Media & Culture, Myth vs Fact

Is Public Masturbation Acceptable In Sweden?

October 28, 2013 by Justin Lehmiller


Compared to the United States, European nations tend to have more relaxed attitudes toward public nudity. Certainly, there’s a lot of variability across individual countries in terms of the type and amount of nudity that is acceptable, but it is pretty clear that Europeans generally don’t have as many hangups about seeing the human body a naturel. For example, just consider that sunbathing in the nude is permitted in many public parks and beaches across Europe (something that is very rare to find in the U.S.). I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised to hear this; however, if you’re anything like me, you were probably shocked to see all of the recent news reports claiming that Sweden has taken things to a whole other level by declaring that public masturbation is also acceptable. But is this really true?

The basis for these claims stems from the case of a 65-year-old Swedish man who was arrested for sexual assault earlier this year after taking off his shorts and masturbating on a beach in Stockholm. This month, the court that was handling his case acquitted him and declared that although there is overwhelming evidence that he was indeed naked and masturbating in public, he was not guilty of assault because he was not “pleasuring himself toward a specific person.”

In the words of Swedish criminal prosecutor Olof Vrethammar as distributed widely in the media: “For this to be a criminal offence it’s required that the sexual molestation was directed towards one or more people…The district court has made a judgment on this case. With that we can conclude that it is okay to masturbate on the beach.”

So, public masturbation in Sweden is fine and dandy as long as you don’t do it in the general direction of anyone else, right? Not so fast. It appears that in reporting this story, Vrethammar’s words were incorrectly translated. What the prosecutor was apparently trying to convey is that although this man may have been acquitted of sexual assault, we cannot conclude that it is okay to masturbate publicly. In other words, the courts don’t believe this man committed sexual assault or harassment because he masturbated with his back turned to others–so they acquitted him of that charge. But it doesn’t mean that his behavior was acceptable or that it didn’t violate other laws.

Thus, despite the headlines you may have read to the contrary about this being a landmark trial, you should not take this court ruling to mean that you now have a license to openly masturbate wherever and however you want in Sweden.

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Image Source: iStockphoto

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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