Sex and Nudity

I have noticed that perceptions of sex and nudity in Iceland are a bit odd to some people. 

So I went out last night with a group of friends and was talking to an English friend of mine that suggested I should write a blog about how open Icelandic people are about sex. (Which is obviously a great idea because everyone is going to want to read about that – and I have so much to say on the topic!) ;) 

This said friend has been to Iceland a couple of times (as well as pretty much everywhere else in the world) and he was amused when he was there with myself and my Icelandic female friend and we had a conversation, in English so that he could understand, detailing our sex-lives. Apparently my Icelandic friend was annoyed about some guy she had slept with and wanted to sleep with again but hadn’t heard from, then some guy walked past us and she pointed out and said: “That’s him!”

Read also: Nightlife and Mating or Nightlife in Reykjavik.

Now, I don’t remember this particular incident, probably because it’s just one of those normal things that happen and I do talk about my sex life (or lack of!) and my friends’ sex life on an almost daily basis. But having lived in England for the past 3 years I’ve come to realize that this may be one of the reasons people call me ‘crazy’ wherever I travel: This Icelandic open attitude towards sex and nudity.

When I tell foreigners that it’s quite likely they’d get hit on by women in Iceland they frequently drop their jaws. For me, being Icelandic and female, this is perfectly normal. Pretty much every time I’ve been attracted to someone I’m the one who buys the guy a drink or go over to him to chat him up. And because the nation has such an equal approach to men and women this is considered completely normal. Women can do whatever men can do. Why shouldn't they?

Maybe as a consequence the Icelandic men aren’t really the best at hitting on women and hardly ever give women compliments (although I think they might be getting better at it in recent years). Living abroad and traveling has shown me that’s not the case elsewhere. 

Now, some people think this means that Icelandic girls are sluts. They are not! If they were, then the men would be just as much sluts. We don’t call a woman a ‘slut’ just because she likes to sleep with men (or women), we don’t call men ‘sluts’ just because they like sleeping with women (or men). They may have a high sexual charge and/or bad luck and therefore sleep with quite a few partners. I mean, if you meet someone that turns out to be incapable of satisfying you in bed, that probably won’t be a lasting relationship. That goes for both men and women. And then you move on. It's really all about being equal.

If you're lucky, you meet that 'special someone' early on before your heart's been bruised too much - but if you don't, it wouldn't hurt to know exactly what you want in bed when you do meet that person!

Sex and Nudity

Being female in the UK I’ve noticed different attitudes to Icelandic women. Because I (and other Icelandic girls here that I know) have openly discussed our sex lives with friends/classmates/acquaintances a few people have thought we have had way more sexual partners than is the case. Men here are most of the time very insecure or afraid of women that are strong, confident and in charge – but a few of them love it and completely embrace it. I’ve sometimes been called ‘unfeminine’ for things such as being able to crack open a beer bottle with a lighter and then drinking a pint instead of some ‘more feminine drink’, such as a glass of wine. If I open a bottle with a lighter back in Iceland I’d rather get an impressed look from the guys around me and probably someone asking how it’s done. I also feel that people here get embarrassed very easily for things that are perfectly normal to me, such as cheeky comments or topless sunbathing!

Sex in Iceland?

A few years ago there was an advertising campaign done by Icelandair that used wordplay to play on different meanings related to the Icelandic nation’s notorious chilled attitude towards sex, offering a stop-over in Iceland with the slogan “Have a one night stand in Reykjavík” or “Fancy a dirty weekend in Iceland?” (along with a photo of people putting mud in their face in the Blue Lagoon). This was mainly addressed to men and portraying the Icelandic women as easily caught bitches in heat. Feminists went crazy and there was a public outrage about the whole campaign. And it just gave the wrong impression to foreigners. (I just read a great article from Grapevine – great newspaper in English about everything that happens in Iceland - about this – that also points out that the average age of Icelanders to start having sex is the lowest in the world and that a high percentage owns sex toys and are likely to bring them to bed).

A couple of years later an Icelandic woman went on the Oprah Winfrey show and talked about how it is seen as ‘normal’ to have a one night stand in Iceland and that there are a lot of single mums in the country, which is perfectly normal and not looked down upon. She also pointed out our maternity benefits, that the female workforce participation in Iceland is among the highest in the world, that over 60% of our university students are female, that virtually all Icelandic women are wage earners by their own choice, etc. but somehow the fact that we admit to having one night stands stood out. I feel like that's the thing that foreign media puts focus on, when it shouldn't be a big deal. Now, I'm not saying that EVERYONE has one night stands - or even encouraging people to have one night stands - but, sometimes people have a connection and they happen.

Now, the thing is – this does NOT mean that all Icelandic women are sluts or that they will sleep with anyone. I can't stress this enough. Just because I (and other Icelandic girls) can talk freely about sex - does NOT mean that I (or they) will sleep with anyone or everyone! After this Icelandair campaign – and still today from time to time – there will appear some (male) tourists that are convinced that all they need to do to get laid is to show up and buy a pretty girl a drink in a bar. Obviously that is not the case. You still need to be smart, attractive, funny, respectful and all those other things that women (and men) are attracted to.

