In 2008, University of Chicago Chair and former Stockholm University professor Don Kulick observed: "From being admired and envied by many as beacons of sexual enlightenment in the 1960s and '70s, the Scandinavian countries today have some of the most repressive sex laws in the Western world. Sweden is the most draconian. ... The message conveyed by [recent laws] is clear: your sexuality is the property of the state, and the state will claim its right to regulate and punish that sexuality, wherever you may be. So whatever, indeed, happened to sex in Scandinavia?"
Although it does not directly answer Kulick's question, Oscar Swartz's new book, A Brief History of Swedish Sex: How the Nation That Gave Us Free Love Redefined Rape and Declared War on Julian Assange, traces the change that Kulick describes. Structured as a timeline, the volume vividly illustrates how a political coup by a group of radical feminists at the highest levels of government caused the free-love era of "Swedish sin" to give way to a wave of anti-sex and anti-male hysteria that vilified heterosexual sex and villainized men. It was into this morass that WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange waded when he had consensual sexual relations with Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilén -- and then became the target of a Sweden-initiated international manhunt.
The notion of "Swedish sin" springs from the days of the country's sexual revolution, which started earlier than in most other Western societies. Beginning in the 1950s, a wash of Swedish erotic culture included pornographic films, books, and magazines; clubs where audiences could view live sex acts; mandatory sex education for all children from age seven; early legalization and public acceptance of homosexuality; and contraceptives and abortion on demand.
How did this sex liberalism give way to a Christian moralism that devolved into a War on Sex and then a War on Men? One irony shown in Swedish Sex is that the very openness and moralism of Swedish society -- which allowed women entry into the upper echelons of politics -- ultimately permitted that society to be dominated by a bloc of female political actors who espoused sexual repression, as well as oppression of the other half of the country's population. At the height of the sexual revolution, these disgruntled radical feminists spearheaded a backlash: by claiming the moral high ground and casting women invariably as victims in any sexual encounter, they swung the country's moral fulcrum and almost unilaterally imposed their own agenda on this small nation.
A major actor in this drama, according to Swartz, was former Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Margareta Winberg. Winberg also chaired the militant National Federation of Social Democratic Women; she surrounded herself with radical feminists and routinely unleashed virulent anti-male diatribes in public. In 2004 she published an article asking Swedish women: "Why do you put up with it? Why can't you bear witness about men as oppressors, wife-beaters, members of the Taliban and unpleasant types in general? ... For who are a burden to society and us women? Who is in prison? Who is a soccer hooligan? Who abuses women at home? Who is most expensive when he is ill? ... Who neglects his children? Who requires too much space in the public arena - without having anything to say? Who starts and wages war? ... Do men want to be such a burden? Do they know they are?" Later that same year Winberg gave a public speech portraying prostitutes as victims and johns as abusers: "Men buy living beings, men beat, men degrade, men run away from responsibilities, men own more, men earn more money, men grab, men shoot, men rob etc. Sometimes I'm really wondering why more women do not really hate men. The way they behave!"
Such attitudes, viewed as marginal in other countries, became the Swedish norm. In the radical feminists' worldview, pornography and prostitution are always the same as "degradation, abuse, torture and rape" propagated by men. in 2007 prominent Social Democrat Katrine Kielos opined in print that "what we regard as 'normal' male sexuality actually [presupposes] systematic abuse of women". One female politician in the Moderate Party recounts her experience at the annual congress of ROKS, a government-backed women's advocacy group: "There was such an aggression and hatred and such unpleasant attitudes against half of the Swedish population ... In the evening the Board sang songs - it was a party evening. But when you sing a song about 'we shall boil them' and 'we shall burn them' and it is all about men... I must distance myself." At the Left Party's congress, Chair Gudrun Schyman made a speech comparing Swedish men to the Taliban. Winberg's advisor Gunilla Ekberg equated prostitution with violence and opined that no woman "can endure" being "subject to penetration four to five times a day".
