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After living in USA for over some years I have come to notice that Swedish women are at times portrayed like sexually "free-wheeling" or "liberated", i.e. as persons for who willingly go without clothes in public areas, and so on.

Sort of like in this picture from an episode of Simpsons.

Now I am not sure if this stereotype applies also to Swedish men, or if its origin is not so much people of certain nationality but perhaps people (or, women in particular) that are blond haired and blue eyed. I am saying this because a past work colleague (who had grown up in America but was originally from Vietnam) told me that he ended up marrying a white woman partially because he was affected by the feminine ideals portrayed in USA.

What is the origin of the American stereotypes about Swedish women?

  • IMO look no further than the origin of the blond stereotype. The stereotype you describe is quite different from the historical ones. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 1 '17 at 6:43
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    ?sauna culture? – Mark C. Wallace Jul 1 '17 at 10:50
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    Wasn't it President Eisenhower who said something like "Sweden is a country of free sex, high tax and suicide” back in the 1960s? – sempaiscuba Jul 1 '17 at 13:21
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    Are these exclusively American stereotypes? I see these stereotypes about Swedish people very common in all over Europe, too, – Greg Jul 5 '17 at 17:52
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Swedish liberal attitudes developed during the post World War 2 era (remember that Sweden had been neutral, and had not suffered nearly as much during the war as many other European countries).

As far as American perception of Swedish attitudes to sex, this was probably formed during Eisenhower's presidency. With the international distribution of Swedish films that often featured nudity (frequently involving young couples frolicking outdoors and often in water), and (at least implied) sex scenes. The first of these was Arne Mattsson's Hon dansade en sommar (One Summer of Happiness (1952)), starring Ulla Jacobsson and Folke Sundquist.

Largely because of these films, Sweden quickly became known as

a land with malleable stan­dards of sexual morality.

This was very different from the conservative American attitudes of the 1950s, and the effect was compounded by a report in Time magazine in 1955 by the American correspondent Joe David Brown.

Brown's report was titled Sin and Sweden [NOTE: that the link is paywall-protected. I will try to find a freely available copy of the article] and apparently created the impression in the minds of many Americans that:

Swedish teenagers were encouraged to become sexu­ally active and that unwed mothers were regarded as heroines

The letter pages of several subsequent issues of Time Magazine were filled with responses to Brown's article from readers who either vilified or praised Sweden's supposed progres­sive policies of sexual freedom.

Now, it is worth noting that the stereotype of Swedish people in America was very, very different, and often quite negative, in the decades before the Second World War. Stereotypes change, albeit often very slowly!

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    And let's not forget the film: I am Curious (Yellow)... I believe that was the first film to get an X rating, when the ratings system was put in place in the US, in the 1960's. – tj1000 Jul 1 '17 at 23:54
  • Some trace it even further back. When Scandinavian immigrants came to the US it wasn't uncommon that the women had to resort to prostitution and that may be the root of the idea of "the Swedish sin". – liftarn Jul 3 '17 at 8:30
  • @SVilcans Do you have any pre-1950 sources for that? As I said above, the Swedish stereotype up to WW2 seems to have been very different! I know that poor immigrant women have often had to resort to prostitution to survive throughout history, but that is hardly unique to Scandinavian women. The source of the "Swedish Sin" epithet is often disputed, but I haven't found anything much to suggest that it was in use before the late 1950s / early 1960s. – sempaiscuba Jul 4 '17 at 14:23
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There are a couple of reasons. The main ones are lack of a double standard, and the fact that Sweden had its "1960s" about ten years earlier.

The lack of a double standard explains the stereotype of "easy" women. Basically, Swedish women (by the middle of the 20th century) had equal rights with men in initiating flirtations (or more). They (and men) also had access to sex education in schools by the end of World War II. These equal rights extend not only to dating but professional and other social roles. Nearly half of Swedish legislators are women, while the concepts of "househusband" and "paternity leave" first appeared in Sweden. But in either event, Swedish women of the 1950s did not exercise the restraint that was then characteristic of women of other countries including America.

The second reason is that Sweden segued immediately from World War II into its post-war prosperity without a period of rebuilding, because it had not suffered from the war. What Sweden did not have was a bunch of returning war veterans like America's Dwight David Eisenhower that imposed a "command and control" structure on society that inhibited social change for over a decade to enable the country to become wealthy. As pointed out in another answer, Swedish "Beach Baby" type films started appearing in the early 1950s, rather than the 1960s or 1970s.

These issues are not limited to Sweden. Other Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Norway also had a single standard and early sex education, although the sex stereotypes were later and less blatant than for Sweden because they got a later start on postwar prosperity.

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Maybe just a side-note. In the nordic countries the Sauna is a big part of everyday culture. People apparently having no problems to visit mixed Saunas, and sharing it with naked strangers may appear weird (central European stereotype towards people from the US) to americans.

Americans are not really famous for being liberal, when it comes to nudity, especially in public. A public Sauna is less public than a cross-roads, but it is nevertheless open to the public.

Another angle to the difference in perception between Europe and America is the role of violence and nudity in movies. It is my personal perception, that in general US productions are far more relaxed with respect to violence than w.r.t. nudity. In Europe, it seems the other way around. Unfortunately, this is my opinion, for which I can't find studies to back it up.

  • "In the nordic countries the Sauna is a big part of everyday culture." No it is not. It is so in Finland, but not in Scandinavia. – Bent Sep 22 '18 at 22:12

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