According to a study British condom maker International Group, Russia ranked second behind the United States in sexual activity but ranked 12th in condom use. According to another study 16-year-old Russian males had twice the number of sexual partners as their fathers and 16-year-old Russian females had five times the number of sexual partners as their mothers.

Many Russians view Americans as sexually repressed. When Bill Clinton was embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal Russian men admired him for his manliness and were shocked that such a fuss was made over the whole affair.

Some Russians still believe that eating cabbages make your breasts bigger, lemon juice works as a contraceptive and women with hairy legs are more likely to be infertile that women without hairy legs and drinking vodka before sex helps ward off sexually transmitted diseases.

According to surveys taken in the early 1990s, most Russians feel that romantic love is a precondition to marriage and to sexual intimacy. But there are great differences in attitude toward this ideal between the older and younger generations, between the sexes, and between rural and urban Russians. Russians in larger cities tend to take a more liberal outlook on premarital sex. The younger generations in Russia show a much more casual attitude toward commitment to a long-term relationship than do the older generations. However, in surveys younger males showed a much stronger identification of sex with pleasure, and younger females a stronger identification of sex with love. Russians' attitudes toward premarital sex became somewhat more liberal in the 1990s; in a 1993 survey, the percentage of those disapproving was substantially lower than it had been in previous years. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Clearly, sexual behavior is diverse in societies as large and heterogeneous as Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union. Although certain values are strong within and between these societies, there is no single standard of “normal” sexuality for family members. Marriage is valued as a primary arena for sexual expression; however, sex-related ideas, attitudes, and activities are extremely diverse. Citizens are exposed to sexual information and images from a variety of public sources. Naturally, their reactions to these differ, and the impact upon their behavior is varied. Parents seem concerned about the proper sexual development of their children. Yet, some of these same parents respond by suppressing expressions of sexuality in the family, others by obsessively explicating sexual guidelines, and still others by supporting social programs of sex education in schools and community institutions (Kon 1995, 265-272). [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality]

Igor Kon's “The Sexual Revolution in Russia” is a detailed and well-documented analysis of sexual attitudes in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods.

KGB Sex Espionage

The KGB was fond of using the "Romeo method," in which handsome Soviet men were sent to the West with false papers to seduce female secretaries with access to information the Communists wanted. The KGB also tried to seducing enemy males with female, and even male agents for or information gathering or blackmail purposes. This method was called the "honey trap." Brothels known as "raspberries" were set up to entrap Westerners.

Pravda reported: “It was the USSR that established one of the most sophisticated special services in the world, which trained female spies to seduce men. There has been a book put out recently about sex spying. A girl named Vera narrated the story about KGB and how they recruited pretty girls, promising them that they would have all kinds of welfare imaginable, if they would agree to fulfil their civil duty and become sex agents. They were trying to deliver them from any shyness or shame, teaching them sex techniques, showing perverted pornographic videos. Girls were supposed to be able to execute any task. A lesbian orgy was one of practical classes, teachers would join that orgy too, the whole event was filmed and then the tape was discussed in detail by the whole group of participants. [Source: Pravda.Ru, July 8, 2002 ^]

“We were told that we were soldiers and that our weapon was our bodies. When the training was finished, we became sexually sophisticated women, we were ready to sleep with any man, if there was such an order for that,” Vera said. The objects of sexual attack were examined thoroughly beforehand, it was requisite to learn their sexual preferences, in order not to miss anyone. The first contact with an object was supposed to be totally incidental, but it was all over with blackmail: they explained to a guy that he had no other way out, but to cooperate with the Soviet intelligence. ^

“However, surprised happened sometimes too, like it was with the notorious case for seducing Indonesian President Ahmed Sukarno. He was known for his sexual passion. That is why KGB sent a group of young girls to him during his visit to Moscow. Those girls got acquainted with Ahmed Sukarno in a plane, under the disguise of air hostesses, then he invited them to his hotel room in Moscow and arranged a grand orgy. The orgy was filmed by two candid cameras that were fixed behind mirrors. It seemed that the operation was just perfect. Before starting the blackmail, KGB invited Sukarno in a small private movie theatre and showed him the pornographic video, in which he was playing the main part. KGB agents were expecting him to get really frightened, that he would agree to cooperate with them at once, but everything happened vice versa: Sukarno fondly decided that it was a gift from the Soviet government, so he asked for more copies to take them back to Indonesia and show them in movie theatres. Sukarno said to flabbergasted agents that the people of Indonesia would be very proud of him, if they could see him doing the nasty with Russian girls. ^

