We know that there are adults with deviant behaviour, who see children as sexual beings. It has always been the role of the family and society to protect children from them.

In recent decades, a system of ideas that assumes that children are sexual beings born with sexual needs has taken root and taken hold in societal bodies across the world. The idea system, hitherto unknown to the public, called Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) has deep roots and is now on the verge of blossoming.

“Sexual development begins in the foetal stage. Children are born with the capacity for lubrication, erection and orgasm. Children’s sexuality can be briefly described as a pleasurable acquaintance with their own body, sometimes with the bodies of others.” (1, National Handbook of Child Health Care, 2020)

We describe how parents’ right and possibility to take responsibility for their children is watered down and how social norms that has protected children are being eliminated. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the children are lured by the authorities’ seemingly sweet tones towards uncertain fates.

SRHR a System of Ideas

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are fundamental to health and well-being, gender equality, democracy, peace and security and sustainable development.” (2, Sweden’s development assistance agency (Sida), 2023)

Proponents of the idea system describe fantastic, almost supernatural, benefits. To achieve them, sweeping changes are needed. “Progress in SRHR requires confrontation of the barriers embedded in laws, policies, the economy, and in social norms and values” (3 p. 2642, Guttmacher–Lancet Commission (GLC), 2018)

The system of ideas spans a wide area. Compassionate concern alternates with subversive rhetoric. The field is said to contain four interwoven parts.

Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) writes: “SRHR is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to all aspects of sexuality and reproduction, not just the absence of disease, dysfunction or injury. Therefore, a positive approach to sexuality and reproduction should affirm the role of pleasurable sexual relationships, trust, and communication in self-esteem and overall well-being. Everyone has the right to make decisions about their own bodies and have access to health care and other health promotion efforts that support that right.” (4, Skolverket, 2022)

The euphemistic and pompous language makes it difficult to grasp the intended content. However, the main content of SRHR can be summarised as follows.

Reproductive health includes reproductive education, intimate hygiene, women’s shelters, maternal, infant and fertility care and important tools for family planning, such as free access to contraception, sterilization and abortion. Reproductive health is guaranteed by reproductive rights. (3 p. 2642, GLC, 2018)

Sexual health is intended to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, violence against women and provide sexual counselling. (3 p. 2642, GLC, 2018)

Given the alleged benefits of the idea system, the content is surprisingly commonplace. Apart from the free access to abortion, what is described is uncontroversial, at least in the Western world.

However, the last part of SRHR is controversial. Sexual rights are intended to provide all people, regardless of age, with sexual empowerment, pleasurable sex lives and comprehensive sexuality education. (CSE). (3 p. 2642, GLC, 2018)

Authorities’ enthusiasm for ensuring that our sexual lives are enjoyable and pleasurable both amuses and worries. When authorities’ sexual fascination is also directed towards children, who they believe have and need sexual empowerment, amusement is replaced by discomfort.

“Together with wider changes in society and in social norms, CSE is a cornerstone in the work to fulfil everyone’s SRHR.” (5, p. 24, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (UD), 2022)

In a previous article, we have described the inappropriate content of comprehensive sexuality education and will not go into it in depth here. But we can note that comprehensive sexuality education is seen as one of the most important parts of bringing about the change in the norms and values that SRHR requires.

Sex Fixation in the Public Sector

In Sweden, it is the Public Health Agency of Sweden (FoHM) that coordinates the SRHR work according to the action plan that, on behalf of the government, has been developed in collaboration with other authorities, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR) and civil society.