Sex and Nudity

I remember a story from an Icelandic friend of mine that was in London. She had a boyfriend at the time and went out with her friend. Her friend hooked up with some guy and the guy's friend said to her "Your friend looks very passionate, are you passionate?" So she replied "If you're talking about sex then yes, I'm very passionate about sex. I'm just not passionate about sex with you". To his credit he was very pleased with the straight answer and they continued talking as mates (and she had to explain that Icelandic people are very straightforward when it comes to having sex - and also when it comes to declining it).

Nudity in Iceland

I personally think it’s a positive thing that we like sex and are not afraid to talk about it and don’t freak out about public nudity. I think being naked is a perfectly normal thing – that has been skewed in media and magazines and in this society of ‘perfect’ skinny models where everyone wants to look like an hourglass. 

Also, don't read this like Iceland is some 'naked utopia' where everyone walks around naked all the time and don't ever discuss anything else besides their sex lives. People are generally only naked in sex divided showers before hitting the swimming pools in Reykjavík or swimming pools in the rest of the country and perhaps topless sunbathing in public spaces, during the few days a year when the weather is good enough to sunbathe. As a matter of fact, there was a #freethenipple campaign in March 2015 to oppose that women don't (didn't?) feel like they can be topless sunbathing in public (or even when breastfeeding). So whereas it was pretty normal for woman to be topless in the 70's, then it has become more of a taboo in the 90's or 00's - but maybe the taboo is breaking now?

Now, after living in England for the past few years I’ve realized that most Brits have major nudity complexes and are very uncomfortable about being naked around other people – or seeing naked people. For example, I went to Estonia on an Erasmus program with a group from my class and they only had communal showers in the dorms we lived in, separated for males and females nonetheless. Now, all the English girls panicked about this and for the first month they all showered in their bikinis – even though there were just other girls around. Finally they came to their senses and stopped making a fuss about it. 

Another time, I went to see the musical Dirty Dancing in London and in one scene the lead actor took off his clothes and made love to the leading lady (all under the covers and only suggested – no moans and groans or anything!) But as he took his clothes off and kissed the girl there was a rumble in the audience of people being uncomfortable, fiddling with their phones or giggling etc.

I think one of the reasons for this is that Brits never see any naked people except their own bodies, nudity on TV and then their sexual partners. They don’t grow up thinking it’s perfectly OK to be naked around other people – I’ve heard from people that play sports that they don’t necessarily shower together after practice even, instead they go home to shower!

Sex and Nudity

If you’ve been to Iceland or read any of the other blogs on this website you may have seen that one of the things you need to do to fit in with the nation is to get naked in the showers before you go to a swimming pool. And if you go to a hot pool/river/pond somewhere in the middle of the countryside with no-one else around – it makes perfect sense just to wear your Adam’s clothes (or Eve’s). I remember when I was growing up and I’d go with my family to pick berries in the autumn and if it was a sunny day and no-one around my mum would take her top off to get some tan whilst picking berries. And as a teenager going on summer cabin trips there are always going to be some people that strip all their clothes and run naked in the snow or into a freezing cold lake before warming up in a jacuzzi.

So, bottomline is: Nudity is normal and very acceptable in Iceland. People have sex, people most of the time like sex, people will talk about sex. My first encounter of one good friend of mine was that she came to my dinner party and started off vividly describing a dildo she had seen in a sex shop earlier that day. After 5 minutes of a very graphic description she introduced herself to me. Another good friend of mine got naked in a dinner party the first time I met him and did a little naked dance on top of a table. (This may not apply to every Icelander, I may just have friends that are particularly drawn to being naked or frank about their sex lives).

Now, you might still find this odd (depending on where you are from – I find that Scandinavians, Finnish people and Estonians share this with Icelandic people – probably something to do with going naked to saunas all the time) – but in the UK I’ve found people just as relaxed and easy going when they talk about drugs. For me, that’s odd. I’ve met various people for the first time (in work/parties/school/workshops) that tell me all about how fucked up they got on ecstasy and cocaine and something else the previous weekend and then they ask me if I want a line of coke. I’ve never had that first encounter with someone in Iceland. So I suppose that while for Icelanders it’s normal to talk about your sex-life, in the UK, people will think you are promiscuous. And as it’s normal for Brits to talk about drug-use, in Iceland, people will think you are a drug addict and in serious trouble.

Now, if people are sensitive about nudity and sex and like to keep their stories and opinions private then that's fine with me. I just don't like it when women get judged for being open about their sexuality and referred to with degrading remarks (bitch in heat, slut etc) - and somehow these remarks seem to always refer to females and not males. Hopefully, with TV shows such as Sex in the City it will become more accepted for women to talk about their sex-lives around the world without being labeled as ‘an easy slut’ and instead be respected for their sexual confidence and knowing what they want and how to get it. That’s how we see them in Iceland.

Also, it should go without saying: 

Practice safe sex, enjoy it, experiment and for the love of all that's good in this world, don't take it too seriously! :) Now read about mating and the nightlife in Iceland.

p.s. This blog post has become WAY more popular than I ever expected it to - with some people misreading it and sending me (somewhat bizarre) questions regarding it. Mostly people have been positive and I want to thank everyone for lovely feedback! :)

But I've updated it a bit and just to clarify: This is written from my own experience and does not apply to every single person in the country. And just because I think nudity is normal, doesn't mean that I'm advertising one night stands or orgies or cheating. I'm a romantic at heart and my relationship rules number 1, 2 and 3 are no cheating. So guys that are only here to look for tips on 'how to score', either learn to respect girls or stay away!

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