Accessing sexual health services in Sweden
When you move to a new country, there’s a whole host of new smells, tastes, sounds to immerse yourself in. The feel of snow underfoot, the smell of pine trees at dusk, the taste of salt as you swim in a new sea. Of course, all these sensations don’t just apply to dazzling landscapes, but to dazzling people too. And on that note, let’s get right to it: here are some tips and tricks for how to shag safely in Sweden.
This isn’t a guide concerning the politics of dating n hooking up in Sweden – Jordan’s blog has you covered there. Rather, just a fun, flirty and informative looks at how to keep you, your sexual partners and your bits safe once the Time of Corona has passed. Essentially, a wee guide for how to be safe when we’re all out on the loose again, looking for another warm body to get through the Swedish winter with, have a cheeky fondle in the park with, or to awkwardly wash dishes alongside the next day in your shared corridor kitchen.
So what will we be looking at in this guide? Everything from where to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to abortions to contraception. Something to keep in mind whilst reading: a lot of the services mentioned here are free. I’ll let you know along the way in case anything does incur a fee.
You think something is not quite right with your body. Or you want to get tested after having sex with a new partner. Or, you want to look into contraception options. Where should you turn to first?
1177. This is the Swedish health service, and this is a good place to start if you want help and guidance. You can call 1177, and talk to a nurse who will tell you your options regarding contraception, clinics to go to for STI testing or if you want an abortion. It is important to note that you can still call 1177 if you don’t have a personnummer.
If you want further information on how 1177 works with regards to all healthcare issues more broadly, my colleague and angel pal Hazal has written a great guide to 1177.
How do you book an appointment?
If you’re talking to the nurse on the phone via 1177, they can help you book an appointment with your local surgery/clinic. If you know the specific clinic you want to book into, you can also call them and book directly. Alternatively, you can book via 1177.se. There is an online catalogue of all the health services you could need on 1177, whether that’s to do with sexual health, or other medical health and dental issues more broadly. Do bear in mind, however, that to book at 1177.se online, you need to be able to login via one of the below options.
For example, to be able to login via BankID or Mobile BankID, you need to not only have a Swedish personnummer, but you need a Swedish ID to be able to download and activate the BankID app. This means you will also need a Swedish bank account. All of these things will make your life easier in Sweden, however it must be said that it takes some organisation, and can be confusing in the beginning. I’ll try and divide these steps down simply below:
- Apply for a personnummer as soon as you arrive in Sweden and have an address. (If you need help with this, my former colleague Katharina has a handy guide on applying for a personnummer).
- Apply for a Swedish bank account.
- Apply for your Swedish ID (this costs ~400kr)
- Once you have received your Swedish ID, download and activate Mobile BankID, Swish (the payment transfer service), etc. Having BankID will make it easier for you book doctor’s appointments online etc.
What are some examples of organisations you can turn to for sexual health advice and services?
RFSU is one organisation. Based in Stockholm, they have three areas of expertise: Contraception counselling and STI prevention, sexual counselling and psychotherapy, outreach and education. I have been to RSFU before for STI testing, and when I arrived I checked in at reception, filled out one of the below forms, and was in and out – fully tested – within 20 minutes!
RFSL (the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex rights) do incredible work all across the country, pertaining both to the sexual health of LGBTQ+ people in Sweden, and broadly on political advocacy projects for LBGTQ+ persons in Sweden and beyond.
Up to the age of 25, you can access UMO, which is an organisation specifically tailored to the youth, with a bunch of great information on sexual health and relationships.
And again, always remember you can turn to 1177 for help in the beginning. They can advise you on healthcare services and organisations who have knowledge specific to your needs regarding your sexual orientation and gender identity.
Can you get contraception, condoms etc for free?
Hell yes randy pals. Many of the organisations mentioned here offer free condoms. For longer-term birth control methods, you can also book to get a prescription for the pill or get an IUD fitted for free, at for example your gynmottagning or at the Mödravårdscentral (also called barnmoskemottagning). These clinics also help with pregnancy testing, pregnancy related healthcare and counselling. You can find these services through 1177.
If you are someone for whom condoms do not work and you’re at an increased risk of contracting HIV, you can also check out RFSL’s fantastic guide on getting access to PrEP.
What about if you need an abortion?
If you are pregnant and do not want to be, there is significant support in place to help you through the process of terminating a pregnancy. You can read more about how to access an abortion should you need to, the different procedures and counselling should you want it here. It is important to note that abortions cost money in Sweden, approximately between 350-700kr. You can again speak to 1177 about this for further information.
Where can you get tested for STIs?
Many of the organisations mentioned above have testing facilities, as do other clinics which you can see via 1177. Depending on where you live in Sweden, it is also possible to get tests for various STIs sent to your house, which is pretty wicked! You can read more about that specific service here.
I spoke to Bowen, former ambassador and now user-experience designer based in Stockholm, who told me about rapid testing at the organisations Noahs Ark and RFSL, if you think you may have been exposed to HIV. Looking Noahs Ark’s webpage, they offer drop-in, rapid HIV testing. They say:
‘A rapid HIV test involves taking a small sample of blood from your finger and you will be given your results within 15 minutes. The test is free of charge and anonymous.’
Likewise, RSFL offer a similar service via Testpoint, which you can read more about here.
RFSL also provide the following service:
‘If you are a man and/or trans and have sex with men, you can register for RFSL’s testing reminder. It’s a service where you get a reminder via SMS when it’s time to get tested for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can choose to get a reminder every third, sixth or twelfth month depending on your need to get tested. The service is free and anonymous. We will not use your phone number for anything else but these reminders.’
Manos, current student at Stockholm University, also told me about contact tracing with regards to STIs. Contact tracing is where, if you test positive for certain STIs, you are required to disclose who you have had sexual contact with recently, so that the clinic can then send a letter to that person, informing them that someone they have had sex with has the particular infection. This is intended to reduce the spread of infection.
Something really important to note is that if you are HIV+, under current Swedish law you have to disclose this to your sex partner(s), and to not do so is a criminal offence. RFSL are against this obligation, and are petitioning the Swedish government to revoke this law, which you can read more about here.
Is testing for sexually transmitted infections free?
The team at RFSL say that:
“Getting tested for infections that are covered by the communicable diseases act should be free of charge everywhere in Sweden. That includes HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and hepatitis.”
Great news! I have also been told by friends that if you test positive for any of these infections, the treatment for them is free as well.
How do you find out your STI test results?
Many services in Sweden operate on the basis of ‘no news is good news.’ The last time I was tested at RFSU, I was told that I would be telephoned within a week if my tests came back positive for anything. I was also told that my information was kept entirely confidential, and I was asked if my blood sample from the HIV test could be retained for medical testing. And I was like, yes, take my blood smart dudes, do what you will.
1177 offer services not only in English, but in other languages such as Finnish, Somalian and Arabic.
Have fun, and keep yourself and your partners safe!
Puss och kram (och etc, wink) xox