Scandinavians are unusually cool about nudity in certain well-defined situations. The Finnish sauna is a well-known example. Within Swedish families, nudity is also commonplace, while many other nations feel that allowing your kids to see you starkers is tantamount to sexual molestation. (Which is a hot topic here at Scienceblogs at the moment.)
My wife and I once had dinner with a young couple down the street, where the man was a Chilean. His parents also had an apartment on the same street. He told us, chuckling, that his ma & pa could never draw the blinds in their kitchen, because every time they did there were naked people in the kitchen window across the street. This kind of rang a bell with me, and sure enough, that kitchen window belonged to the Rundkvist family.
Poor harassed Catholics! Similarly, I felt a little bad for my excellent Turkmen Muslim neighbour recently when he came to pick up his daughter at our place and the door was opened by my three-year old in her birthday suit (she had just had a bath).
Funnily, nudist beaches are rare in Sweden, and nobody gets naked at a public beach. Topless tanning is also regrettably pretty much out after its glory days in the 80s. Be nude, but learn the proper context.
Another peculiarity of us Scandinavians is that we have a strong feminist ethos and uncommonly de-specialised gender roles. This means that Scandy men are involved to an unusual degree in the care of their children. Combine this with our attitude to nudity, and try to imagine the consequences in, say, the changing rooms of a public bath.
I took my eight-year-old to swimming practice Monday night. As usual, the changing rooms were full of nude men and toddlers of both sexes. I really had to admire this one guy, a fiftyish Chinese recent arrival, who was there with his two daughters. I imagine it takes some cultural flexibility in a man like that to accept that a) he’s taking the girls to swimming practice, b) they all change in the men’s changing room.
Well, what about child molestation? I believe the frequency of such crimes is about the same in Sweden as in other Western countries, though the rate of discovery and police involvement is most likely way higher due to high awareness. The current issue of kids’ magazine Kamratposten, of which my son is a subscriber, has a piece on molestation with matter-of-fact advice about what a kid’s to do if they or someone they know becomes a target.
And those nude men in the changing room? Most of them were dads. If someone had approached a kid in a slimy way or taken out a camera, he would have been pinned in a corner before he could say “NAMBLA” and fifteen suburban cellphone users would have called the police on the spot. Getting nekkid is no big deal to a Swedish dad, but the well-being and integrity of kids sure is.