Dating in Sweden can be hard enough in times without an ongoing pandemic, as many of The Local's single readers have told us. So what should you do when official recommendations ask you to keep a two-metre distance from other people, a message seen in social media advertising and billboards across Sweden.
“That's a hard question. We have social distancing which is one of the factors [in reducing the spread of infection]. Within close relationships it's another matter,” said the Swedish Public Health Agency's deputy state epidemiologist Anders Wallensten when The Local put the question to him.
“But above all we're avoiding large gatherings of people and travel, and those are the guidelines that apply above all.”
Sweden, where coronavirus restrictions have to a comparatively large extent been based on voluntary measures, introduced social distancing guidelines on April 1st, later than in many other countries.
Asked by The Local at the Public Health Agency's press conference on Tuesday why such guidelines were not considered necessary before, and what had changed to make them necessary now, Wallensten said:
“Our strategy has always been to introduce the measures at the time when they were necessary, at the point in the spread of infection when we have noticed that they are needed – perhaps a bit later than in other countries – but that's been our aim.”
Sweden's deputy state epidemiologist Anders Wallensten at Tuesday's press conference. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
Denmark's health chief on Monday made it clear that his country's strict approach to social distancing did not extend to sex, either casual or in a steady relationship. He told reporters: “Sex is good. Sex is healthy. We are sexual beings, and of course you can have sex in this situation. As with any other human contact, there is a risk of infection. But of course one must be able to have sex.”
For the sake of clarity, we should perhaps mention that the coronavirus enters the respiratory tract by the inhalation of droplets, and is not spread via semen or vaginal fluid, but the physical closeness involved in sex clearly brings a risk of inhaling the virus if one of the partners is infected and contagious.
While it may seem like a strange question to discuss from this particular angle, consensual sex and intimacy are considered important to public health and have often been the topic of serious debate in Sweden.
In 2019 the Public Health Agency released a major survey on the sex lives of Swedes, in order to better understand sexual and reproductive health and rights in the country.
The survey, which quizzed 50,000 people, came after concerns were raised that Swedes were having less sex than they used to. This was seen as a public health concern because it could potentially be linked to other health issues such as stress, mental health or people's insecurities about their bodies.
However, the survey found that, in general, Swedes have healthy and satisfying sex lives.