Russia's Debate: How Much Sex-Ed in Schools?
Some want students to get more information; Communists and Orthodox church say no.
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Hers is one of more than 50 regional branches of the Moscow-based Russian Family Planning Association, a six-year-old nonprofit group that receives support from the Russian government and the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation.Skip to next paragraph
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A small, elegant woman in high heels, Chestyakova went into family planning after years of treating women who had become infertile as a result of numerous abortions or sexually transmitted diseases.
ON a rainy summer morning, a local day camp brings campers for a series of talks about health and sex education. The 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls go off with separate instructors.
The girls' instructor gently tells them that while it's great that some of them are going steady, they should hold off on having sex. She encourages them to visit the center, but stresses that their mothers are the best resource.
At this, 13-year-old Katya shakes her head and shoots back: "No, it's different with our moms. They grew up in a different time. They had a very closed childhood. Things are more open now. There's movies, magazines. If I want to know something, it's much easier for me to talk to my friends."
In the three years that the Tula center has been open, about 6,000 schoolchildren - 57 percent of the city's students - have attended seminars here. The center also provides medical and counseling services daily, though it doesn't perform abortions.
Chestyakova's efforts haven't gone unnoticed, though the center is discreetly tucked away on the top floor of a brick building. In May, the local papers ran stories that claimed her clinic was corrupting children. The local prosecutor's office sent investigators, who found no wrongdoing.
The Family Planning Association's centers can't cope with all of Russia's early teens. And Russian schools teach only the basics about puberty and reproduction, just as they did in the 1950s. So, three years ago, the education ministry decided to develop a new sex-education program.
But the ministry made serious blunders that have delayed change. Last fall, for example, 1,500 questionnaires were sent to schoolchildren to develop one program. Written by sociologists used to dealing with adults, the surveys posed such explicit questions that some teachers threatened to file suit with local prosecutors.
UNESCO provided some funding for that ill-conceived effort, heightening suspicions among many that the West is out to ruin Russia, says Irina Ivaschenko, an aide in parliament and an opponent of sex education. "There is a feeling now that first the West dumped its pornography on us, its diseases, and now they want to spread theories that have failed over there and birth control that would keep the Russian population down," she says.
The alliances against sex education are odd ones. One group consists of old Communists, nostalgic for the Soviet era's enforced primness. The other force is the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, which advocates abstinence.
"It's true that we've made mistakes," says Yelena Chepurnikh, the deputy education minister responsible for curriculum, "and because of that, our kids continue to suffer."