Sex Education Interests Young Women in Immigrant Suburbs

Many young women in immigrant suburbs are expected to protect their virginity until they are married. But that does not stop them from being curious about sex and having questions about their own bodies.

"The questions are still the same as when I started," says Maj-Britt Franzén who has worked for 20 years as a social welfare officer at a youth health clinic in Kista, outside Stockholm.  "I had groups of girls then and when I asked them what they wanted to talk about they said 'sex, we want to talk about sex'. They are curious about it and that is something that has not changed."

For many of the girls in these areas, there is an expectation that they will be a virgin until the day they get married. However, over the last few years, Maj Britt Franzén and her colleague Marie Ahlsdotter at the youth health clinic, they have noticed that the attitudes are changing.

"Many young people have seen through it long ago," says Marie Ahlsdotter "but they will say that it is something that everybody pretends is still valid, but that hardly anyone lives by. So despite seeing through the charade, they feel forced to live by it."

Maj-Britt Franzén says that when she started 20 years ago, young men would say that they wanted their wife to be a virgin at the wedding day, but that that has now changed. "Now the boys in several of the groups would say, 'no, she does not have to be a virgin' and I could see there had been a change and thought 'yes, finally'.

One of the most important things that Maj-Britt Franzén and Marie Ahlsdotter will repeat again and again is that it is only the girl herself who for sure knows whether she is a virgin or not. It is not so easy as to say that if you do not bleed when you have intercourse, you have done it before.

In this context, they have found it important to move away from the traditional Swedish word for hymen, which is mödomshinna. The word implies that the opening is completely covered with thin skin or a membrane that - once penetrated - will forever be broken. Instead they are using the word slidkrans, which indicates a wreath or a ring, which is more in accordance with what a hymen really looks like.

The ongoing information and discussions about these issues have helped to change attitudes, says Maj-Britt Franzén. She also notices that the young women are less afraid nowadays. Part of it comes from the discussions that came after 26 year old Fadime Sahindal was killed eight years ago by her own father, who felt that she had dishonoured her family by her western way of living.

"When Fadime died" she says, "we had a lot of girls who were afraid and who asked for help, but that is not the picture we see today. They will come and they may have honour related problems, but not like before. They do not want us to sew hymens as much as before, we used to get that question every week a few years ago, but we don't any more. It does happen every now and again, but not at all like it was ten years ago," she says.

Due to common misconceptions, the youth health clinic in Kista is a source of worry and fear for many parent who have their roots in other cultures. Therefore, a part of Maj-Britt Franzén and her colleagues work is about promoting the clinic to the community as a whole.

"I met this group of Somali parents to talk about the clinic," says Maj-Britt Franzén "and the first thing they said was 'we have heard that you help girls get abortion without telling the parents'. I then had to explain that we do so much more, that we for example can help girls who are in a lot of pain when they have their period, or when they have other questions about their body. After the meeting a dad came up to me and said that he thought this had helped and the the clinic no longer would have such a bad reputation. They had understood that all young people are curious about sexuality, and that it does not matter if they are from Somalia, from Iran or from Sweden.

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