There are all kinds of myths about nudity in Sweden. And there’s no shortage of questions surrounding the topic, either. How did it start? Why have the normally self-conscious, shy Swedes adapted to be fabric-abstaining fanatics? Is everyone a nudist in Sweden? Does everyone use the sauna naked?
Whether you’re a practicing nudist looking for a vacation or just curious about the Swedish nude mentality, we’ve got the answers. We’ll give you some background knowledge, tips on using a Swedish sauna and recommendations for Swedish nude beaches. Let’s find out more!
Terminology: Nudist or Naturalist?
If you’re already clued up on nudist or naturalist communities; you already know the distinction between these two terms. For people just getting started however, it’s important to separate the two.
A nudist in English is defined as “a person who engages in the practice of going naked wherever possible”. The same is also true in Swedish. That said, in recent years the Swedish term “nudist” has become a derogatory term that naturalists avoid association with.
In Swedish however, the preferred term is “naturists”. The Swedish word for this is also “naturist” (naturister, plural). They also prefer to avoid clothes where possible, but nudity is not central to their ethos. According to the Swedish Naturist Organization, naturalists aim to harmonize with nature at its most basic level. They aim to connect with nature and other people by minimizing factors that seek to divide people, such as clothing.
To sum up, the word “nudist” in Swedish can be deemed derogatory. The exception to this rule is that nudist beaches are called “nudiststränder” in Swedish. For the purposes of this article, I will use the English term nudist with no ill-meaning towards Swedish naturists.
The Swedish equation: Nude doesn’t (always) = Sex
Before we discuss the Swedish mentality on nudity, it’s important to examine cultural perspectives. Many Americans or English speakers assume that nudity and sexuality are intrinsically linked, but that is not the case the world over.
To dive into the Swedish psyche, we must first look at our own. In English, we use our bodies all the time to express ourselves. We “get something off our chest” and annoying people are “a pain in the butt”. But it’s our vulgar language that gives the most clues.
Names for our sexual organs can be used as insults. Sexuality is also used the same way. The “f bomb” is directly linked to sex in English, and insults for women in particular often center around her supposed promiscuity. The same cannot be said in Swedish.
There is no “f bomb” in the Swedish language. There is a verb with the same meaning, but it cannot be used as an insult or in a degrading way. The word means to have sex and that’s it. Swedes are actually quite unique in this regard. The Danes and Norwegians have a similar word – “pule” – that is used in the same context as English. You can even say “forpult” or “forpulet” in both languages to say that something is effed-up. But you can’t in Swedish. Why?
Essentially, sex doesn’t have the same moral associations in Swedish as it does in other languages. At the very least, they aren’t as established. For a brief period during the 19th century, moralists tried to stop Swedish words related to sex or genitalia from being printed in the dictionary. It didn’t change anything. Why? Because people still had sex, sexual organs and buttocks. And everyone knew it. Heck, the celebration of Midsummer was all about fertility and hopefully finding a lover!
A history of nudity in Sweden
Bathing or walking around nude or semi-nude wasn’t always a physical declaration of freedom and body positivity. It certainly hasn’t always had sexual connotations. Swedish attitudes towards nudity actually, as far as we know, goes back to Viking times. It all began with bathing and days of the week.
In English, Saturday takes its name from the planet Saturn. In Swedish, Saturday is called “Lördag”, which goes back to “Lögar-dagen” or, “wash day”. Around the year 900, Saturdays were reserved for cleansing the body. Every man, woman and child would follow a fairly strict beauty regime where they would bathe using natural soap.
By the 1400s, bathing had moved on from just a traditional Saturday past-time. Swedish medicinal journals began discussing the health benefits of using saunas and bathing. One example stated that bathing rituals could “relieve pain”, “strengthen the stomach for digestion”, and even “combat laziness”!
By the 1800s however, things began to change. Negative attitudes towards nudity slowly creeped in among the upper echelons of society. But for most people, bathing was still a public affair and done very much in the nude. There was no room for modesty or time to fret. For some middle class people, they would still bathe together as a family if alone, and if they had company, they would take turns according to gender (men first, of course).
Fast-forward to the 1930s, and attitudes had changed again. For the first time, it was desirable for women to have an all-over suntan – something that could only be achieved nude. By the 1980s, it was commonplace for men and women to sunbathe nude or topless. Nudist beaches had sprung up all over Sweden and nudity, in general, is largely accepted by Swedish people.
Why Swedish people are open-minded about nudity
So Swedes don’t curse by talking about sex and they’ve been bathing nude together for centuries. But that’s not the whole story. To understand why Swedes are more comfortable with the idea of nudity, I think it comes down to three things:
- The separation of sex from nudity: Being nude isn’t just associated with what people get up to in their private life. You can do other things naked too, you know!
- Hygiene and well-being: You don’t bathe to get dirty, do you? Sweat or dirt getting trapped in fabric is as gross as it sounds.
- Comfort: Anyone who has put on a wet bathing suit can testify it’s about as pleasant as standing in a puddle while wearing socks.
