When a politician in a small town in northern Sweden recently suggested that it subsidize one-hour sex breaks for local employees, Swedes — and people around the world — reacted with a mixture of astonishment, glee and derision.
The politician, Per-Erik Muskos, 42, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party, said his proposal could help lift the town’s birthrate. Sexologists argued that state-funded sexual interludes could spice up marriages. As news of the idea spread, the scenic town of Overtornea was suddenly portrayed as the latest emblem of Scandinavia’s liberal values and generous welfare state.
This week, however, the town’s 31-member council overwhelmingly rejected the proposal on the grounds that if sexual intercourse should be subsidized, then so should many other personal activities, such as gardening or cleaning. (The proposal had suggested that an hour of the workweek already devoted to fitness activities could be used by workers to go home and have sex with a spouse or partner instead.)
“If sexual congress is considered a valid activity, then other activities should be approved, such as cleaning,” the council’s decision, initially published on Monday, concluded.https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/world/europe/sweden-sex-leave-town.html?module=WatchingPortal®ion=c-column-middle-span-region&pgType=Homepage&action=click&mediaId=none&state=standard&contentPlacement=4&version=internal&contentCollection=www.nytimes.com&contentId=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2017%2F05%2F18%2Fworld%2Feurope%2Fsweden-sex-leave-town.html&eventName=Watching-article-click
The issue of work-life balance is taken seriously in European countries. France, for example, which already has a 35-hour workweek, recently introduced legislation granting employees a “right to disconnect.” But critics of the Swedish proposal had argued that it was too intrusive and that it could have stigmatized some employees: those who were single, for example, or who did not feel like having sex.
Tomas Mortberg, a member of the Overtornea council from a right-leaning party, said the state had no business poking its nose into employees’ sex lives.
“We don’t see this as a health- and wellness-promoting activity, just like gardening isn’t,” he said in a phone interview. “The break should be used for a walk or going to a gym. A love act with your loved one should be done in your own free time, not during paid work hours.”
In its decision, the council also rejected Mr. Muskos’s argument that state-subsidized sexual excursions during working hours would encourage couples to have more children. It said that Overtornea’s dwindling population was not a result of too little sexual activity, but of young people leaving the town in search of opportunity or prosperity.
Mr. Muskos said he was unhappy that his proposal had been rejected, but not surprised. He said he remained convinced that if his idea had caught on, it would have strengthened romantic relationships, benefited busy couples with children and empowered women by giving them time to ensure they were sexually satisfied. “I expected this. But I am disappointed,” he said.
Sexologists also expressed dismay that the council had not seen public good in the proposal.
Malin Hansson of the University of Gothenburg said research showed that Swedish parents with young children had a separation rate of about 30 percent, and that more time for sex would improve intimacy and a feeling of togetherness.
Malena Ivarsson, whose advice on sex and relationships has made her a well-known voice in Sweden, said the proposal could have been especially beneficial for professional couples, though she warned that one hour for sex might not be enough time for women to “switch gears and get in the mood.”
Even the skeptics in Overtornea acknowledged that something positive had come from the debate. Tomas Vedestig, a left-leaning councilman, said he was fed up with the global attention the proposal had generated. But he added: “We talk more openly about sex and relationships now. It is no longer taboo.”