“In order to achieve good, equal and gender-equal sexual and reproductive health in the population, efforts are required from various actors at national level, municipalities, regions and within schools, academia and civil society.” (6 p. 44, FoHM, 2023)

FoHM describes the principles that guide SRHR as follows:

“The three basic principles mean that SRHR work is 1) throughout life, 2) every day and 3) in all situations. The process of sexual development starts in the foetal stage. …

It is common for children to masturbate and play games with sexual content as a way to express their sexuality and identity. … In order for children to feel that it is allowed to talk about sexuality, it is important for adults to initiate and encourage conversations about sexuality. …

As caregivers, it is important to remember that children have the same right to have their sexuality and identity made visible and confirmed as adults do.” (7, FoHM, 2023)

The public libraries, which SKR runs, also participate. Part of their SRHR work is to loosen limiting conservative norms, something that has been both noticed and praised. (8, RFSU, 2023)

In child health services, parents of young children are warned that “children’s sexual development is sometimes affected and inhibited by adults being embarrassed, posed or worried”. (1, National Handbook of Child Health Care, 2020)

Region Västra Götaland (VGR) organizes Sex at work, which is a podcast about sex and sexual health that you listen to during working hours. The episodes cover many different areas, including masturbation, multiple relationships, young people and porn, anal sex, bdsm and children’s sexuality (9, VGR, 2018)

Since 2016, the SRHR bus has been trafficking Västra Götaland with easily accessible information about SRHR, to strengthen public health and the individual’s opportunities to make informed choices in SRHR issues. (10, VGR, 2023)

“The Government has also implemented other measures to strengthen the work on sexual and reproductive health. Among other things, the government, through the National Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU), has implemented investments in sex education in different languages and sex education for new arrivals.” (11 p. 26, Ministry of Education, 2020)

Don’t be surprised when you are asked at the health centre: “Many patients with your condition find that it affects their sexual health. What is it like for you?” This is exactly how the FoHM instructs staff to treat patients and families.

For those with self-distance, many comical situations with officials who have an excessive interest in sexual matters can be expected in the future. However, the laughter gets stuck in your throat when you think of all the children who will also be subjected to that treatment.

Children’s Sexual Rights

“Sexual rights include the right of all people to decide over their own bodies and sexuality, regardless of age.” (10, VGR, 2023)

Children are not mature enough to understand all the consequences of their actions. Research suggests that the rational part of the mind does not become fully developed until the age of 25. Therefore, parents and guardians have both the right and the duty to decide on matters concerning the child’s personal affairs. As children get older, parents should pay more attention to their child’s views and wishes. (12, Parental Code, Chapter 6, Section 11)

Parental responsibility is watered down when a sexual rights perspective on children is normalized. Part of the implementation of SRHR in Sweden falls on the school and student health services and their efforts to strengthen children’s sexual empowerment. Children should decide for themselves when, how and with whom they want to have sex. (6 p. 22, FoHM, 2023)

SRHR brings a change in the relationship of parents to their children as children are seen as sexual rights bearers. Instead of the parents, it is external officials who have the power of interpretation when taking into account the views and wishes of children.

Parents are seen as third parties to the social contracts that authorities feel they have entered into with children. Requirements for informing parents and obtaining their consent have little value and only get in the way between the service provider and the child. From an SRHR perspective, it is the children’s parents who are outsiders. (3 p. 2650, GLC, 2018)

“Children shall also have access to confidential counselling and counselling without the consent of their parents or guardians, if this is in the best interests of the child. These include HIV testing, sexual and reproductive health services including sexual health education and guidance, contraception and safe abortion.” (13 p. 59, National Board of Health and Welfare (SoS), 2014)

So far, the planned erosion of parental responsibility has not resulted in any changes in the law. However, government guidelines contain abundant references to children’s sexual rights, which already affects how they act towards children and parents.

“Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. This means that the state has an overarching obligation to realize these rights as human rights (HR) by promoting, protecting and monitoring them.” (13 p. 17, SoS, 2014)

Authorities try to persuade by equating sexual rights with the internationally agreed human rights, the most basic form of rights. But even that isn’t good enough for the proponents who want to go even further.

