Law against buying sex: Yawn, not even on the timeline

Who cares about the law against buying sex? City, a free newspaper like Metro, ran a page recently on sex laws in Sweden.

17 steps to a softer vision of sex
A lot has happened on the sex front in the past 100 years.
Follow City’s timeline to see how the vision of sex has changed.

The choice of landmarks to put on this timeline is interesting; obviously not all legal events concerning sex in Sweden in the past 100 years were included. Those chosen reflect familiar forms of liberalisation most people are now comfortable with: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, discrimination, partnerships.

The law criminalising the purchase of sex, sexköpslagen, is absent, as are other laws that contradict the headline that says everything’s become ‘softer’ (more permissive/less strict; soft and softer aren’t Swedish words). One friend said editors would omit the sex-buying law as insignificant to 90% of the readers – just one of those odd laws ordinary people don’t understand and have no opinion about. City is an unpretentious, popular paper commuters pick up outside train stations.

If you only look at news sources that consider themselves to be Important, keeping the record of what national government figures say and do, you get a different impression – that laws like sexköpslagen are symbols of Swedish policy on equality. Some people think this hegemonic news is more important. Some think it’s significant that only one MP actively opposes the law, but my guess is the others just want to avoid trouble from aggressive state feminists. Then there’s the fact that most people just don’t know there are normal sex workers in their lives, because everyone keeps quiet about it. That’s what stigma accomplishes, and it’s the opposite of normalisation.

Anti-prostitutionists exaggerate effects of the law constantly, and claim that a single survey on ‘attitudes’ about it proves its popularity amongst Swedes (Kuosmanen 2010). But the author himself cautioned against believing his results, given that ‘of the 2500 questionnaires that were distributed, 1134 were returned, providing a response rate of 45.4% and a missing rate of 54.6% from the entire sample.’ It turns out a large proportion of males receiving the survey failed to respond, meaning, Kuosmanen warned, ‘the results should be interpreted with a degree of caution, particularly as regards questions that concern experiences of the purchase and sale of sex, where there is, in addition, a degree of internally missing data.’

I doubt most people who received the survey knew much or had ever thought about the law. What does it matter, then, how they answered the questions? I don’t understand the significance of an attitude survey, as though the population were a marketing focus group asked to indicate whether a new flavour of yogurt has a future amongst consumers.

It would be interesting to see a parallel timeline of ‘harder’ or less permissive visions of sex during the same period: laws widening the definition of rape and women’s sexual vulnerability (which sexköpslagen is grounded in). The presence of both tendencies at the same time shows how society tries to ‘progress’ vis-a-vis sex, deciding which forms of sexual liberation and control to promote, which kinds of sex are good and bad. Politicians make hay of this stuff, while everyone else gets on with doing what they want, mostly – as discussed the other day under the rubric Prohibition.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

4 thoughts on “Law against buying sex: Yawn, not even on the timeline

  1. Eric

    In a more recent survey only 49 % of males support the sex purchase act, according to a report by Priebe, et. al. Previously this figure was 66 %. Something has happened.

  2. John Mac

    Feel embarressed to bring it up when you mentioned the Kuosmanen report but the most startling research stat on the entire project was the perceived success of the law ; after a decade of the law’s enforcement only 20% of the respondents felt that it had in any way reduced demand , and a whopping 13% felt that it had in anyway reduced prostitution. So even the Swedes know its a crock of shit. By the way , i’m sure you’re also fully aware that nearly 60% of same respondents also want sex sellers criminalised (i.e. US model) which shows the lack of faith even the indigenous have in their ‘revolutionary’ approach.

    1. Titiparisien

      Absolutely! It is a huge irony given that the Swedish politicians, when introducing those laws, said that all prostitutes are victims and that they need to be saved. But the survey polls you mentioned reveal that Swedes do not share this opinion and a majority of them believes that sex workers should also be criminalised!

      The Swedish laws are huge hypocrisy. They have resulted in worse living conditions, increased stigmatization and less access to healthcare and social services for the very people they were supposed to protect, the sex workers. When told of this, the politicians don’t listen, because for them, the opinion of sex workers do not count (we want to save you, but we don’t want to hear your opinion). Only street prostitution has decreased (which is the case everywhere, not just in Sweden) but the radical feminists are happy and claim a resounding success! As if they were not happy fiddling with evidence and being happy with failed policies, they want to export them to other countries! That has to stopped!

    2. laura agustin Post author

      I’ll bet that most people who don’t like seeing sex workers and clients near their own homes think the solution is to ban the whole thing – selling and buying both. It is the common-sense solution for those who are ignorant of or don’t care about social-justice issues. And for people who aren’t bothered in their own lives by condoms or noise in the street I’ll bet they *still* think that banning the whole caboodle makes sense. And I mean this anywhere in the world.


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