The right to your own body

Last updated: 20 9 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

In order to be able to make decisions regarding our body, we need to have knowledge about it. We need to know, for example, about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). It can feel difficult to talk about sexuality and SRHR, but it can also be fun and rewarding to talk about them. Sexuality affects all of us in different ways. It has to do with life, about ourselves and what we feel and think about who we are as human beings. 

This text is about your right to your body and what is known as bodily integrity. The text talks about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). This means it describes such things as contraceptives, sexually transmissible diseases, abortion and cervical screening. It also talks about payment for sex, the Act on Consent and about organ donation.

  • The right to your own body

    Everyone has the right to their own body. You have a right to make decisions about your own body and your sexuality. For example, you have the right to decide whether you want to have children or not. You also have the right to visit the health and medical care services in order to get help and advice regarding contraceptives, pregnancy and delivery, for example. And you have the right to decide if, when and with whom you want to have sex. You should not have to risk your own health for someone else’s sake. No-one may subject you to violence, sexual abuse or other things that harm your health. You also have the right to privacy.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)

Sexual and reproductive health is about feeling good in one's sexuality and reproduction.

Sexuality is an important part of being human. It is significant for our well-being throughout our lives. Sexuality is about more than having sex. It is also about who we are, about being close to other people, and about our thoughts and relationships. Our sexuality is influenced by the people around us and the society we live in.

Reproductive health means safe care before, during, and after someone has had a child. Possibilities of having children are different for different people. Medical care services can help if someone has difficulties getting pregnant. In order for everyone to have good reproductive health, access is also needed to safe abortions and the possibility of choosing a contraception method, such as condoms or a coil.

Sexual and reproductive rights are necessary in order for everyone to have good sexual and reproductive health. This means that everyone is entitled to make decisions about their own body. You are entitled to

  • decide if, when, and with whom you want to have sex.
  • decide if, when, and how you want to have children.
  • have control of your own sexuality.
  • decide how you identify and express your gender – such as woman, man, or trans person.

Our general state of health affects our sexual health. Sexual ill health can be a sign of other illnesses or be due to treatments and medication. We are entitled to receive information and care from school and medical care services, for example, so that we can look after our sexual and reproductive health throughout our lives.

An illustrated collage with young and old people and different types of love relationships.

Contraceptives

Contraceptives are various ways of protecting yourself against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Both the person who may become pregnant and the person who may make someone pregnant have a responsibility for arranging contraceptives.

Example: Nadja and Adam want to protect themselves against getting pregnant

Nadja and her husband, Adam, have three children together. They want a reliable form of protection against further pregnancies. They do not want to have any more children. They find avoiding sex on those days when the risk of getting pregnant is greatest, as well as interrupted intercourse, too unreliable. Nadja's friends have been helped by their gynaecologist and at the medical care centre.

Nadja phones the midwifery and makes an appointment for guidance. She then meets with the midwife, who tells her about contraceptives with and without hormones. The midwife says that condoms are good against sexually transmitted diseases. She shows Nadja how contraceptives can be administered in different ways – as pills, patches, coils, and injections. It is also possible to have a small rod implanted under your skin, or have a vaginal ring. Yet another option is for Nadja or Adam to get sterilised, which is a minor surgical procedure carried out to prevent the possibility of having children. Nadja and her husband do not want to do that. The midwife asks if Nadja has any illnesses that could influence the choice. She checks her blood pressure, height, and weight and carries out a gynaecological examination. Nadja wants to think about which contraceptive method she and Adam are going to choose.

The following day, Adam gets in touch with the midwife. They speak on the phone. Adam wants to know more about different condoms and which ones work best. The midwife tells him that there are different sizes and materials. She also tells him which clinics Adam can go to get help in choosing the right condom. At the clinic, he can also book a counselling chat about how to use a condom and receive free condoms of different sizes. Nadja and Adam find that condoms work well and decide to choose that as their contraceptive.

Sexually transmitted diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases are diseases you can get from having sex with someone who has that kind of disease, such as chlamydia.

Sexually transmitted diseases are also known as venereal diseases.

Example: George thinks he has a sexually transmitted disease

George is having discharges from his urethra, and it stings when he urinates. He has had sex with both Johanna and with Emilio. He goes to his medical care centre as he suspects that has a sexually transmitted disease. The doctor examines him, and urine and blood samples are taken. The results are ready in a week – George has chlamydia. He is prescribed a course of tablets.