“Intimate citizenship, which relates to sexual rights from a social science perspective …  strengthens the individual against intrusion by the family or society.” (14 p. 19, World Health Organization (WHO), 2010)

SRHR and the Global Sexual Agenda

With its strong economic and cross-political support for these issues, Sweden was one of the nations that worked to ensure that the concept of rights, the last R in SRHR, would have an international impact in connection with the UN Population Conference in 1994. (15 p. 34, UD, 2013)

“The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994, and its resulting Programme of Action, moved population policies and programmes away from a focus on human numbers to a focus on human rights and underscored the mutually reinforcing linkages between population and development” (16 p. 4, WHO, 2016)

The Programme of Action calls for changes that affect many parts of society. First and foremost, the health and education sectors need to be reformed. For example, “Sex education should be provided in schools, through health care, youth organizations and through the media.” (17 p. 6, Sida, 1997)

“Sweden has long been an important player internationally for SRHR. Sweden is a large and sometimes the largest donor to UN organizations and other global institutions working with SRHR, incl. The World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and others.” (18 p. 7, Sida, 2023)

Sweden is far from alone in the work with SRHR. UNFPA, WHO, UNESCO, World Bank, UNICEF and many other intergovernmental bodies and private interests have been mobilised. Programs for sexual rights and the other SRHR issues are important to pursue in developing countries and their implementation is often a condition for other aid work.

Change is also taking place in developed countries. The work on SRHR in Sweden follows a common action plan for the World Health Organization (WHO) member countries in Europe. (6 p. 47, FoHM, 2023)

“Key actions would include guaranteeing, through laws, regulations and policies, the provision of comprehensive sexuality education, information and health services pertaining to sexuality and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.” (16 p. 10, WHO, 2016)

In Sweden, work is underway on several of the necessary policy changes and legislative changes. The Swedish Consent Act, which came into force in 2018, is one such example. The work of change is crucial for all of humanity, according to SRHR advocates.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) play a key role in achieving the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. If the world is to achieve these goals by 2030, it is crucial that respect for, and access to, SRHR is increased and ensured in many more countries. Sweden is one of the few countries that has had a long-standing commitment to global SRHR and gender equality within the framework of its official development assistance, regardless of government or political agendas.” (19 p. 5, Expert Group for Aid Studies, 2021)

Few adults are familiar with the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but the new generation will be much better at it now that it has become an important part of the work of primary schools.

“Sexuality education is also necessary to achieve several of the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda and is particularly emphasised in SDGs 5.6 and 3.7.” (5 p. 24, UD, 2022)

Population Control Became SRHR

The childbearing of poor people was problematized in the early 20th century. Population growth needed to be planned, according to influential people. Different approaches to the problem divided population planners into two camps. Some advocated population control to influence growth through more or less coercive measures. Others promoted voluntary family planning using fertility-influencing methods.

After the failure of Swedish coercive measures, family planners gained more support in the 1930s. In Sweden, sex education was seen as a particularly effective method of influencing childbirth in the desired direction.

The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) and the Swedish government had come to a unique consensus on family planning issues. A similar development took place at the same time in the United States and a Swedish-American collaboration was formed. Sweden therefore came to play a disproportionately large role in the international work on population planning that followed.

“During the 1960s, the alarm signals became increasingly louder and this is reflected in book titles from this time: The Population Explosion and the World’s Resources, Limits to Our Existence, Population, Resources, Environment and Losing Ground.

Family planning, formerly often referred to as birth control, was seen by many, especially in the rich world, as the most important or only means of slowing down population growth or even saving the world from a population catastrophe. (15 p. 8, UD, 2013) (20 🎞, New York Times, 2015)

When contraceptives (the pill and the IUD) came along, it was thought that it would be the solution. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) was created in 1965 to curb the world population. At the time, Sida was the only government agency that, together with private foundations, financed international population control and became, for a time, the world’s largest condom purchaser. (15, UD, 2013)

Population control with the unilateral goal of limiting fertility came to dominate international family planning programs since the 1960s. This narrow focus has led to multiple coercive measures, numerous ethical transgressions, and ineffective family planning programs. (21 p. 1303, Social Science Medicine, 1994)

Extreme examples of state control are China’s one-child policy (1980) and family planning in India, where Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, with Sida’s support, pushed through harsh measures including forced sterilization. Increasingly exotic program ideas about forced adoption and sterilizing agents in drinking water were discussed in earnest. (15 p. 9, UD, 2013)

The disastrous handling brought down the Indian government. World opinion had turned against the cruel and ineffective family planning programs which no longer was politically sustainable. New perspectives were needed. (15 p. 13, UD, 2013)

Private interests, led by Rockefeller, had also grown tired of the ineffective programs and instead saw the potential in the Swedish model of sex education.

