SEXUAL BEHAVIOR AND PRACTICES IN RUSSIA

SEX AND ADOLESCENTS IN RUSSIA

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “ The overall trends in the psychosexual development of Russian children and adolescents are the same as in Western countries. Above all, there has been a substantial acceleration of sexual maturation. The average menarche age fell from 15.1 years to 13 among Muscovite girls over a period of thirty-five years, from 1935 to 1970. Similar trends are also typical for the boys. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality sexarchive.info ==]

“Sexual maturation confronts the teenager with a host of bodily and psychosexual problems. Many boys are worried about delay in emergence of their secondary sexual attributes in relation to their peers - shortness of height or of the penis, gynecomastia (transitory female-breast development), etc. Girls are concerned about hirsuteness, being overweight, the shape of their breasts, etc. (Kon 1995, 194-209). ==

“There is clear evidence that sexual activity is beginning earlier for today’s Russian adolescents than in past generations. The mean age for first coitus dropped in the last ten years from 19.2 to 18.4 for males, and from 21.8 to 20.6 for females. According to the only survey of teenagers ages 12 to 17 (Chervyakov, Kon, and Shapiro 1993), sexual experience was reported by 15 percent of the girls and by 22 percent of the boys. Among 16- to 17-year-olds 36 percent were sexually experienced; among 14- to 15-year-olds, 13 percent; and under 14 years, only 2 percent. Boys are generally more sexually experienced than girls, but the difference gradually disappears with age. Just as it was in the West in the late 1960s, early sexual experience is related to some form of deviant or counter-normative behavior: drinking, smoking, drug use, lower academic grades, poor school discipline, and closer association with peer group. Psychologically, sexually active 16-year-olds are more prone to be involved in different sorts of risky behavior, and some of them are from socially underprivileged families (Kon 1995, 62-63, 166-169). ==

“The largest percentage of young people become sexually active between ages 16 and 18, with the incidence of intercourse reported in various studies ranging from 22 to 38 percent of the boys and 11 to 35 percent of the girls. “Love” is reported by many young people to be the primary motivator for sexual activity, about 30 percent of males and 45 percent of females. “Desire for enjoyment” or “pleasure” are reported by 20 percent of males and 10 percent of females. Many young people separate sexual motives from those involving marriage and engagement.” ==

Premarital Sex in Russia

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “The overall trend is towards a reduction in age and a rise in moral toleration of premarital sex and cohabitation. Among the university students surveyed by Golod in the 1978-79 academic year, four out of every five men and every second woman had had sexual experience by the time they were surveyed. A total of 3,741 students from eighteen colleges and universities were asked why they thought young men and women entered into sexual relations nowadays. The responses are shown in Table 2 (Golod 1984). [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality sexarchive.info ==]

Motivations for Sexual Relationships (Men, Women, in Percentages): 1) Mutual love, 28.8, 46.1; 2) Enjoyable pursuit, 20.2, 11.4; 3) Desire to obtain pleasure, 18.1, 9.2; 4) Desire for emotional contact, 10.6, 7.7; 5) Intended marriage, 6.6, 9.4; 6) Self-affirmation, 5.5, 3.6; 7) Prestige, fashion, 4.1, 4.8; 8) Curiosity, 4.9, 5.6; 9) Extending sense of freedom, independence, 1.8, 2.2. [Subjects: Men (N = 1,829), Women (N = 1,892)] ==

“It is clear from these data that certain gender differences still persist in sexual behavior and motivation; men are more likely than women to justify sex merely for pleasure and to engage in premarital sex, not only with the beloved one, but also with some occasional partners. And, in fact, the men do have more sexual partners than the women (Kon 1995, 158-177).” ==

Married Sex Life in Russia

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Sexual satisfaction and general satisfaction with the marriage are closely interrelated. Practically all couples maximally satisfied with their marriages believed they were sexually compatible, while only 63 percent were sexually compatible among the maritally dissatisfied (Kon 1995, 158-177). [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality sexarchive.info ==]

