By Frauke Lüpke-Narberhaus in Stockholm
It's normal for Stockholm University to be plastered with posters, but this one stands out. The bright red poster is covered with breasts, hands, feet, handcuffs and boots. And it features the word "Sexdagarna" -- "Sex Fair" -- in thick black lettering.
Italian student Anita Boffano can't help but stare. "They want to shock us!" is the first thing she says. Then she adds: "Oh, that's typically Swedish. Everything is so open and free here."
Twenty-one-year-old Anita is heading to the university this afternoon just as she would do on any other day -- but she's revised her choice of subject. She's giving her Swedish course a miss and putting sex on the agenda instead. Today's topics: "Men, Sex and Coming at the Right Moment"; "Questions and Answers About Sex Toys"; "Porn Saves the World"; "Anarchy in Relationships -- How it Works"; "Discussion on Asexuality"; and "Faces of the Female Orgasm." On Monday and Wednesday, experts will address other important sex-related topics. "Poly -- Day to Day Life with Multiple Partners," for example. Or "Tips for Anal Sex."
Shocking? That's not the point, organizers insist. "We want to inform people," Caroline Orre, the project's 27-year-old organizer explains. Fourteen companies and non-profit organizations are participating in the fair. They want to raise awareness about safe sex, Orre explains. "We also want to normalize things and break taboos. No one should be ashamed or feel abnormal just because they prefer certain sexual practices," she says.
Etchings of copulating couples
So the idea is for the Sexdargana to be respectable, not just salacious -- even if the first impressions visitors get may make them think otherwise. Incense wafts through the air from inside the sex temple's open doors. The lights have been dimmed. The carpet is wine-red, like the heavy curtains. The walls are lined with etchings of copulating couples and sculptures of two, three or four men and women in the most unlikely positions.
Salacious or not, the Sex Fair has reached Stockholm University -- and there have already been three held previously. This year Uppsala University is losing its virginity: Another Sex Fair will be held there in November. But Orre would like nothing more than to see the project spread all over Sweden. And she's already talking to possible collaborators.
Stockholm's UniversitetsStudentkar is hosting the event. The student assembly has rented a hall in the Allhuset building, on the university campus. The organizers have converted the academic hall into a sexual paradise -- for three days.
Still, and despite all the incense, the organizers don't want to create any false impressions: Sex is risky, and Malin Devstam from Sesam, an organization financed by Stockholm's provincial government, is there to inform visitors about those risks. "Students fall within the age group most frequently affected by sexually transmitted diseases," she says. "The Sex Fair helps us reach these young people." But some students don't come here because they're afraid of catching a disease -- they're worried about their sex life. "They're often so focused on their studies that they lose interest in sex," says Malin Devstam.
Let's talk about sex
Restoring that interest is Marika Smith's hobbyhorse. She's put her treasures on display on the next stand: dildos, vibrators, combs, lubricants. Her job: inspiring people sexually. Her target audience: the very same students that Devstam talks about. But none too many of them have the courage to approach her stand: "It's pretty obvious what your stand is about when you're standing there with a dildo in your hand," she says.
All in all, the Swedes seem pretty relaxed about the Sex Fair. The mood here really is as frank and free as 21-year-old Anita from Italy thought when she saw the poster. But Orre, the project organizer, takes a different view: "I think many students don't approve of the Sex Fair. But they would never say so -- that's how people are in Sweden. Exchange students are much more open-minded."
And then, sure enough, a lady in her fifties, weighed down by shopping bags, shows up at the stand and begins ranting loudly. But listen closely and it turns out she's not upset about the Sex Fair itself -- she's annoyed with one of the people working there: She wants more free lubricant samples than he's willing to give her.
Anita from Italy hasn't taken any lubricants. But they weren't the reason she came to the Sex Fair anyway. She came to break a taboo. "The more you talk about sex the easier it becomes to do so. That makes it easier to express your desires, fears and worries," she says. Class dismissed.
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