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The condom works in all situations? Paradoxical messages in mainstream sex education in Sweden

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The condom plays a vital part in safe sex, the ideal outcome of mainstream Swedish sex education. As researchers have pointed out, however, the condom is not a neutral object; rather, it plays a part in shaping, in different ways, both sexual practices and the idea of what sex is. This paper focuses on sex education television programmes produced in Sweden from 1998 to 2011, and particularly on the condom's role in maintaining a hierarchy of sexuality that favours heterosexuality and vaginal intercourse. The analysis shows that the condom is presented as self-evident, as always available, and as unique in the protection it provides against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Through over-simplified messages, such as ‘the condom is appropriate on all occasions’, the coital imperative is sustained and practices that do not include a penis are excluded from concepts of ‘sex’. From a safer sex perspective, this approach leaves unanswered questions about protection during other sexual practices, in particular from STIs such as herpes, for which no prevention strategies are presented. From a wider perspective, the sole focus on condoms, with its specific emphasis on the penis and penetration, runs contrary to the inclusive agenda of contemporary Swedish sex education.
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Keywords: Sweden; coital imperative; condom promotion; safer sex promotion; sex education

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Linköping University, Norrköping, Sweden

Publication date: May 4, 2015

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