Gender inequality and sexism manifest themselves in the marital bed as well (Kon 1995, 129-157). The natural and widespread disharmony of sexual-erotic needs and desires between wives and husbands, which should be the subject of exploration and discussion, is often seen by Russian spouses and those about them as a manifestation of an ineradicable organic sexual incompatibility; the only way out is divorce. Even in the professional literature, this problem is often discussed not in process terms - how the spouses adapt and grow accustomed to each other - but in essentialist terms - whether spouses and their individual traits are compatible to each other. ==

“The woman is almost always the first to suffer from poor sexual adaptation. The lack of a common language and the sexological ignorance create a mass of communication difficulties among married couples. Instead of exploring their problems together or going to a doctor, the spouses run off to their same-sex friends. ==

“Another major problem is the lack of privacy, the shortage of housing, and poor housing conditions. Millions of Russians spend many years, or their whole lifetime, living in dormitories or communal flats, sometimes several families in one room, where every movement is seen or heard by others. Among 140 Soviet immigrants living in the U.S.A. asked by Mark Popovsky in 1984, “What hindered your sexual life in the Soviet Union?” the absence of a separate apartment was mentioned by 126 (90 percent), the absence of a separate bedroom by 122 (87 percent), and the excessive attention from the neighbors living in the same apartment by 93 respondents (66 percent). The lack of privacy is an even worse problem for nonmarital sex. “Where?” is the desperately important and difficult question to answer. Lack of privacy is detrimental for the quality of sexual experience and produces anxieties and neuroses. ==

“Cohabitation is more and more widespread among younger couples. Sometimes it is a first stage of marriage, until children are born, and sometimes an alternative form of marriage. Public opinion, especially among younger people, is gradually becoming more and more tolerant of cohabitation. ==

“Extramarital sex, both casual and long-term, is quite common; according to S. Golod (1984), more than three quarters of the people surveyed had extramarital contacts in 1989, whereas in 1969, the figure was less than half. But public opinion is critical of extramarital sex. In the VCIOM 1992 survey directed by Professor Yurt Levada (Kon 1995, 275), only 23 percent agreed that it is okay to have a lover as well as a husband or wife, while 50 percent disagreed. Extramarital affairs seem to be morally more acceptable for men than for women (Kon 1995, 21, 45, 63, 166-167).” ==

Masturbation and Oral Sex in Russia

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Children and adolescents normally have their first sexual experience through self-pleasuring. Boys generally start to engage in self-pleasuring at the age of 12 or 13, reaching a peak at age 15 to 16. Girls begin to self-pleasure at a later age and do it less frequently. According to a 1982 survey by V. V. Danilov, 22.5 percent of the girls had engaged in self-pleasuring by age 13.5, 37.4 percent by age 15.5, 50.2 percent by age 17.5, and 65.8 percent by age 18.5. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality sexarchive.info ==]

“Until the late 1970s, official attitudes to self-pleasuring were completely negative. Children were told that it results in impotence, deterioration of the memory, and similar harmful consequences. As an antidote, there was a clandestine teen ditty: “Sun, fresh air, and onanism reinforce the organism.” Nevertheless, many Russian teens and adults still have strong anxieties regarding it. Many sexual dysfunctions are attributed to self-pleasuring experiences, and adults are terribly ashamed of it (Kon 1995, 43-44, 189-199). ==

“Younger and better educated Russians often complain about the poverty of their sexual techniques. Anal and oral sex are legal and quite widespread, though some people believe these behaviors are sexual perversions. In some legal documents, both anal and oral sex are referred to as unnatural forms of sexual satisfaction.” ==

Pornography in Russia

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Stalinist sexophobia had practically exterminated all Russian erotic art. Now there are two trends: (1) the revival of genuine erotic art and literature, including translations of classical novels of D. H. Lawrence, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry Miller, and others, old Chinese and Hindu treatises, and erotic Films from the West, and (2) a torrent of pornographic and semipornographic books, films, and videos. All of this is very new and unusual for the Russian people (Kon 1995, 113-116). [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality sexarchive.info ==]

