Attitudes Towards Sex in Scandinavia (And What to Expect…)

The Scandinavians have an international reputation for their liberal minded attitude towards sex, nudity and pornography.

Defined mostly by their egalitarian societies, this attitude is shared by both men and women with Sweden having one of the highest proportions of females watching porn (30% vs the average of 26% – the highest is in the Philippines where viewers are 35% female).

In this guide, we take a look at what we mean by Scandinavian attitudes towards sex and how this manifests itself in hard facts and figures.

Scandinavia: A Definition

First of all, what do we mean by Scandinavia?

The technical definition is the three monarchies of Sweden, Denmark and Norway which lie on the Scandinavian peninsula but can often be used to include neighbouring Finland, Iceland, the Faroe and Aland Islands.

Situated in the northern most part of Europe, Scandinavian countries enjoy a mutually intelligible language, shared history and, to a large extent, cultural background.

swedish sauna sex scandinavia
The sauna culture is uniquely Scandinavian where nudity is the law. Image via Flickr.

The similarity of many areas of Scandinavian life has translated internationally as typifying certain values. To the outsider, Scandinavians are portrayed as living in a progressive and egalitarian society, are liberal-minded and enjoy a healthy attitude to sex, sexuality and nudity.

The reasons why this is the case aren’t entirely clear but could be due to these countries having the following similarities:

  • A largely protestant heritage, the secular culture has protected the Scandinavians from the highly moralistic pontifications of the church.
  • Low populations. This contributory factor has produced close-knit communities that fosters cooperation, creativity and security.
  • Well developed welfare states with good healthcare, education and state benefits.
  • The ‘Law of Jante’: This concept was created in the 1930s in a novel by Aksel Sandemose to describe the shared ethos of the Nordic people. Though the full Jante Laws include ten rules, the overriding definition can be summarised as the attitude of working towards the common good at the expense of individuality….in fact individual effort and achievement is a negative thing. Quite simply, ‘You are not to think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us’.
  • Long winter nights: Well, you’ve got to have something else to do other than stand and watch the northern lights!
sex in scandinavia
Sex can make those long and cold winter nights go more quickly. Image via Pixabay.

A Liberal and Open Society

Visitors to Scandinavian countries can be taken aback by the open attitudes towards sex. You can find sex shops in most towns and cities nestled alongside mainstream retail outlets as well as porn (available in pornographic theatres) and erotic magazines being widely available.

In Denmark, prostitution has been decriminalised since 1999 with Sweden and Norway simply criminalising the purchase of sex and not the sale.

All three countries have world-leading status as egalitarian societies where LGBTQ rights are on par with those of heterosexuals and abortions are legal. Combine this with excellent social care and you have, what many people refer to, as the perfect society.

liberal minded scandinavia lgbtq
Progressive nations, LGBTQ rights are strong in Scandinavia. Image via Flickr.

Sex Education in Scandinavia

Sex education in Scandinavian countries is compulsory and starts as young as four years old engendering an open-minded and mature approach to issues surrounding gender, sexual orientation and self image. This model has been in practice since the 1950s and is seen as a major contributing factor to the combined culture of liberal mindedness with sexual assertiveness and responsibility.

In Denmark, the sex education programme is credited with low teen pregnancies, low levels of sexually transmitted diseases and a population of young adults who are neither promiscuous nor experimenting at an early age.

The result of early education with respect to sexuality is a population that do not consider sex (or talking about it) as taboo. As a whole, Scandinavians are relaxed about discussing sex, experiencing sex and the role that sex plays in a healthy society. This may seem progressive and liberal to many other cultures.

In Numbers: The Scandi Sex Stats

So, how does this open approach towards sex and high levels of sex education affect the nations attitudes to sex? We take a look at some interesting facts that shed some light on how Scandinavia is different to the rest of Europe and the world in this regard.


Three of the five Scandi countries hit the top ten of per capita page views on the internet porn channel, PornHub:

  • Iceland (2nd place) with 202 page views per capita.
  • Norway (7th place) with 158 page views per capita.
  • Sweden (9th place) with 152 page views per capita.

Although, Swedes spend less time than the global average browsing for porn at just 9 minutes and 19 seconds per session (global average is 9 minutes and 36 seconds).

The top ten searches in Sweden for porn are as follows:

  • Swedish
  • Step-sister
  • Milf
  • Step-mom
  • Svensk
  • Teen
  • Cartoon
  • Lesbian
  • POV
  • Swedish amateur

With the Swedes favouring Kim Kardashian, Mia Khalifa and Lisa Ann as their favourite porn stars.

porn in scandinavia
Kim Kardashian is the most searched porn star in Sweden. Image via Wikimedia.

Across the Scandi nations, Lesbian and Anal represent the most popular watched porn (along with much of the rest of the world!).

However, the age split of who is viewing porn in Scandinavia is moderately different to the rest of the world with less younger viewers (under 25) and more older viewers (over 45):

Age Range Scandi Countries Global Average
18-24 years old 24% 31%
25-34 years old 29% 29%
35-44 years old 17% 17%
45-54 years old 13% 11%
55-64 years old 10% 7%
65+ years old 7% 4%

Sex on a Date

Sex on a first date in Scandinavian might be on the cards. Over 50% of women under the age of 20 in Norway, for example, are likely to have casual sex outside marriage versus just 30% in France and Spain or 70% in the UK.

Safe Sex

Due to the high rate of sex education, Scandinavians are more likely to use condoms with Sweden and Finland topping the rate of use in sexually active adults aged 16-45 at over 20%. Compare this to France, Germany and Portugal where condom use is just 1%-9%.

safe sex scandinavia
Scandinavians are more likely to use condoms than many of their European cousins. Image via Flickr.

There is no coincidence then that rate of STIs in Scandinavian countries are also very low. HIV/AIDS infection rates are the lowest in the world at less than 0.09% compared to 0.5%-0.99% in Spain and 0.1%-0.49% in France, Italy and Spain.

Average number of sexual partners

Taken from a report conducted in 2005, the global average of sexual partners has been reported as being 9 with the Scandinavian contingency ranking higher than the international average (UK and USA shown for comparison):

Country Number of Sexual Partners
Iceland 13
Finland 12.4
Norway 12.1
Sweden 11.8
USA 10.7
UK 9.8
Denmark 9.3

Average age of first sex

In a survey conducted by condom manufacturers, Durex, the average age of first sexual intercourse was calculated in a representative sample of the population with the results showing

Country Average Age for First Sexual Intercourse
Iceland 15.6
Denmark 16.1
Sweden 16.2
Finland 16.5
Norway 16.5
USA 18
UK 18.3

Sexual Harassment

The liberal and open-minded nature of the Scandinavians may well be acceptable within their own culture but surprisingly has resulted in both Sweden and Denmark having the highest proportion of adults who claim to have been sexually harassed in the work place. This may be a result of both men and women more likely to report such incidences or simply cultural misunderstandings with international workers. Whatever the reason, these two countries recently reported that 80-100% of adults have experience such incidences at work.

Worryingly, Sweden has the highest incidences of sexual assault in Europe and one of the highest in the world. This is unusual for Scandinavia with Swedes being 6-7 times more likely to be raped than Fins, Danes or Norwegians.

So, you can see that Scandinavian countries have a very different attitude towards sex than the rest of the world; however, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What’s your experience of attitudes towards sex in the Nordic countries?

Featured image via Flickr.

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