Swedes have a reputation for being more comfortable with their bodies and sexuality. I find that to be true. Here are three of my experiences:
The Locker Room
There’s a gym on the first floor of the office building I work in and so consequently I see a good percentage of my female co-workers in the locker room. Sometimes we have just attended the same yoga class. The locker room is quite small and everyone changes out in the open. The two showers have no curtains and offer no discretion. The door to the locker room is worrisome because if anyone opens it very wide, not only will the whole gym see see naked women but there is a straight line of sight to the street through the glass front wall of the gym.
The amazing thing is that no one seems to think twice about being naked among strangers. Or worse, co-workers! I try to discreetly avoid looking at naked women on either side of me while I am changing but more often than not, they will turn and make conversation while they are naked. (This actually strikes me as incredibly ironic because most of the time it’s on the rare side for a Swede to initiate a conversation…So, in my prudeness, I am thinking, Now? Now you want to talk when I can’t look at you! Yer nekkid!)
Teenagers and the Sex…at Home
Swedish parents are much more likely to allow their teenagers to have girlfriends or boyfriends sleep over, than they are in the US. It makes complete sense to me because I am of the mind that if the teenagers want to “hook up” then they are going to do so whether or not they are allowed to do so at home. So why not know that they are safe and clean in your house? The age of consent in Sweden is 15.
For contrast, the age of consent in the US varies state by state but is somewhere between 16 and 18. California’s age of consent is 18.
The Doctor’s Office
Nowhere is this Swedish comfort with bodies more apparent than at the doctor’s office. I recently went for a routine “women’s health” appointment with a (new to me) doctor in Central Stockholm. The doctor’s office was in a grand old 19th century (former) apartment in (wealthy) Östermalm so don’t think that all doctor’s offices in Sweden look like the pictures included here. They can really vary!
In the US, woman complain loudly about the horrible paper dresses and sheets they give you to cover yourself after you get undressed in doctors’ offices. You know what I have to say about those horrible paper outfits now?
In Swedish doctor offices they either want you to just get undressed right in front of them or they gesture to a little screen you can go behind to get undressed.
After a chat with the female doctor at her desk, I went behind the screen and took off everything from the waist down, cursing that I hadn’t worn a long shirt, knee-length would have been good. Then I just stood there behind the screen because I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t find any paper dresses.
Oh just come out and get on the table, the doctor said, like I was slow in the head.
And can I just interject at this point that there seems little point to having a changing screen in the first place if you just have to come out in your birthday suit anyway?
Trying to fake that I am as comfortable with my body as any Swedish woman, I sauntered out, feeling rather foolish. Why does it feel even more ridiculous when one half of you is naked and the other fully clothed?
The exam commenced and the doctor said some of the most bizarre things I have ever heard while, um, in that position. I found it really difficult to make small talk. I was trying to pretend I wasn’t there but she wanted to make eye contact, she wanted me to look up at her from my peculiar position. I tried to be cool but, man, it was really different than what I am used to!
When the exam was finished she engaged me in further conversation for a few minutes while I stood there, naked from the waist down. I was still trying to fake that I found that to be totally normal. I was probably behaving much less suavely than I thought I was. She finally said, oh, you can get dressed now. I beat a path to that little screen, my only friend in the room.
Living in a foreign country really forces you to examine your home country’s customs and comfort levels and nowhere is that more pointed than when it comes to how the human body is handled.