“In the spring of 1991, the Communist Party tried to use this situation for its own political purposes, initiating a big antipornography crusade. In whipping up a moral panic in the country, the Communist Party pursued very clear political goals. The antipornography campaign was used to divert popular attention from the pressing political issues and to blunt awareness of the government’s economic failures. In flagging its defense of morality and the family, the Party was deflecting blame from itself for the weakening and destruction of both morals and the family. On that basis, the Party leaders were able to cement the developing alliance between the Party and conservative organizations, including the Russian Orthodox Church and blatantly fascist groups. Antipornography slogans have been used by the Party to direct popular fury and frenzy against glasnost that was so hated by the Party apparatchiks, by branding the democratic mass media as being part of a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy intended to corrupt the morals of young people, destroy traditional values, etc. Under the pretext of concern for young people, the Party was endeavoring to restore its lost control over them.==

“This political campaign has failed. Public opinion polls show that the majority of Russians do not like pornography, but are positive about erotica. But to differentiate between the two is difficult, and there is a deep generation gap on this issue. Purely repressive police measures taken by some local authorities are ineffective. Instead of the former taboos on sexuality, it is now vulgarized, commercialized, and Americanized. The current Russian government is trying to bring the situation under control, but without much success.” ==

Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Soviet sexological service was based on the principle of ambulatory assistance, preserving a normal living pattern, carrying on normal work, and sexual activity. The need for hospitalization arises only in cases of acute psychopathological disorder (where a patient will be placed in a neurosis unit or a daytime inpatient psychoneurological clinic), vascular insufficiency of the genitalia (admission to an angisurgical unit), acute urological illness (a urological unit), and specific endocrinopathy (an endocrinological unit). Inpatient treatment is normally followed by a period of ambulatory sexual readaptation by the partners. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality sexarchive.info ==]

“Analysis of visits to sexological clinics reveals that the bulk (70-75 percent) of patients have sexual problems of a psychological nature. Women’s visits to a sexopathlogist account for no more than 10 percent of the total number of patients. The percentage of patients who come because of misinformation or distorted knowledge about sex is fairly high, up to 10 or 15 percent. ==

“In 1988, in the large cities, special family medical-psychological consultation units were introduced for: 1) consultative-diagnostic selection of patients needing observation and treatment in the unit; 2) comprehensive therapy of patients with sexual disorders through psychotherapy, physiotherapy, reflex-therapy, pharmacotherapy, and specialized procedures; 3) psychological diagnosis and correction methods for family relationship disorders; 4) hygiene-educative and psychotherapeutic work with the public and, first and foremost, with people just entering marriage and couples divorcing.” ==

Soviet and Russian Sexual Surveys

Because not one Soviet or Russian sexual survey was ever published in the normal scientific way, with all tables, questionnaires, and methodological discussions, sexologists, such as the present author, are forced to rely on published papers and summaries, as well as whatever unpublished data, raw tables, and so on they can obtain from colleagues (Kon 1995,275-277). Below is a short description of the most important recent Russian surveys. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality sexarchive.info =]

1) The VCIOM “Culture” Poll of June, 1992, was conducted by Vsesoyuznyi (since 1992 - Vserossiiskii) Tsentr Izucheniya Obshchestvennovo Mnenia (All-Union [since 1992 - All-Russia] Center for Public Opinion Research) (VCIOM), with Professor Yun Levada as director. This poll involved a representative sample of about 3,500 persons in three different areas: Slav (Russia and Ukraine); Baltic (Estonia and Lithuania); and Asiatic (Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan). In the Slav area, the population was surveyed without regard to ethnic origins or “nationality” (that is, not only ethnic Russians, but also Tatars, Jews, Germans, and others were questioned), while in the other two regions, only members of indigenous nationalities were surveyed (that is, in Estonia, Estonians but not Russians). Questionnaires were completed by the respondents in the presence of a professional interviewer. Among many other questions, some were related to sexuality: Are people happy in love and family life? What are their family values, their attitudes to premarital and extramarital sex, conjugal fidelity, erotica, sex education, and so on? ==