“East-German intelligence progressed in the field of sex spying as well. They developed a plan for seducing lonely secretaries that worked in important state institutions of West Berlin. The first contact was supposed to happen on a bus stop, in a café, or during a lunch break. A guy would start making a conversation, and then there was a game of seduction. For example, a handsome, well-dressed man with a bouquet of flowers rings a bell of a lonely woman, and then he pretends that he knocked on a wrong door. He gallantly apologizes, gives her flowers, and the affair starts. Agents knew every little detail about those women before starting all those operations. However, a male sex spy was not supposed to look like a Hollywood actor, it would be suspicious that he evinced interest in an inexpressive woman. Male sex spies also had a course of education classes with seductive female teachers. It sometimes happened that an agent could fall in love with his object, and those two people could not be controlled any longer. The problem with lonely secretaries that worked in secret institutions of West Berlin was so serious that NATO authorities ordered to hang posters on the walls of their offices, telling them to keep their hearts closed.

“Intelligence services of various countries also used homosexual agents, but it depends on a country, from which an object arrived – on their attitude to unconventional sex. There was an incident, when a KGB agent noticed that one of French diplomats had an eye on a guy from the governmental security. When KGB showed him kinky photographs of himself, the French delegate laughed out loud – it turned out that everybody in the embassy knew about his sexual orientation, and it was not a problem at all.” ^

Sexual Attitudes in Russia

Objections to the trend toward sexual liberation are concentrated in the older generations. In surveys younger and better-educated Russians generally voice approval, and new enterprises selling cosmetics, high-fashion clothing, and health products play to a new public interest in attractive display of the human body. The individuality implicit in such marketing— and especially obvious in the new Russian youth culture— is a drastic change from the strict standards of dress and grooming imposed in the Soviet era. The wearing of shorts, for example, only was accepted in Russia in the 1980s. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Three facts are important for understanding the specific features of Russian eros.First, the contrast between the official high culture and the low everyday culture of the common people was considerably greater in Russia than in the West. The official high culture was sanctified by the Church and antisexual by its very nature, while the low culture of the common people accorded sexuality a positive value common to all medieval European Christian cultures. Second, refined, complex erotic art came into being and gained acceptance much later in Russia than in the West. And it is only through the medium of erotic art that sexuality could be included in high culture at all. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality ==]

“Third, the development of civilized forms of everyday social life was, in Russia, more closely associated with state power that with the civil society. Because new rules of propriety were often introduced by political authorities, there was more pressure towards uniformity of everyday conduct than towards individualization and diversification; and without some established and reasonably diverse subcultures, there can be no basis for normative pluralism, one manifestation of which is sexual tolerance. These three factors are interconnected both historically and functionally.” ==

Russian Views on Sexuality and Love

A poll of 1,600 adults by the All-Russian Center of Public Opinion determined that 51 percent fo Russians were in love. Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Contrary to an opinion widespread in the U.S.A., Russians are very attached to the ideal of romantic love, which is considered a necessary precondition of marriage and even sex. In a 1992 national public-opinion poll, 53 percent of the men and 49 percent of the women said that they have experienced “real love.” “Sex without love” was approved as normal by only 15 percent of the respondents, while 57 percent strongly disapproved of it (Kon 1995, 19-25,52-53, 158-175). [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality ==]

But such attitudes may be unrealistic and reflect the contradictions of a classical Russian excessive romanticism that was formulated in Chekhov’s short story “Ariadna” (1895): We are not satisfied because we are idealists. We want the beings who give us birth and produce our children to be higher than us, higher than anything on earth. When we are young we romanticize and idolize those we fall in love with; love and happiness are synonyms with us. For us in Russia, loveless marriage is scorned, sensuality is mocked and induces revulsion, and those novels and stories where women are beautiful, poetic and elevated enjoy the most success.... But the trouble is as follows. Hardly do we marry or hit it off with a woman than, give or take a couple of years, and we feel we’ve been disappointed, let down; we try other women and again we find disillusion, again horror, and ultimately we convince ourselves that women are liars, petty, vain, unjust, uneducated, cruel - in a word, even immeasurably lower, not simply not higher, than us men.” ==

Kon wrote: “According to 1990-92 research of Russian university students, they, especially women, have more-pragmatic and less-romantic attitudes about marriage, particularly a readiness to marry without love, than their American, German, and Japanese counterparts. Nevertheless, as everywhere in the world, their real sexual-erotic motivations are mixed, contradictory, and heterogeneous. Also, general developmental trends in Russia are more or less similar to those occurring in Western countries: 1) Earlier maturation and sexual initiation of boys and girls; 2) Growing, and more or less universal, social and moral acceptance of premarital sex and cohabitation; 3) Weakening of the traditional double standard for men and women; 4) Growing recognition of the importance of sexual satisfaction for individual happiness and for marital stability; 5) Growing public interest in all kinds of erotica and a demand for sexual freedom; 6) Growing generational gap in sexual values, attitudes, and behaviors - many things that were considered deviant, unacceptable, and even unmentionable for parents, are normal and desirable for their children (Kon 1995, 158-175). ==