There is a special law about infectious diseases called the Communicable Diseases Act (Smittskyddslagen). Chlamydia is one of the diseases covered by that act. This means that George does not have to pay for his examination, tests, or treatment. He is told that he must use a condom if he has sex, and that he should preferably not have sex until his treatment is over. He also has to tell the medical care centre who he has had sex with in the past year. The medical care centre will trace these people to see if any of them have chlamydia. They contact Johanna and Emilio, who also have to provide test samples. The medical care centre is not allowed to tell them that George has chlamydia and that he has given the centre their names.

Johanna and Emilio have no symptoms. They have to get tested anyway because it is common that people have sexually transmitted diseases without symptoms. Johanna goes to her gynaecologist to get tested and Emilio to the youth clinic.

Abortion

Having an abortion means that you end a pregnancy.

Example: Zahra wants to have an abortion

Zahra is pregnant and wants to have an abortion. All pregnant women have the right to have an abortion. This includes women who are not Swedish citizens. Zahra phones the hospital's abortion clinic and makes an appointment. Her husband, Johan, accompanies her. He feels uncertain about what they should do. The staff tell them the rules regarding abortion. They learn that it is the person who is pregnant who makes the decision about an abortion. The staff also tell them that they can speak to a counsellor about their emotions if they wish. Until the 18th week of her pregnancy, Zahra herself can decide to have an abortion. From week 18 to 21 it is the National Board of Health and Welfare that has the final say. Abortions are not permitted after week 21.

The most common method is to do the abortion using medication. Zahra is given a pill and then returns to the hospital after a few days. Her husband, Johan, comes too. She is given medication that makes her bleed and ends her pregnancy. After a few hours, she is allowed to go home. An abortion can also be carried out as a minor surgical procedure, after which you can also go home on the same day.

Papanicolaou (Pap) test, or cervical screening

All women between the ages of 23 and 64 are regularly invited by the health care services to have a Pap test, which involves a midwife or a doctor taking a cell sample from the cervix. The sample is taken via the vagina. The test shows if there have been any cell changes in your cervix. You would not see or feel these cell changes, and in most cases, they do not cause any problems. The changes are not dangerous in themselves, but can sometimes develop into cancer if they are not found and treated early enough. The only way to find cell changes is by taking cell samples.

A Pap test takes a few minutes. It costs nothing. It usually does not hurt and there is no risk of any damage. If you do a Pap test every time you get invited to be screened by the health care services, you will have very good protection against cervical cancer.

If you are between 23 and 49 years old, you will be invited for screening every three years. If you are between 50 and 64 you will be invited every five to seven years.

Gender identity and your body

Gender dysphoria is when you feel that your body does not match your gender identity and this makes you suffer. If you have gender dysphoria, you can be given sex reassignment therapy or treatment to make you feel better. This care or treatment is intended to adapt your body to your gender identity and may consist of hormone treatment or various types of surgery. You can also change the gender specified in the population register and in your personal identity number to suit your gender identity. This is known as changing your legal gender.

Help in leaving a violent relationship

If you are living with a partner or a family who controls you and subjects you to violence, you are entitled to help and support. Violence can occur in all types of relationships and can be physical, sexual, or psychological, for example.

If you or someone you know has been subjected to violence, you should report it to the police by calling 114 14. Call 112 if it is an emergency. You can also contact the police station in the area where you live.

Violence can cause physical injury as well as other health problems. You may be afraid of what will happen if you leave the relationship. You can get help in leaving a violent relationship and to make you feel better. If you want help, contact the social services or your medical care centre. You can also call women's helplines and victim support helplines directly. They will tell you what your rights are. You can also receive help and support and, in some cases, housing at a secret address.

Payment for sex

Payment for sex means receiving payment in exchange for sexual acts. A sexual act can be many different things. It may be showing your naked body or caressing genitals. It may be having oral sex, vaginal sex, or anal sex. Payment does not have to be in the form of money. People take payment for sex for many different reasons. It may be that they need money, food, clothes, cigarettes, or somewhere to sleep. There may be an agreement about payment beforehand, but it can also be something that is agreed afterwards. In Sweden, it is not illegal to receive payment for sexual acts. However, it is illegal to pay for sex. The law regulating these things is called the Act on Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services (Lagen om förbud mot köp av sexuella tjänster).

If you receive payment for sex and want to talk to someone about how you feel, or if you want help to stop selling sex, contact the social services or your medical care centre. There are also special clinics and associations that support people who sell sex. Help is also available if you buy sex or provide other payment for it and want to stop.

