Episode 27: Attitudes About Sex in the U.S. vs. Sweden

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Prior to moving to the United States, former supermodel Paulina Porizkova had no use for the word "feminist." Not because she rejected the notion that women and men are equal—as she explained in a recent New York Times op-ed—but because the Czech-born Porizkova was raised in Sweden, where she took the tenets for granted.

"It didn’t take long to understand that in Sweden, my power was suddenly equal to a boy’s," Porizkova explained about her move from Czechoslovakia to Sweden, in the piece titled "America Made Me a Feminist."

Porizkova cites specifics of the more egalitarian Swedish society.

Women and men did equal housework, and sex education was comprehensive—condoms were passed out, and along with lessons on preventing STIs or unwanted pregnancies, topics like masturbation and consent were discussed.

"For a girl to own her sexuality meant she owned her body, she owned herself," she wrote. "Women could do anything men did, but they could also — when they chose to — bear children."

When she eventually moved to the United States, Porizkova learned that not all countries are as comfortable with the topic of sex:

"It turned out most of America didn’t think of sex as a healthy habit or a bargaining tool. Instead, it was something secret. If I mentioned masturbation, ears went red. Orgasms? Men made smutty remarks, while women went silent. There was a fine line between the private and the shameful. A former gynecologist spoke of the weather when doing a pelvic exam, as if I were a Victorian maiden who’d rather not know where all my bits were."

(She also discovered that in the U.S. the term "feminist" is still a useful and necessary term, as women continue to fight for equal rights.)

The differences in how the two countries view sex can be readily seen in the different ways that we teach sex education. In Sweden, sex education, which has been compulsory in schools since 1956, starts young, the Guardian reported in a 2015 piece.

By their early teens students "have already had age-appropriate sex education at primary school where they learned about snopp and snippa–children’s names for their body parts," according to the Guardian.

Around ages 14 and 15 students get several weeks of sex education (in one school the course was eight weeks), which focuses on everything from putting on a condom, to consent, to gender and sexuality, to mental health, to venereal disease prevention.

Sex education in the United States, by contrast, varies widely state-by-state.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, only "22 states and the District of Columbia mandate both sex education and HIV education." And the majority of sex education happened in high school:

"In 2014, 72% of U.S. public and private high schools taught pregnancy prevention; 76% taught abstinence as the most effective method to avoid pregnancy, HIV and other STDs; 61% taught about contraceptive efficacy; and 35% taught students how to correctly use a condom as part of required instruction."

In middle school, "38% of schools taught pregnancy prevention; 50% taught abstinence as the most effective method to avoid pregnancy, HIV and other STDs; 26% taught about contraceptive efficacy; and 10% taught students how to correctly use a condom as part of required instruction," the organization reported, citing a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The time spent talking about sex education is also quite different in the U.S., averaging several hours rather than several weeks. There has also been a rise in abstinence only—or "say no to sex"—sex education, as opposed to instructions on birth control methods.

Declines in Birth Control Education

The "Got Your Attention" cast discusses this, the Senate's secret health care plan, Kylie Jenner, clothing design, and intellectual property, along with a disturbing trend that points to the declining middle class.

Podcast notes:

Read more about the stories we did (and didn't) talk about this week on "Got Your Attention.

  • President Donald Trump is blocking people from his @realDonaldTrump handle (not the POTUS handle) and Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute is arguing that this a breach of first amendments rights.
  • The Senate is allegedly planning a vote on their version of TrumpCare (or the AHCA) as early as the end of the month—with no public hearings.
  • Left-leaning clergy members are trying to figure out how to “break the right’s grip” on morality in the U.S., the New York Times reported.
  • Liberal celebrities are talking about stress eating and gaining weight since the rise of Trump. Jane Krakowski called it the “Trump 10.”
  • Kylie Jenner’s new bikini line looks strikingly similar to designs by company called PluggedNYC, and people on Twitter definitely noticed.
  • You might hear the phrase “Tony Awards” and make the assumption that it’s named after a man named “Tony.” But you’d be wrong, it’s named after a woman, one of the many women who started the American Theater Wing.
  • An op-ed titled ”America Made Me a Feminist,” written by a Czech model, who was raised in Sweden, and then eventually moved to the U.S., raised some interesting questions about how women’s socialization is different around the world.
  • Megyn Kelly is interviewing Alex Jones for her Sunday night show next week. A lot of people are really pissed about this, particularly the parents of Sandy Hook families, given that Jones has called the shooting a hoax.
  • Harvard revoked the admission of at least 10 students, who were found to be members of a Facebook group that shared "memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children," according to The Crimson.
  • A Business Insider piece claims that recent changes to Amazon and WalMart signal the death of the middle class.
  • Charles Blow wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled "The Resistance: Impeachment Anxiety."
  • Reporter Michael Tracey claimed Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) shoved him while he was trying to ask her a question; camera footage suggests otherwise. Here's why this accusation can be dangerous.

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