Rules on getting naked in Sweden
Nudity in Sweden might be more common than anywhere else, but what does the law say? Swedish nudity laws can seem very odd through a foreign lens, so here are the golden rules:
- You may swim anywhere (outdoor lakes, the ocean, etc.) nude: Public nudity in Sweden is legally acceptable within reason. It’s more common at nudist beaches, but not uncommon to find people skinny-dipping during the summer vacation months.
- Nudist beaches aren’t just for nudists: Nobody tells you what you can or can’t wear at a nudist beach. It’s up to you. Just behave appropriately.
- Show respect to others: No one will bother you if you’re doing your own thing: sun-bathing, swimming, reading a book, etc. Don’t infringe on other people’s space or make them uncomfortable in any way. If you do, you’re breaking the law.
- You may be naked in your own home, obviously. Just don’t stand in windows overlooking busy streets and startle someone. Certainly don’t force your nudity on other people where you know it isn’t appropriate.
- Saunas have their own rules: This is less about the law and more about protocol and individual choice. See the next section for a breakdown of sauna etiquette.
Sauna/spa etiquette in Sweden:
If there’s ever somewhere you’ll definitely experience nudity in Sweden, it’s the sauna. There are a couple of things to note about Swedish sauna culture. Here are a few things you should know before visiting a Swedish sauna:
- Most people, if not everyone, will bathe naked: A Swedish poll from 2015 stated that 63.7% of Swedes are fine bathing naked in a sauna with their parents. 35.3% said absolutely not. If everyone attending a sauna gathering is of the same gender, it’s likely they will be naked or wearing a towel.
- Most Swedes are of the opinion that using a sauna naked is the most efficient way. At least, most will tell you that it’s impossible to truly relax and get clean if you’re in a bathing suit soaking up your sweat and dirt. The decision ultimately lies with you, unless…
- Some saunas forbid swimwear. It’s for hygiene reasons, and that’s why the towelettes are provided. The company website should let you know if the sauna you’re visiting has this rule.
- Many spas offer separate saunas for different genders: Gender-specific saunas are usually located inside changing rooms. It’s common for patrons to be in the nude while using them.
- Most spas have towelettes for you to sit on if you’re worried about hygiene. Everyone showers before using the sauna (yes, naked) so in theory everyone who enters is clean already. If you’re still worried, sit on a towelette.
- There is no “one person” who adds water to the rocks: It’s common in Germany that one person takes on the role of adding water to the rocks to get the humidity up in the sauna. Anyone can do it, but it’s courteous to ask.
Nudist beaches in Sweden
Nudity in Sweden is legally acceptable on any beach. Even so, it can still be helpful to know the names of specific Swedish nudist beaches. Here are some located near big cities:
Lövnäsbadet, Nykvarn (near Södertälje): A spot for nudists/naturists to bathe in what’s supposed to be Sweden’s cleanest lake, Yngern. It’s surrounded by forests and beautiful scenery and it’s not too far from Stockholm.
Saltholmens kallbadhus (Gothenburg): This outdoor pool opened in 1908 and in 1976 it was designated as a place for nudists. There are three parts to it, one for just men, another for women (the largest part, in fact!) and a spot in the middle for all genders. There’s also a sauna which anyone can use.
Skanörs Beach & Solhejdans Campsite: Just outside of Malmö you’ll find Skanörs beach and Solhejdan, a campsite for naturalists. If you’re only planning on visiting for one day, opt for Skanörs beach. Solhejdans campsite on the other hand is a family-friendly place with its own private nudist beach and other activities. You get a discount if you’re a member of a nudist/naturalist club.
For a full list of nude beaches in Sweden, visit The Scandinavian Naturist Portal, an interactive map where you can see the locations of verified naturist/nudist resorts, beaches and indoor swimming pools in Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Norway). There’s also plenty more information in English about nudity in Sweden and Scandinavia on their website.
Nudity in Scandinavia: Not just beaches
When you stop and think about it, beaches aren’t exactly what you think of when you hear the word “Scandinavia”. But for a cold trio of countries, Scandinavians really are keen to take all those layers off when the opportunity arises.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. They spend, on average, 6-8 months of the year in winter jackets after all. However, you might not be ready to roll in snow naked or stand on a blustery nude beach.
There are other things you can do, though. Camping holidays accomodate for nudists all over Scandinavia which cater for everyone from individuals to families. Find out more about that here. There’s also a club in Skanstull, Stockholm, called “Naked Club” where you get free admission if you go naked.
Final thoughts on nudity in Sweden
Lastly, we want to draw your attention to a few things. First of all, a reminder that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of nudity. Don’t assume, ask. Also, just because sexuality doesn’t carry as much of a stigma in Sweden, it is by no means void of issues.
The sexualization of women’s bodies in particular is still prevalent in Sweden. If you’re imaging Swedish nudist beaches to be full of young, lean and blonde models then you’re likely to be disappointed. Everyone is welcome at a nudist beach. It is not somewhere to make others uncomfortable. Respect is central to maintaining freedom and enjoyment for all.
Lastly, the nudist movement in Sweden is a welcoming place. You will likely find companionship and more helpful tips by joining a group and meeting fellow nudists/naturists. Don’t feel pressure to go all in if you’re not ready. You decide.
If you have any tips or questions, please post them in the comment box below!