Last week the convenience store 7-Eleven started running a highly noticed advertising campaign in busy places in Norway such as Oslo Central Station and on television. It uses the stereotypical images of Norway: Norway is the country of the midnight sun, of fjords and…of chlamydia. The point is humouristic and catchy, to tell tourists and foreigners to protect themselves against locals, and buy their condoms at 7-Eleven.
Funny right? Then why is this ad offensive to most Norwegians who saw it and why were the reactions so negative? Norwegians are used to seeing their country represented by very positive images such as breathtaking sceneries, spotless snowy mountains with a little red cabin and pristine fjords. Norway also ranks on the top of the list of most wanted things in the world: happiest country in the world , highest Human development index in the world, best place to be a mother etc. Norwegians are not used to hearing anyone warn foreigners about them being “dangerous” or “contagious”. Especially with something as taboo as sexually transmitted diseases. So, is Norway the land of chlamydia, or is 7-Eleven just playing on the shock factor to do advertiseing? Spoiler alert. Yes, Norway does have one of the highest rates of chlamydia in Europe.
In 2016, there were 67 new cases of chlamydia discovered every day. That does not include all of those who do not get tested. This gives a chlamydia rate of 486 for 100 000 inhabitants in Norway, with an increase of 7% compared to the previous year. The existence of chlamydia has been stable and high for many years in Norway according to the Norwegian Health Authorities.
What are the reasons for which Norwegians have one of the highest rates of chlamydia in Europe?
1- Sexual freedom and consumption of alcohol are not enough to explain the rate of chlamydia in Norway.
Many foreigners have a tendency of seeing Norwegians as “easy” sexually speaking, sleeping around all too much. Norway has the highest rate of one-night-stands in the world after Iceland. Guys, it’s called sexual freedom. That does not mean that Norwegians sleep with everyone, it means that women and men can choose their sexual partners without the fear of dishonouring or being shamed by their family. Teenagers also drink quite a bit, despite alcohol consumption being forbidden before the age of 18. For many people who are not familiar with this kind of open society, it is easy to conclude that Norwegians have a high rate of sexually-transmitted diseases because they are having too much sex, and that their morals are loose. Well, no. It is not because things are different here that it is wrong. Forbidding sex before marriage does not stop sexually transmitted diseases (STD), and choosing one’s sexual partners has nothing to do with the spreading of such diseases. It has to do with equality and freedom. What does lead Norwegians to spread chlamydia is their lack of use of condoms.
2- Many Norwegians believe that bad things in this world never happen to Norwegians. Wars, economic crises and STDs.
Many Norwegians believe they have a silver protection dome that protects their country from everything bad in the world: wars, disease, poverty. Wars only happen in “nærområder”, STDs only occur in Africa or Thailand, poverty and economic crisis only happen as close to it as Southern Europe in countries like Greece.
In many peoples’ minds, Norway is the “lykkeland” (happiness country) where everything will be okay. If you lose your job the social security system will take care of you until you find another one, if you get sick the welfare system will take care of you.
I am not sure what is the cause of this misconception might be. My first guess would be bad health and sex education in schools which have failed to make teens and young adults understand that they need to protect themselves from STDs. Or maybe because HIV/AIDS did not hit Norway as much as other countries, they feel like they are immune to all STDs. Or maybe because of the wealth and carefree system they have been brought up in, the “oljebarna” (“Petrol Children”, i.e. those who have not lived in Norway before the discovery and wealth brought by oil), wonder what the point of wearing condoms when everything seems so perfect? Who knows. In any case the latest campaign by the Norwegian Health Directorate tells youth that one in 10 people they have sex with has chlamydia. And that Gonorrhea has increased by 50% since last year. Whaaat?
3-Norwegians should be more scared of getting HIV and other diseases
I am born in 1983, a few months after the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention used the term “AIDS” (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) for the first time. The way I was taught, any unprotected sex can lead to contracting HIV. A single time is enough.
That year the world started understanding what HIV really was. That it was spreading all over the world. That women, children, heterosexual men, gay men and basically anyone in the world could catch it. People were dying like flies, and there was no cure.
By the time I hit my teens, schools and medical staff were highly trained to convince all of us kids to use condoms every time we would have sex. It did not matter whether you took the pill, whether you wanted to try unconventional sex moves and practices. Whether you were into straight, gay or bisexual. All that mattered was that we used a condom. We even had people coming to us, demonstrating in front of a crowd of 400 teens pumped with hormones how to put a condom on a banana. The giggles that came out of the crowd would have woken Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir from their graves.
But in Norway the common awareness about these issues seems different. As if the country had evolved in a parallel universe where the Swedish border protects the Norwegians citizens from any disease. Or maybe it is their Norwegian passport doing so?
4- Get rid of your shame. Be proud of your country. And use condoms 🙂
The non-profit organisation Sex og Samfunn (Sex and Society) reports that a lot of young Norwegian people, especially young women, feel ashamed to have a condom on them and offer it to men they sleep with. I don’t know whether this is also a trend in gay relationships, but I see this as a step back. The whole point of equality and sexual freedom is leaving shame behind. Having and using condoms should be seen as something respectful one does to protect oneself but also your partner. There is no shame in that. It does become difficult when the other part says “no” and a negotiation starts “To use or not to use a condom”. Not exactly the biggest turn on a few minutes before having sex. Oh well. You’ll survive shame, but chlamydia or worse, gonorrhea (which is peaking in Oslo these days) will take longer to get rid of.
So, should Norwegians be annoyed at this 7-Eleven ad? Sadly it is the truth, so whether this chain has decided to use that to its advantage or not is irrelevant. The more dangerous element here is not that the ad is giving a negative image of Norway. The risk people put themselves at when not using condoms, and that people continue to live in an utopia. Sometimes plastic is fantastic. And might save your life, or allow you to have kids as chlamydia can make you sterile. So until Norwegians have grown up, foreigners, protect yourselves!