling blocks to forming a more positive way of thinking.

Whether more sexually open societies have more sex is hard to ascertain, as the answer is tangled in a nexus of issues such as religion, social mores, marrying age, the status of women, and attitudes of minorities, who may not share the dominant culture.

This is made more complicated by the difficulty of comparing international sex surveys, or even making sense of a single one.

The last study, conducted in 1996, and published in 2000, showed that male Swedes have had an average of 7.1 partners, and females 4.6 – as usual the difference is mostly explained by the two genders using different criteria of who counts as a sexual partner.

These are modest figures, but not outliers by Western standards.

Last year’s US survey, which questioned 33,000 people, said that Baby Boomers were expected to have an average of 11.68 partners, compared with Millennials’ 8.26 partners. The latest comprehensive UK survey – completed three years ago – shows that British women have an average of 7.7 partners, and men 11.7.

But the number of partners is not indicative of the frequency of sex – as many in the younger generations spurn the regularity of sex with a single partner, for irregular one-night stands or flings. Both the UK and the US study showed that people were having sex less often.

This tallies with independent Swedish surveys. One in 2013 showed that Swedes were having sex 24 percent less often than in 1996.

Incidentally, using the figures from a Durex sex survey around the world, conducted in 2012, the countries which have the most frequent sex are Brazil, Greece, Poland, China, Russia and India. Notably, none of these have Sweden’s wealth, gender equality legislation, or sex education programs.