The evidence has been mounting, particularly in the past decade, to indicate that family planning alone is not adequate, Rockefeller said. I come to Bucharest with an urgent call for a deep and probing reappraisal of all that has been done in the population field.(22 p. 31, C-Fam, 2004)

Similar voices were heard in the Swedish Parliament. “For the world as a whole, a stabilization of the population must be achieved in the long term. In other words, population growth must stop. … It should be regarded as a human right to have knowledge of methods that prevent fertilization” (23 p. 17, Motion 1972:941)

The rights perspective meant that the individual, regardless of age, was given an unhindered right to receive information from the authorities. The individual would be empowered and given the right to contraception, sterilization, abortions, delayed or absent family formation and a positive view of pleasurable sexuality freed from childbearing.

“The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, Cairo 1994) established that population objectives would be reached faster if couples’ and individuals’ needs were taken into account instead of imposing macro-demographic goals.” (24 p. 14, Rutgers, 2018)

A worldwide transition to SRHR took place in conjunction with Cairo. International programs changed names, but maintained their connection to the population growth problem. SRHR with its rights perspective had not been introduced to replace population control and family planning but to serve as an attractive pretext for them.

“Far from being outmoded, population policies are more necessary and relevant than ever for developed and developing countries. Successfully addressing these fertility challenges should be embedded in the integrated and interdependent set of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” (24 p. 16, Rutgers, 2018)

SRHR at Odds with the Family

The family is an institution that provides both children and adults with social, economic and emotional security. Families don’t see children as a burden but the source of meaning and love. The basic values and norms that hold families together are the same for all people regardless of nationality and religion. But authorities see something completely different.

“Deficiencies in SRHR are one of the root causes of poverty in Africa” (25, UD, 2021)

According to SRHR advocates, it is the family-friendly values and norms that cause the shortcomings and stand in the way of the sustainable goals for people, the planet, prosperity, friendship and peace. Efforts to eliminate them are sometimes slow.

“There is a long-standing opposition to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights (SRHR) at the United Nations (UN). Comprehensive sexuality education, abortion and access to modern contraceptives are contested issues” (26 p. 1, BMJ Global Health, 2021)

Sexual rights have never been defined in international agreements because they are not recognised by many states and are considered by them to be highly controversial. Many people simply don’t accept the extreme parts of the content, such as giving children sexual rights. (27, United Nations Association, 2020)

As the expressions of the SRHR idea system have come more into the open in recent decades, the opposition to them has increased. That worries its advocates. One looks with concern at how the choice of language in international agreements is changing. SRHR disappears and is replaced with family-friendly language.

“Contestations expanded to include the inability to accept any reference to SRHR, which created a stalemate in sessions. Opposition to SRHR was proven to be successful in removing previously agreed language on SRHR and replacing it with language which places an emphasis on the role of families. The emergence of family-based language was replicated across UN documents, moving from the Commission on the Status of Women outcome document and entering the General Assembly Resolutions. There is a risk that this new conservative, watered down language, could become a new normal, replacing previously agreed SRHR language.” (26 p. 1, BMJ Global Health, 2021)

In some countries, SRHR has been opted out. An example of this is Poland, where they have chosen to teach home economics instead of Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Such family-friendly tendencies worry Swedish authorities.

“Some developments in outcome documents and intergovernmental negotiations at the UN Population Commission, indicate that references to CSE have become more hard-won at the global level. At the same time, references to family and parental consent or influence over CSE for children and young people have been introduced in final documents, which risks limiting the access to CSE.” (5 p. 25, UD, 2022)

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