The Condoms and the Otter

The other day it was time to get a new pack of condoms. I never thought about the brand I was buying. It seems to be the most usual brand here in Denmark. You can get it in supermarkets, drug stores, gas stations, etc. But this time I actually looked at the the packaging and the brand. And I was intruiged.

RFSU logo
RFSU

My condom brand is RFSU ““ and the first intruiging fact that I got from the packaging, was that all profit goes into sex education. This led me to Google. And my research only got more interesting from there.

RFSU stands for “Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning”, which translates into “Swedish Association for Sexuality Education”. And besides condoms, they also sell lube and a collection of sex toys. So what is the story behind all of this?

The Otter

On January 2, 1886, Elise Ottesen-Jensen was born in Norway as the 17th of 18 children. Her dad was a priest and her mother was a bishop’s daughter. Growing up, she dreamed of becoming a dentist but in an accident in her school’s chemistry lab she lost two fingers, so that she could not pursue her dream. So she bacame a journalist.

Already at the age of 14 she decided that she did not want to follow her parents belief and refused to be confirmed. Instead, she was drawn towards the socialists. Later on, within the socialist movement, she especially tried to organise the women, but soon found out that one big subject that the women were really worried about and concerned with was sex. How could they prevent getting pregnant? Did they really have to do all the things their husbands wanted to do?

Another episode ““ if we can call it that ““ also had a huge influence on her life and beliefs. When her little sister Magnhild got pregnant, their father sent her to Denmark to give birth to the child. Nobody ever told her anything about pregnancy or childbirth, so for nine months, she was terrified of her stomach splitting open. Later, Magnhild committed suicide, because she missed the child she was forced to leave behind so much. Elise never forgave her father for this.

During World War I, Elise met Albert Jensen, the anarcho-syndicalist peace agitator, and they developed a deep friendship, which later on turned into a relationship and marriage (hence the Jensen in her name). They moved to Denmark, where she gave birth to a son that only survived 2 days and then in 1919 moved to Sweden.

Elise Ottesen-Jensen
Elise Ottesen-Jensen

In Sweden, she toured the country and fought for the right for women to experience sexual pleasure, for free abortion, for the repealing of the laws against contraceptives, for gay rights, and more. What she did was illegal and she risked harsh penalties. Additionally, she wrote a feminist colomn in the paper Arbetaren (“The Worker”), later started her own paper, Vi Kvinnor (“We Women”) and also wrote for other papers. And soon she bacame known by the name Ottar ““ which translates into otter in English. During that time she also met many doctors, who shared her interest in sex education and women’s health.

RFSU

In 1933, Ottar founded the RFSU with people from her network. She became the first president of the organisation and held this title until 1956. In 1953, she also was one of the founders of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

In order to pay for all their work, they started selling condoms. The right to an abortion and contraception, sex education in schools and the decriminalisation of homosexuality  were just some of the things they achieved with their work.

On their website, the organisation explains:

“RFSU stands for condoms and other products, sexual information, advocacy, sexual policies, clinics, information provision in schools and much more. We are a non-profit organisation independent of party politics, the unions and religion that works for an open, positive view of sex and relationship issues. We believe that everyone is entitled to be what they want to be, to choose to live as they want and enjoy what they want. We are convinced that sex and relationships are important, both for the individual and society. We work locally (e.g. with information provision in schools), nationally (e.g. by influencing policies) and internationally (e.g. in the form of development projects in Africa).”

All of this just comes from a quick internet research. I have not gotten my hands on any of Ottar’s books (only published in Swedish) so far ““ but I will try to find them somewhere. This women is truly inspiring and the organisation she created with her colleages and friends has achieved some major changes and improvements for women and society.

If you want to read more or are looking for some info you can check out their English website here.

And at the end, I’ll just leave you with Ottar’s and RFSU’s motto:

“I dream of the day
when every newborn child is welcome,
when men and women are equal,
and when sexuality is an expression
of intimacy, joy and tenderness.”

Published by

inessita

I'm German but after high school I moved to Denmark for studying. A few years ago I finished my Master's in Business Communication and now I'm working as a marketing coordinator. I'm a news addict. I spent an endless amount of time on reading the news from all over the world. And this is what I'll be writing about mostly.

5 thoughts on “The Condoms and the Otter”

  1. Wonderful story about this pioneering woman. And terrific for that brand of contraception. I can’t imagine this happening in the U.S. *sad face*

    And I will regard otters with extra respect from here on out!

    Very tragic about the sister Maghild. Did she leave the child because she/he was born illegitimate?

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