Lust, Love, and Life: A Qualitative Study of Swedish Adolescents' Perceptions and Experiences with Pornography

Article excerpt

Pornography has been a heated topic in Swedish society for several decades, especially concerning its relationship to gender roles and sexuality (Forsberg, 2007). The societal context includes principles about gender equality and compulsory sex education since 1955, which emphasizes unrestricted rights to sexuality for both men and women. As a consequence, views about pornography are generally negative, though opinions do differ (Forsberg, 2007; Hammaren & Johansson, 2007). Nevertheless,

Sweden became the second country in the world, after Denmark, to legalize pornography in 1971 (Mansson, Lofgren-Martenson, & Knudsen, 2007). The content and dissemination of pornography has, however, changed considerably since that time (Mansson et al., 2007; Mansson & Soderlind, 2004). One way to describe this transformation is that boundaries have been stretched. Pictures and images that society defined as pornography some decades ago now appear in mainstream media (McNair, 1996, 2002; Sorensen, 2007). At the same time, it is clear that the visibility and accessibility of hardcore pornography in public space in the Nordic countries has increased dramatically over the last decade, not least due to the Internet (Hirdman, 2007: Kolbein, 2007: Mansson, Daneback, Tikkanen, & Lofgren-Martenson, 2003). Television programs, advertisements, and the music industry exploit and play with pornographic codes and scenarios. The pornography industry also launches and promotes its products via youth channels and Web sites. In other words, relationships have been forged between pornography and youth culture, which is somewhat of a new development. Even if it is a general aspect of popular culture, the so-called "mainstreaming" of pornography (McNair, 2002) has special significance for young people (Sorensen, 2007).

Experiences of Pornography

Research shows that the experiences of pornography among young Nordic people are extensive. The results from an Internet-based study carried out among Danish, Norwegian, and Fenno-Swedish youth in 2005 demonstrated that 92% of the respondents had seen pornography at least once (Sorensen & Kjorholt, 2007). These results are consistent with other recent findings in the Nordic countries (e.g., Haggstrom-Nordin, Hansson, & Tyden, 2005; Hammaren & Johansson, 2002; Svedin & Priebe, 2004). Gender differences have been documented in several studies, suggesting that women are more critical of pornography than men (Hald, 2007; Svedin & Priebe, 2004). A recent study including more than 4,000 Swedish high school students showed that, compared with male students, a much larger proportion of the young women described pornography in negative terms such as "disgusting" and "sexually off-putting" (Svedin & Priebe, 2004). Other findings suggest that young men view pornography more frequently compared to young women (Hald, 2007). At the same time, research has shown that there is a certain amount of ambivalence toward pornography among young women. For example, Svedin and Priebe indicated that, while the majority of the young women in their sample felt negatively about pornography, approximately one-third thought that it was interesting and sexually exciting. This pattern of ambivalence was also very clear in Berg's (2000) qualitative interview study of Swedish 15-year-old young women. The female participants said that they could get turned on by pornography but, at the same time, they were very clear that this was not something that could be talked about openly if one wanted to be respected.

Public Concern

Svedin and Priebe (2004) identified a group of high frequency consumers of pornography among the young men in their sample (10%), who used pornography more or less daily. In addition, these men had more experiences of buying or selling sexual services compared to other men their own age. According to the researchers, these experiences were mediated by factors such as home background, personality characteristics, alcohol consumption, and current emotional and mental health. …