What were Russian kids in the 20th century told about sex?

How did children in aristocratic families learn about sex, and was the famous phrase that there is no sex in the USSR true?
A screenshot from iconic Soviet comedy film 'Operation Y and Shurik's Other Adventures'

A Russian online publication about education, Mel, has published a long read: "100 years without sex: The History of sex education in the 20th century". The following are some of the highlights.

1900-1917. Virtue as protection against vice

Before the 1917 Revolution, children from aristocratic families usually learned about sex from servants. They taught young men to masturbate, and many even became their masters' first sexual partners.

Moscow's Institute for Noble Maidens

Sex education was aimed at combating the early development of sexual instincts. Until the age of 14, children were taught reproduction with examples only from zoology, and from the age of 15 their teachers warned them of the dangers of venereal diseases and pre-marital sex.

It was believed that girls should not be told about this topic at all, so as not to disturb their innocent souls. “Morality is often much more important as a defense against vice than knowledge of physiology,” wrote a teacher and the first Russian member of the IOC, Alexei Butovsky, in a 1910 brochure on physical education.

1920s. Sexual revolution for the few

After the 1917 Revolution, the notion of 'free love' came to the fore. Abortions were legalized, homosexuality was decriminalized, and there was even talk of abolishing the institution of marriage.

Young athletes of early Soviet years

Soviet sexologist Igor Kon writes that in Petrograd in 1923, among workers under 18 years old, some 47 percent of young men and 67 percent of young women already had sexual experience. (Read more: How the Soviet avant-garde made sex and death fashionable).

The government, however, soon embraced a conservative social policy and advocated abstinence before marriage. Brochures were published about the dangers of frequent sexual intercourse, which allegedly could even lead to dementia. There was also the notion that masturbation was fraught with the most terrible consequences.

Parents continued to avoid talking to children about sex. Teenagers learned these facts of life from other teenagers and from cheap literature, which contained numerous primitive sex scenes that tried to entice proletarians.

1930-1985. There is no sex in the USSR

“Sexual promiscuity” began to be perceived as a relic of capitalism and, therefore, unacceptable. The restrictions in all spheres of Soviet life also affected sex: abortions were again banned (but in 1955 the ban was canceled); male homosexuality and possession of pornography (which was interpreted to include any image of sexual organs) were criminalized.

Moscow students have a rest in a camp in Anapa

The very mention of sex became objectionable, and the topic was absent not only from magazines (both for teenagers and adults), but even from the main Soviet encyclopedia. The idea was that children should be taught morality, and distracted and kept busy as much as possible. The thrust of sex education was to replace the nascent sexual interest with public work, physical education, reading, and to channel this energy in a different direction.

1980s-1990s. Sexual re-awakening

In the mid-1980s, schools introduced classes in sex education and family life, but teachers struggled with finding the appropriate words to discuss a topic that had been hushed up for so long, and often avoided it.

Popular in 1990s and 2000s t.A.T.u. band

While the state remained silent, there began to emerge public organizations dealing with AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases; there was even a center for developing teenage sexual culture. In 1989, a French sex encyclopedia for children aged 7–9 was published in Russian, and for a long time was the main source of early sex education.

In the 1990s, erotic scenes began to appear on television and in movies, while teen magazines began to discuss issues of sex and relationships. The teen magazines, Cool, and Bravo, had dedicated columns publishing answers to readers' intimate questions. In 1996, there appeared a magazine, called 16, which was completely devoted to sex. About a third of teenagers received information from magazines, which had no taboo topics. In addition, the media no longer censured sex before marriage and began to advertise contraception and tampons.

2000s. Sex moves online

As the Internet became widespread, teenagers moved online. Now you can search for anything and there is no problem accessing information.

Internet forums replaced Q&A rubrics in teenagers magazines

At the same time, print media and TV once again started to avoid the topic of sex. By the mid-2000s, sex columns disappeared from many teen magazines, and where they still remained, they became much shorter and much less explicit.

Where will Russian children learn about sex in the 21st century? Find out in our next article! 

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