  • Questions to think about

    Do you know of any laws against buying sex in other countries?

    Are they similar or different to the Swedish law?

Sex always has to be voluntary – by law

You are entitled to be in charge of your body and your sexuality. Sex should feel good for everyone involved. Sex must always be voluntary – this is written into a law called the Act on Consent (Lagen om samtycke). Consent to having sex can be demonstrated in words or with body language.

The Act on Consent states that:

  • All sex in which one party has not said or shown that they want it is illegal. It does not matter if you are in a relationship or married.
  • You are always entitled to change your mind at any time, even if you said yes to having sex to begin with.
  • There are some situations that can never be voluntary. These are when a person is forced, threatened, or subjected to violence to agree to sex.
  • A child under the age of 15 cannot have sex voluntarily the way an adult can. It is therefore illegal for anyone over 15 to have sex with anyone under the age of 15.
  • If you have had sex with a person who showed that they did not want to have sex with you, you can be sentenced to prison.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence is any sexual act that you do not do voluntarily, but because you feel forced to or scared. These acts can be carried out by someone close to you, such as a partner, a friend, or a relative. They can also be carried out by a complete stranger.

The acts can be many different things. It can be forcing you to have sex in a way you do not want to or at a time when you do not want it, for example. It can also be threatening you with terrible consequences if you do not agree to sex, or it can be the person persuading you to have sex even though you said no. It can be things that someone else does to you or which the person forces you to do. It is illegal to subject a person to sexual violence, even within a marriage. A person who does may be sentenced to prison.

Female genital mutilation and circumcision

Female genital mutilation is the removal or damaging of the clitoris or the labia of girls or women. Female genital mutilation is about controlling a woman's sexuality and is illegal in Sweden. It is usually done to children between the ages of 4 and 14. Female genital mutilation occurs in some countries in Africa and the Middle East, among other places.

Circumcision of children with a penis involves removing the foreskin of the penis. The reasons for the procedure can be religious, cultural, or medical – if the foreskin is too tight, for example. Penile circumcision is legal in Sweden but can only be carried out by people with a special certificate.

Example: Layla is a victim of female genital mutilation and receives help at the youth clinic

Layla is 16 and visits the youth clinic. For a long time, she has had a stinging sensation when she urinates, and she often gets fungal infections. Hamida, a midwife, examines Layla and sees that she has been subjected to female genital mutilation. The midwife says "I see you're circumcised" and explains that the problems are due to that. Layla looks down and says "I thought everyone looked the way I do". The midwife tells her about a clinic that carries out surgery to open up the vulva again. That could be a way of getting rid of her problems. Layla says she's going to think about it. She is given information to take home, and they make a new appointment for counselling.

  • Questions to think about

    What do you think Layla is thinking after her visit to the youth clinic?

    What information do you think she needs?

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is the transport of people from one place to another in order for other people to exploit them in various ways. People can be exploited by being forced to sell sex, work, commit crimes, or donate organs.

Some people are tricked into going to other places in the hope of finding work and a better future. Others are forced to go using threats and violence. Human trafficking is a form of slavery and is a criminal act. In Sweden, anyone involved in subjecting people to human trafficking can be sentenced to up to four years in prison.

The right to knowledge and information

In order to be able to make decisions that concern our own bodies, our sexuality, and health, we need knowledge and information. This applies to everyone, adults as well as children. It does not matter if we are unable to see or hear, or if we can read. We are all entitled to information about sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) that we can understand. This means that care providers – nurses, doctors, and midwives – must provide information in a way that the person seeking care can understand.

You may be entitled to an interpreter in order to understand the information you get from the medical care services. You are entitled to be able to understand what the staff say and to have them understand what you say. The interpreter must observe professional secrecy and may not speak to anyone else about what was said.

Another way of getting information is to search on the internet. There is a lot of good information online about health and the body.

Here are some sites with information in different languages:

Organ donation

Every year, close to 700 seriously ill people in Sweden have one or more organs, for example kidneys or a heart, replaced through transplantation from a donor.

At the same time, there are not enough organs being donated in Sweden. Every year, people die because they are waiting for a transplant and there are not enough organs.

You have the right to decide what you want to happen to your organs when you die. You can choose:

  • not to donate your organs,
  • to donate you organs for transplantation, or
  • to donate them for transplantation and medical purposes.

If you have not told your close relatives that you want to donate your organs when you die, they can decide this themselves.