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Home » Sexual Health Among Young Somali Women in Sweden: Living with Conflicting Culturally Determined Sexual Ideologies

Sexual Health Among Young Somali Women in Sweden: Living with Conflicting Culturally Determined Sexual Ideologies

    Sexual Health among Young

    Somali Women in Sweden:

    Living With Conflicting Culturally Determined Sexual Ideologies

    Sara Johnsdotter, PhD Birgitta Essén, MD

    Department of Social Anthropology Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

    Lund University, Sweden Lund University, Sweden


    Paper presented during the INTACT Network’s annual research seminar,

    Advancing Knowlegde of the Psycho-Sexual Effects of FGM/C: Assessing

    the Evidence, Alexandria, October 10-12, 2004

    To view complete paper, please

    click here


    Young Somali women in Sweden are affected by two conflicting ideologies

    on sexuality: on one hand, the traditional values demanding chastity

    and modesty in women and, on the other hand, the public sexual ideology

    in Sweden, emphasising sexual liberty and the dismissal of sexual



    this, they have to deal with national campaigns condemning “female

    genital mutilation”. Some of these young women arrived in Sweden

    already circumcised. The public message to them is that they are

    “mutilated” and, consequently, deprived of their ability

    to enjoy sex.


    to tradition, Somali women are expected to behave in a shy manner

    and to present themselves as indifferent to issues regarding sexuality

    and sexual joy. However, there does not seem to exist any idea of

    that infibulation (pharaonic circumcision) would erase their ability

    to enjoy sex. This should be compared to discourses among Eritrean

    and Ethiopian women in Sweden (most of them arrived in Sweden in

    the 1970s), among whom many are firmly convinced that female circumcision

    – generally clitoridectomy – has ruined their possibilities to have

    a truly enjoyable sexual life. These feelings of loss and distress

    seem to stem from anti-FGM-campaigns. (This comparison between Somalis

    and Ethiopians/Eritreans in Sweden has its basis in previous studies

    among these groups; e.g. Johnsdotter, Omar, Carlbom & Elmi 2000;

    Essén, Johnsdotter et al. 2000; Essén 2001; Johnsdotter

    2002; Johnsdotter, Aregai, Carlbom, Moussa & Essén 2004.)


    planned project aims at a deeper understanding of the sexual experiences

    among older Somali women in Sweden, who generally have not yet reached

    the same level of integration as the Eritreans and Ethiopians (most

    of the Somalis arrived in Sweden in the mid-1990s); that is, they

    are rather unaware of the fact that they are to be categorised as

    “mutilated” and, therefore, unable to enjoy sex. The planned

    study also intends to find methods of transferring this positive

    self-image when it comes to sexuality prevalent among older Somali

    women, to the younger women. Discussing sexual matters is taboo

    among Somalis, according to tradition. Even if this situation is

    changing in exile, one may assume that many young Swedish Somali

    women have to make their sexual débuts in lack of knowledge

    about the possibilities of their own sexuality.


    theoretical model used in this study is Leavitt’s model on sexual

    ideologies. In his view, the sexual experience (how people understand

    and experience sex) is a synthesis of the sexual ideology (what

    people know about sex from public discourse) and the sexual behaviour

    (what people actually do when having sex). People’s actual experience

    of sexuality differs fundamentally from public discourses.


    summary, the study intends to map the various sexual discourses

    that young Somali women have to deal with in Sweden. Further, the

    study aims at finding best practices when it comes to offering young

    Swedish Somali circumcised women a culturally sensitive counselling

    in sexual matters.