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Sweden  
 
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A member of the European Union since 1995, Sweden is a Nordic country with a population of 9 million, a figure that has slowly increased in the last decade because of steady immigration. A liberal and democratic kingdom, Sweden has a reputation for sexual openness, yet it maintains a law that punishes buyers of sex from prostitutes.

During the last decade, the history of gay men and lesbians in Sweden has been fairly well documented. A few dissertations dealing with the subject and several volumes of history have been produced. The celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Sweden's largest gay and lesbian organization, RFSL (The Swedish Federation for Lesbian and Gay Rights), in the year 2000 also brought history to the fore.

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The Medieval Period

One of the first references to same-sex love in Sweden is found in the Revelations of Heliga Birgitta (St. Brigid). She accuses King Magnus Eriksson (ruled 1332-1363) of unnatural intercourse with a nobleman, Bengt Algotsson. Birgitta indicts the king for "loving men more than God or your own soul or your own spouse."

The provincial laws during the medieval period punished bestiality but not same-sex sexual acts, which were, however, considered offenses against the will of God.

The Early Modern Period

Queen Christina (1626-1689; reigned 1632-1654) is the best known woman of the early modern period. She reportedly had an intimate affair with her lady-in-waiting Ebba Sparre (1626-1662), who was called "La Belle Comtesse" by the queen. The manly appearance of Queen Christina was partly a result of her status as ruling monarch. Decorum required that she rule with a firm hand. However, the cross-dressing of Greta Garbo (1905-1990) in the Hollywood film Queen Christina (1933) captures the popular (and scholarly) view of the queen.

Although there was no ban on same-sex sexual acts in Swedish law, some 20 men were nevertheless tried for in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. No cases of same-sex sexual acts between women are known from this time.

In the preparations of a new penal code in 1609, same-sex sexual acts are mentioned, but they were never officially included in the code. It has been suggested that this reticence was in part a conscious "politics of silence" in order not to stir people's imagination and give them ideas of sexual possibilities, an instance of homosexuality as the sin not to be spoken of by Christians.

A number of cross-dressing women in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have been documented. For example, Karin du Rietz (b. 1766) fled her home dressed as a man and became a guardsman at the Royal Court. Many of the cross-dressing women joined the Army as soldiers, including Anna Jöransdotter, Ulrika Stålhammar, and Lisbetha Olofsdotter.

The most prominent queer man of the eighteenth century was King Gustav III (1746-1792; ruled 1772-1792). The king's sexual habits were the subject of numerous rumors. In begetting an heir with the Queen, he was reportedly assisted by his crown equerry, Adolph Fredric Munck (1749-1831). Gustav III had many male favorites at the court, including Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt. The king's sexual inclination towards his own sex is not in doubt. His reign is remembered as a golden age of Swedish cultural achievements.

The Nineteenth Century

The Penal Code of 1864 broke the long silence on same-sex sexuality in Swedish legislation. Of the three "sodomitical sins" (bestiality, same-sex sexual acts, and "unnatural" fornication between man and woman), only bestiality had been continuously and explicitly outlawed since the medieval period. But in 1864, Chapter 18, section 10 of the Penal Code prescribed up to two years imprisonment at hard labor for these offenses. The law was gender neutral; hence, it applied to men and women alike.

Among the important Swedish cultural figures of the period who engaged in same-sex sexual relationships were the poet Erik Sjöberg Vitalis (1794-1828), the historian Wilhelm Erik Svedelius (1816-1889), the philosopher Pontus Wikner (1837-1888), and the author Viktor Rydberg (1828-1895). Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940), the Nobel Prize winning novelist, lived a lesbian life; her love stories are heterosexual, but frequently illuminate the conflicts and ambivalences of love in a way that suggests her experience as a lesbian.

The Earlier Twentieth Century

During the twentieth century sexuality rose in social significance. Sexuality was also medicalized during the last decades of the nineteenth century, a process that continued until the 1930s, as the influence of Sigmund Freud and psychiatry became paramount. Moreover, in the early decades of the twentieth century, the sexual became the centerpiece of modernity, so that few other fields were subject to so many social regulations. The government appointed numerous commissions on sexuality, dealing mostly with sexual hygiene and procreation. These commissions produced more reports than any other commissions in the 1930s.

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Top: Sweden and neighboring countries in 2004.
Center: A portrait of Queen Christina by Sébastien Bourdon.
Above: King Gustav III.

  
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