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Russia's answer to sex ed: Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy
Vladimir Putin's government believes Russian classics are key to pregnancy and STD prevention
 
Not your typical sex-ed textbook.
Not your typical sex-ed textbook. (Facebook/Anna Karenina)

It should go without saying that no matter how many times you read Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, it is never going to teach you how to use a condom.

But the searing obviousness of that fact has not deterred Pavel Astakhov, Russia's presidential commissioner for children's rights, who spoke out this week against the introduction of sex education in schools, and suggested Russian literature as an alternative way to teach kids about the birds and the bees.

Astakhov's views make abstinence-only education look like classes in the Kama Sutra. "I am against any kind of sex education," says Astakhov. "It is unacceptable to allow things that could corrupt children."

While uncomfortable with corrupting children, Astakhov seems perfectly happy to prematurely induce crippling existential crises. He tells the Russian news channel Rossiya-24 that the words of Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Pushkin are the greatest way to teach about sexuality:

The best sex education there is, in fact, is Russian literature. Everything is there, all about love and about relationships between sexes. Schools must raise children in chastity and with understanding of family values.

Tell that to Anna Karenina!

Now, there are some obvious reasons why relying on Russian classics to teach children about contraception and STD prevention is a horrible idea. Russian literature may teach us much about love and passion, but the technicalities of sex are largely absent. Nowhere in Fathers and Sons is there a helpful lesson on the ways herpes can be transmitted. Nor is there a scene in Uncle Vanya that confirms that you can, in fact, get pregnant from having sex underwater.

Unfortunately, Russia is the last country that should be eschewing sex education. It's home to one of the world's fastest-growing HIV epidemics. In 2012, the country reported a 12 percent rise in cases of HIV, with more than one million people living with the disease. The number of cases contracted through sexual transmission is also on the rise.

"Children should be able to discuss things like how to choose the right partner, and how to say no. The government wants to deny them the right to be properly informed about their choices," Tanya Evlampieva, of the Russian campaign group Focus-Media, tells The Guardian.

This is hardly the first move the Russian government has made to discourage the dissemination of sex education, part of a bid by President Vladimir Putin to shore up his support from the influential Orthodox Church. Earlier this summer, Russia controversially banned gay "propaganda" or "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." The law essentially makes it illegal to provide any information about homosexuality to anyone under the age of 18.

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy writes, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." But at this rate, too many Russian families will be able to trace their unhappiness to a common source.

 
Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

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