FINLAND(Saami / Lapps)



Ojakangas (1993)[1] examined medical and pedagogical texts circulated in Finland from 1890 to 1939 concerning dangers of masturbation among school children. Sexuality was encouraged only as it led to legitimate procreation. Masturbation for pleasure was said to result in physical, mental, and moral degeneration. School authorities had a duty to educate and discipline students in proper habits of sexual hygiene.

Korkiakangas (1992:p96-7)[2] stated that even in the years immediately after WW II, guidebooks on sex and moral education warned for the dangers of masturbation. On the basis of interviews and questionnaire material from the 1980s, it was observed that children’s playing doctor was prohibited. Despite the fairly liberal attitude on sex education at the time of writing, “[s]exual lore is still to some extent a matter between children: the wiser and more experienced “enlightens” the less experienced”.

Sources of sex information were studied in 1950 (Westling and Tanka)[3], 1971, 1992, and 1993 (Kontula and Haavio-Mannila, 1997)[4]. “In their childhood home, information had been received about sexual matters by 39 percent of men and by 41 percent of women in 1971; in 1992, correspondingly, by 61 percent and by 64 percent. Ten percent of men and 14 percent of women in 1971 regarded the information received at home as sufficient. In 1992, the percentages were 29 percent and 32 percent respectively”.

According to Kontula and Meriläinen (1988)[5], between 2 percent and 3 percent of both the boys and the girls reported having started masturbating already before age 10. Sexual games would have been played by at least 40 percent of the young adults in their childhood, half of them more frequent than one or two incidents[6]. In a follow-up (Kosunen 1993)[7], 36 percent, of 13-year-old boys and 23 percent of girls reported that they had at some time practiced masturbation.


In a 2005 study[8], a representative sample of 364 Finnish children not screened for developmental delay, sexual abuse history or psychiatric problems (181 girls and 183 boys) in 190 daycare centers were studied using the 'Day-Care Sexuality  Questionnaire' using members from the personnel as informants. For boys, four factors (masturbatory/genital self-touch, sexual swearing/exhibitionism, closeness seeking/gender confusion, intrusive/defensive sexual behavior) and for girls three factors (closeness seeking/gender confusion, masturbatory/genital self-touch, closeness aversion) were identified. It was concluded that “sexual behaviors of children form clear clusters that are affected by a number of factors related to both the experiences of the children and the attitudes held by important adults and organisations”.


Relevant data are found in other papers[9]. The sexual biographies of Russian and Finnish women were compared by Rotkirch (1997, 1998)[10].


A complete sex education curriculum arose in the twentieth century.


“The greatest problem in the Finnish school sex education is its timing: it comes too late for the stage in the adolescents’ development. The present sex education given to the ninth graders (aged 15 years) should be provided two years earlier. Both the students themselves and the experts in this field agree unanimously that sex education in its full extent should already be given to the 12- to 13-year-olds. According the latest news, the syllabi of biology will cover sex education for the eighth graders (aged 14 years)” (K&H, 1997).


As for domestic education:


“In their childhood home, information had been received about sexual matters by 39 percent of men and by 41 percent of women in 1971; in 1992, correspondingly, by 61 percent and by 64 percent. Ten percent of men and 14 percent of women in 1971 regarded the information received at home as sufficient. In 1992, the percentages were 29 percent and 32 percent respectively. Until recently, most people have thus not been getting very much information about sexual matters at home, even if these matters have been more talked about [[11]].


“By age 13, about four out of five girls have had their first periods of menstruation and about 60 percent of the boys their first ejaculations. As a result, many young people show considerably more serious interest in the opposite sex than before. Over half of the boys of this age and one third of the girls have already viewed sex magazines and sex videos, and more than half of both boys and girls have kissed, according to the 1992 data. Many have experienced caressing over the clothing. Almost half of the 13-year-olds are ready to accept sexual intercourse in their peers’ relationships. About as many report having already had a dating relationship with the opposite sex. Mostly, this means going around together with the dating partner as part of a group of young people. Sexual intercourse has been experienced by about 5 percent by the age of 13”.


A study of the sex lives of 15-year-old Fins is offered by Kontula (1991)[12].

According to Kontula and Haavio-Mannila (1994)[13]:


“Small children often masturbate and play sexually slanted games (doctor games) where other children's and their own genitals are examined. According to the KISS study, at least 40% of present young adults have played these “sex games”, half of them several times (Kontula 1987). These games can also include imitating and experimenting with adult sex habits the children have seen. However, this cannot be regarded as initiating sex life as playing these games is not interpreted as conscious sexual behaviour. The sexual significance of these experiences is usually first understood when approaching adolescence. At this point, sexual issues in general become more interesting”.


