Kicking against the (plastic) pricks
Why are some men getting stiff with rage over the sale of women’s sex toys in Sweden’s state-run pharmacies?
Sweden and other Scandinavian countries have a reputation for progressive approaches to equality between the sexes – and for having liberal views on sex. Many seem to believe that the term ‘sexual taboo’ is not part of the average Swede’s vocabulary because they all apparently talk about and have sex in the open – especially on meadows and in holiday resorts.
It’s a stereotype of course, but Sweden recently did demonstrate both its propensity for not paying heed to sexual taboos and for taking its passion for gender equality to absurd lengths.
In May this year, selected outlets of the state-run pharmacy chain, Apoteket, began to sell sex toys. Customers shopping for conventional items like aspirin, cough syrup or face lotion can now also add dildos and geisha balls to their shopping baskets. These are the best-selling items in Apoteket’s ‘Trust in Lust’ range of sex toys, but massage oils, and other erotic accoutrements too embarrassing to mention are also on offer.
All in all, eight items aimed at ‘making the Swedish people feel good’, and which could be mistaken for trendy kitchen utensils or iPod accessories, are now available over-the-counter. This is thanks to a collaboration between Apoteket and the National Association for Sexual Information (RFSU). RFSU conducted a survey which demonstrated that a large number of Apoteket’s clients want to buy erotic toys.
‘We often forget that our sex life is an important part of our health… For us, this is part of life, it’s nothing shameful or ugly which one should moralise about’, said Eva Fernvall, head of products for Apoteket (1).
Yet Apoteket was reported to JämO, Sweden’s equal opportunities ombudsman after two men complained that it is discriminating against males by only selling sex toys for women. They view the situation as excluding and degrading.
According to Swedish website thelocal.se, one of the men complained that the pharmacy chain has ‘a misguided and untrue view on sexuality where a woman with a dildo is seen as liberated, strong and independent, whereas a man with a blow-up plastic vagina is viewed as disgusting and perverted.’ (2)
To be fair, it does sound a bit weird. But even if dildos truly are more socially acceptable than inflatable girlfriends, what is really being perverted here is the concept of egalitarianism, which is turned into a contest of who is the most ‘excluded’ and ‘underrepresented’ on the shelves of state-run pharmacies. The men’s grievance cannot seriously be said to have anything to do with aspirations for gender equality; they just feel left out. There is no ‘right to buy plastic vaginas’ and men can surely find whatever sex toys they’re after in specialist shops or online.
Besides, wouldn’t it be less embarrassing – for men and women – to shop in a specialist store, where everyone has one and the same thing on their mind? It certainly sounds preferable to queuing up with a basket full of plastic genitals alongside parents getting vitamins for their children and flaky-headed sorts buying anti-dandruff shampoos.
Fernvall retorted to the two men’s complaints: ‘As I understand it, there are no products of good quality for men on the market. Should there be such products specifically for men, then there is nothing stopping us from selling them.’ (3) JämO has concluded that this is not a question of discrimination as both men and women are allowed to buy Apoteket’s products – and for the same price.
Yet it seems that the two complainants, RFSU and Apoteket have something in common: they believe the state has a role to play in enhancing the population’s sex life, and to make Swedes ‘feel good’. Fernvall told the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet that ‘many don’t want to buy sex toys in places that are seen as smutty. So we are a neutral alternative’ (4).
In fact, this is an extreme example of the welfare state’s caring penetration into the private sphere, and of how willing some Swedes seem to be to invite the government into their bedrooms.
Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked.
Nathalie Rothschild debunked the myth that Sweden is a cuddly liberal democracy. She predicted only a very Moderate change in Sweden after the 2006 victory of the centre-right coalition over the Social Democrats, and she explained how a fake political party could fox the Swedish establishment. Or read more at spiked issue Europe.
(1) Apoteket ska sälja sexleksaker, Dagens Nyheter, 6 March 2008
(2) Swedish pharmacies’ sex toys ‘discriminate against men’, thelocal.se, 11 August 2008
(3) Swedish pharmacies’ sex toys ‘discriminate against men’, thelocal.se, 11 August 2008
(4) Bra vibrationer, Apoteket, Aftonbladet, 21 May 2008