The extremism of this anti-male, anti-sex bloc became clear when, in 2005, a government-supported group of two dozen feminists attacked employees of a Stockholm porn club with "baseball bats, bottles, umbrellas and a bag of pebbles as weapons". A newspaper later reported that "traces of the riot" included "blood drenched clots and dried pools of blood". The government financed a live production of the SCUM [Society for Cutting Up Men] Manifesto, a theatrical staging of a 1967 publication by radical feminist Valerie Solanas. Solanas, who infamously shot Andy Warhol a year later, espoused "selectively destroy[ing] property and kill[ing] men". Swartz notes: "The kind of hateful radical feminism, that a mentally unstable Valerie Solanas developed, is internationally regarded as marginal extremism. in the 2010s of Sweden it has become normal feminism."
This anti-male, anti-heterosexual-sex agenda was intended to be reinforced by legislation; at their 2001 congress, the Social Democrats vowed to politically overturn the "Gender Power Order, the systematic subordination" of females by males. In 1982 the government introduced an anti-prostitution bill that "proposed that all of society join in the goal of changing men's sexuality: boys must learn that sex should only occur in conjunction with emotional relationships." The proposal included "propaganda activities" that would reinforce this message. Bans on live-sex clubs and sauna clubs soon followed. "Rape" was drastically redefined, and now included acts that did not involve sexual penetration. Radical feminists even insisted that "pleading sex" -- i.e., "when a partner begs and pleads for sex so insistently that the woman agrees to sex just to end the nagging" -- is rape. This position later served as the basis for a government propaganda campaign encouraging females to report their lovers to the authorities. Prostitution, according to the radical feminists, is always rape; therefore only the [mostly male] purchasers of sex, and not the prostitutes themselves, are subject to legal punishment. Sexual offenses were more harshly prosecuted. Swedes could now be punished for sexual violations they committed while outside the country. Not surprisingly, this state of affairs has led to a false rape figure reportedly as high as 80%. Police spokespersons quietly acknowledge that false rape accusations are "an enormous problem and we are deadly tired of it".
Why did all this happen? Swartz' timeline indicates that both the rise and the fall of "Swedish sin" resulted from the Swedes' perpetual eagerness to be seen as morally correct. U.S. intellectual Susan Sontag notes Sweden's desire to "see [it]self as morally leading other nations" and its citizens' "strong conviction of their country's moral superiority". It was this quest for the moral high ground that led to the sexual revolution and the flowering of gender-egalitarianism; and it was the same moralist bent that, 20 years later, withered into a neo-Puritanism admonishing that sex is wrong unless it occurs in the context of a traditional, "healthy" romantic relationship.
Ultimately, however, the true goal is state control of all aspects of the lives of citizens. Swartz' book depicts a contemporary Sweden in which Swedes' sexuality is treated as "the property of the state"; in which tourist-industry businesses like hotels and taxi operators are subject to prosecution if they fail to report the sexual activity of their customers to the police; and in which a woman dressed in a "provocative" manner or receiving males guests is assumed to be a prostitute. British journalist Robert Huntford perceived this trend in Sweden as early as 1971, when he published his book The New Totalitarians. Swartz reports: "The book was a scathing criticism of a country governed by social engineers where every aspect of life would be regulated." Huntford writes: "'The State, anxious to control the citizen absolutely, has taken sexuality in hand as well. Even in the fundamental human act, the welfare mentality has intruded, and the Swedes, while encouraged to release their political frustrations through the reproductive procedure, are yet admonished to do so decently, hygienically, and properly."
After detailing a number of sensational sex scandals that call into question Sweden's new stance on sexuality, Swedish Sex finishes with a focus on the Assange case. Swartz examines the complainants' significant involvement with the Social Democrats' radical feminist wing -- and the later manipulation of evidence following the first prosecutor's initial assessment that, in regard to the women's rape allegation, "the content of the interrogation does not support any claim that a crime has been committed".
A Brief History of Swedish Sex is available via Kindle download at Amazon.com.