On sexarche,


“The respondents’ first sexual encounter with a person of the same sex took place at an average age of 18.3. With men, this figure was somewhat lower than with women. The age at which homosexual experiences are first gained is exactly the same as the age for initiating sexual intercourse for all respondents. Accordingly, homosexual experiences do not differ from other sex experiments in this respect. A total of 8% have been part of childhood sex play because they had been experienced at an age under ten”.


Sex education in the home and school have greatly increased between 1971-1992, approaching “sufficient” levels in the youngest cohort of some 60%.



Saami / Lapps






·          Katja Yesilova: Shepherding Desire -- ‘sexuality’ in Finnish sex education. Nordisk Sociologkongress, På Island 15-17 Aug, 2002, ReykjavikIsland

·          Kosunen, Elise, Adolescent Sexual Health []

·          Elise Kosunen, “Adolescent Sexual Behaviour Research in Finland”. IASR Thirtieth Annual Meeting, Helsinki, Finland, June 16-19, 2004

·          Elise Kosunen, Maija Ritamo (ed.) Näkökulmia nuorten seksuaaliterveyteen ( Perspectives into the sexual health of young people). National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES), Report 282, Helsinki. [abstracts:]




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Jun 2005


[1] Ojakangas, M. (1993) Självbefläckelsen och skolan: onanin i den medicinska och pedagogiska diskursen i sekelskiftet [Self-abuse and the school: masturbation in medical and pedagogical discussions at the turn of the century], Hist Tidskr Finl [Finland] 78,2:275-99

[2] Korkiakangas, P. (1992) The games children may not play: improper, prophetic or dangerous, Ethnol Scandinav 22:95-104

[3] Westling, A. & Tanka, V. (1953) The first information on sexual matters, Int J Sexol 1,4:195-203. Data showed a rather modest role for parents, after companions and printed material. Among 893 male undergraduates, 74.7% denied having received any sex information from their parents.

[4] Kontula, D. & Haavio-Mannila, E. (1997) Finland, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum, Vol. 1. Quoted from the online edition

[5] Kontula, O. & Meriläinen, J. (1988) Nuorten Kypsyminen Seurusteluun ja Seksuaalisuuteen [Adolescents’ Maturation for Social Intercourse and Sexuality]. Lääkintöhallituksen Julkaisuja. Sarja Tutkimukset 9/1988. Helsinki: Valtion Painatuskeskus. More information by Kontula, O. (1993) Sexual Behavior Changes in Finland During the Last 20 Years. Paper presented in the 36th Annual Meeting of the SSSS on Critical Issues in Sexology. Chicago, November 4-7, 1993 [Helsinki, University of Helsinki]

[6] The attitude adopted by the authors, however, may be significant for its place in socialisation: “These games may also include imitating and trying the sex habits the children had seen adults using. This cannot, however, be regarded as an actual initiation of sexual life, because it is not yet conscious activity that could be interpreted as sexual. Sexual meanings are not generally understood before approaching adolescence and the effects of pubertal hormones on the brain. Puberty brings a quite new kind of interest in sexual matters”.

[7] Kosunen, E. (1993) Teini-ikäisten Raskaudet ja Ehkäisy, STAKES.Helsinki; Raportteja, 99

[8] Santtila, Pekka; Kenneth N. Sandnabba, Malin Wannäs, Katja Krook (2005) Multivariate structure of sexual behaviors in children: associations with age, social competence, life stressors, and behavioral disorders, Early Child Developm & Care 175,1:3-21

[9] Kontula, O. (1993) Sexual Behavior Changes in Finland during the Last 20 Years. Paper presented in the 36th Annual Meeting of the SSSS on Critical Issues in Sexology. Chicago, November 4-7, 1993, Helsinki, University of Helsinki; Papp, K., Kontula, O. & Kosonen, K. (2000) Nuorten Aikuisten Seksuaalikäyttäytyminen ja Seksuaaliset Riskinotot.

[10] Rotkirch, A. (1997) Women’s Sexual Biographies from Two Generations. A First Comparison Between Finland and Russia. Paper presented at the workshop on “Biographical Perspectives on Post-Socialist Societies”, 13-17 November, St. Petersburg; Rotkirch, A. (1998) Gender and generational differences in the sexual life course in St Petersburg and Finland. Presentation at the LifeCourseCenter, Dept of Sociology, University of Minnesota, April 6

[11] Kontula, O. & Haavio-Mannila, E. (Eds, 1993) Suomalainen Seksi: Tietoa Suomalaisien Sukupuolielämän Muutoksesta [Finnish Sex: Information of Changes in Sexual Life in Finland]. Juva: WSOY

[12] Kontula, O. (1991) Sukupuolen merkitys sukupuolielaemaeae aloitettaessa [Importance of gender in starting a sex life], Psykologia 26,6:454-60

[13] Kontula, O. & Haavio-Mannila, E. (1994) Sexual Pleasures - Enhancement of Sex Life in Finland, 1971-1992. Aldershot: Dartmouth