History, Sex and Sweden

Kärlekens språk

I listened to a really fantastic podcast tonight from Radio National’s Hindsight: a podcast which concerned three of my favourite subjects: history, Sweden and sex. The program was made by Johan Gabrielsson, a journalist who lives in Sydney and presents the Swedish program on SBS. He’s married to an Australian woman, and with a son approaching puberty, has been considering his own sex education growing up in Sweden, and how that compares with sex education in Australia. Since his son is growing up in a different age, this program goes back in history, reflecting on sex education in Australia and Sweden back in the 1970s/early 1980s.

As I’m of a similar age, it was an interesting program to listen to. Johan talks about his own experiences of watching sex education films and an open-ness about his sexuality and compares that with his neighbour, Steve Kilby. Steve is the former (current?) lead-singer of The Church who grew up in Sydney, and around Wollongong, but who has also spent a fair bit of time in Sweden over the last ten years (what an interesting co-incidence). Steve’s accounts of learning about sex are reasonably similar to my own, though I never did go to a the much-advertised “father son” nights of the 1970s. The program comes to no specific conclusions about whether one country was better or worse when it comes to sex education: the program just concludes they were just different.

On the program’s website, there are a few added bonuses, including my Swedish teacher, Marianne Eckerstrom-Fancelli talking about attitudes towards sexuality in Sweden during her upbringing, as a woman now in her 60s. “We get more concerned about taxes than we do about nudity” she says, or words to that effect.

Gilbert and George, as featured on ABC1 Australia

It was an interesting program, which I enjoyed very much. And interesting because I’d just watched Virginia Trioli’s interview with Gilbert and George, the English artists who are quite well known for the reasonably strong sexual imagery in their work.I think I first discovered their work in my late teens, early 20s. It was part of my own sexual discovery I guess, as their work often dealt with homosexuality. Although I like their work very much, I wasn’t left with much connection with them as people to be honest. I thought they came across as quite contrived, rehearsed, and probably lacking in any genuine humanity. They appeared to have thought quite deeply about their work, and had a smart answer for every question, and they clearly had strong views about a range of issues, but they never really went beyond the headspace. There was one occasion when they spoke about growing up as “common folk” from the country which showed a bit of humanity (and which I related to), but they never seemed to willing to show a bit of emotion/feeling/honesty.

Pet Shop Boys and Liza as featured on ABC 2

Perhaps this is because they come across as a pair of co-dependant freaks? Is this judging too harshly? Virginia tried to get them to open up with some honesty when she asked a question in response to Gilbert’s assertion that “more sodomy is committed on women than men”. In essence, VT asked the question “how would you know?’. And for just a moment, Gilbert kind of laughed in recognition. But then they returned quickly to their personas. I get the concept of people and performance as art, and how they should stay “in character” but I was also a little disappointed they didn’t show us a little of themselves outside character.

I ended off the evening watching a little of The Pet Shop Boys special from Sunday night on ABC 2 which was very good. Neil and Chris are a bit like Gilbert and George in a way. Chris never lets the guard down much either which is a shame. For a nation that’s reasonably “reserved”, perhaps that’s why I like the Swedes so much. They seem a little more willing to, occasionally, let their guard down, unlike the rather uptight British Isles ancestry which I’m descended from.

  1. Marianne’s comments ring true for my experience of Danes, too: my closest Australian friends have never seen me naked, but when I went to the gym with some Danish acquaintances, everyone stripped off and hopped in the shower afterwards and carried on chatting in the nude! Very odd for an uptight Aussie like me.

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  2. […] mentioned yesterday a really interesting podcast I’d listened to about the history of sex education in Sweden and […]

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  3. Just listened to the Hindsight podcast yesterday. They could help using the re-pro-duct-ion clip from a QLD school once again.

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