2) The VCIOM “The Fact” June 1993 Survey involved a representative sample for the Russian Federation, 1,665 persons. Demographics for this survey included 746 men and 909 women, aged from 16 to 84 (16-25 years, 285; 24-40 years, 546; 40-55 years, 383; and 55-84 years, 461), from thirteen different regions. The subjects’ educational level was: 235, university level; 803, high (secondary) school; and 616, fewer than 9 years of secondary school. The occupational demography was: nonworking pensioners, 409; manual workers, 330, professionals, 284; technicians, 136; other employees, 120; and students, 87. The subjects’ place of residence included: capitals and regional cities, 604; towns, 614; and villages, 344. All standard procedures normally used in public-opinion polls were used. Some of the questions concerned attitudes toward the following aspects of sexual behavior (on 5-point scales, from “It deserves censure” to “I don’t see anything wrong in it”): masturbation, premarital sex, frequent change of sexual partners, marital infidelity, viewing of pornographic films, group sex, homosexual contacts, induced abortions, and so on. There were also a few questions about personal sexual experience, such as age at the first sexual contact, number of lifetime sexual partners, and present sexual activities. About 40 percent of respondents did not answer these personal questions. ==

3) The Adolescent Sexuality Survey published in 1993 and conducted by Vladimir Shapiro and Valery Chervyakov, Institute of Sociology, Russian Academy of Sciences, with Igor Kon as a consultant and Mana Gerasimova as the research organizer. This survey used an adapted version of American sociologist Stan Weed’s questionnaire. The data were collected in late 1992 and early of 1993. The sample involved 1,615 students (50.4 percent boys and 49.6 percent girls) from sixteen high (secondary) schools and eight vocational schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The students’ ages ranged from 12 to 17 years, and their grade levels from the seventh to eleventh grades. The questionnaire contained 135 questions about aspects of sexual experience and attitudes: dating, going steady, age at, and the motives for, the first sexual intercourse, sources of sexual information, communications with parents and peers, moral and religious values, involvement in deviant behavior, and some personal psychological characteristics. The schools were selected to represent different social strata of the two cities’ populations. Questionaires were completed in the classrooms, anonymously, voluntarily, and individually, in the presence of a professional interviewer. The permission of the school administration was obtained, but none of them had access to this confidential information. There were no refusals from students to take part in the research, but some respondents did not answer certain questions. Detailed statistical analysis may be available by the time this chapter is published; however, a general popular overview of the results was published by Igor Kon, Valery Chervyakov, and Vladimir Shapiro in 1994. ==

4) A second survey of adolescent sexual attitudes, representations, and practices was conducted by Igor Lunin (1994) of the St. Petersburg Crisis Prevention Service for Children and Adolescents between May and September of 1993. The sample population for this survey was 370, (185 boys and 185 girls, secondary (high) school tenth graders and vocational school students from three socially and economically different districts of St. Petersburg). The average age was 15.9 years. In this study, an anonymous questionnaire was preliminarily reviewed in teenage discussion groups. Participation, on the school premises, was individual and voluntary. Questions concerned sexual values and behavior, main sources of sexual and contraceptive information and the evaluation of its availability and reliability, sexual harassment, violence, and rape experience, and attitudes to condoms and to different forms of sex education. (In addition to Lunin (1994), see also Igor Lunin, Thomas L. Hall, Jeffrey S. Mandel, Julia Kay, and Norman Hearst, Adolescent Sexuality in St. Petersburg: Russia in the Era of AIDS (in press).) A detailed statistical analysis is also in progress. ==

5) A telephone survey was conducted by Dmitri. D. Isayev in St. Petersburg between September and December, 1993. The sample for this survey was 435 people, 16 to 55 years old; 155 men (average age, 35.4 years and 67.5 percent married), and 280 women (average age, 37.3 years with 67 percent married). Questions were asked about personal sexual experience and attitudes, number of partners, safe-sex practices, and AIDS-prevention measures. ==

6) An epidemiological study was conducted in 1991 by Olga Loseva, a Moscow venereologist. This unpublished dissertation summarized fifteen years of research of sexual behavior and sexual values of syphilitics. Loseva collected data on 3,273 heterosexual men and women at a venereological clinic in Moscow: 300 medical histories and about 3,000 questionnaires. The data came from 1,782 infected patients and 1,191 in a control group of persons without sexually transmitted diseases, plus 120 teenage girls. Sociologically, the samples were not representative, but a comparison of three control groups, divided by five-year intervals, is informative for the shifts in sexual attitudes and practices. ==

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

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