“As in any other large country, sexual values and attitudes are heterogeneous, depending on gender, age cohort, education level, social milieu (whether the person lives in a large city, a small town, or in the countryside, and where he or she spent childhood and adolescence), ethnic identity, and religious affiliation. Younger and better-educated people are more prone now to accept sex for pleasure only, without relation to love and marriage. On the other hand, as a reaction to this new individualism, normative anomie, and the weakening of family ties, some conservative and religious writers and philosophers criticize not only hedonistic eroticism, but even classical romantic, passionate love, which, they claim, should be subjugated to the quiet, conjugal love and traditional family values.” ==

Lack of Privacy Russian Views on Cleanliness and Bodily Functions

A lack of privacy and overcrowded apartments have forced young couples to smooch and make love in the parks and forests. This is fine when the weather is warm, but what they do during the winter? The Russians have an expression "In the summer the bear eats; in the winter he sucks his paw and dreams of summer." During the winter Russian lovers dream of the woods.

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Another historical factor that has affected the sexuality of the Russian people is their rather prudish approach to nudity and bodily functions. Thirty years ago, there was controversy about wearing any kind of shorts in public, including at beach resorts. Now walking shorts are no longer prohibited in the western regions. The attitudes of Moslems in the eastern republics are even stricter. Body exposure by Moslem women is still strictly forbidden, and violating the taboo can lead to severe punishment. In these regions, shorts even on men are considered indecent. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality ==]

“Bodily functions are not openly acknowledged in Russian culture. Direct reference to the need for a toilet is considered impolite. Russians will just quietly disappear from a meeting or social gathering, or, at most, will simply refer to their intention to walk in a particular direction. Even young people who are dating and know each other well often make up artificial explanations before excusing themselves to find a toilet. ==

“An additional contributor to the avoidance of overt discussion of bodily functions may be the sorry state of the country’s plumbing. Part of the general breakdown of material goods and services in Russian society following the 1991 revolution includes the public restroom facilities, which are no longer free and often broken or dirty. Wash basins may stand idle, or may yield only a dribble of cold water. Toilet tissue is scarce; its substitutes include newspaper, magazine pages, used office papers, and even cardboard. ==

“Despite the attention to cleanliness paid by many citizens, the combination of bodily inhibitions and inadequate material resources have combined to threaten their overall health, making personal hygiene difficult. Even the interest in improving physical fitness through better diet and exercise is only beginning, despite a long history of purported government commitment. The Russian ambivalence toward nakedness, bodily functions, intimate hygiene, and sexuality combined with a history of heavy censorship and the contemporary lack of material resources to make the impact of these factors on everyday life and sexuality even greater.” ==

Sex Education in Russia

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “As in the former U.S.S.R., Russia today still has virtually no systematic sex education, although some efforts have been made to develop school-based programs since the early 1980s. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality==]

Preferred Sources of Sexual Information (in Percentages): A) Special school course, 46; B) Special educational literature, 43; C) Special educational films or TV, 29; D) Conversation with a physician, 22; E) Conversation with parents, 21; F) Personal experience, 6; G) Discussion with peers, 5; H) No need for sex education, 3. In this late-1989 national public-opinion poll, people responded to the question, “What channels of information on sexual life do you believe are the most acceptable and efficient?” ==

“Clearly, a majority of the Russian people favor organized sex education. But the Communist Soviet government did not want it, and the present Russian government has no money for anything. However, an experimental 12-hour sex-education course for adolescents, based on a program from the Netherlands, was to have begun in eight schools in 1995 (Kon 1995, 75-76, 95-100, 108-110, 117-118, 192-193). ==

“According to a 1992 national survey, only 13 percent of Russian parents talk with their children about sexuality. The main sources of sexual information for teenagers, therefore, are their peers and the mass media. For adults, some medical and psychological information services are available in the larger cities. Several popular Western books have been translated, and a few have been written by Russian authors, after 1987. Sexual issues are now often discussed on television and in the newspapers. But there is neither strategy nor money to do this effectively. The main source of sexual knowledge for many people are pornographic magazines and erotic newspapers. The monthly newspaper SPID-info (AIDS-information) has the second largest print run in the country, 4.5 million. It says little about AIDS, but gives popular information about sexuality and erotic topics. ==

“To develop effective public policies that encourage responsible sexual expression by citizens without reactionary negativism, and to accommodate pluralistic diversity without succumbing to crippling ambivalence - these will be the challenges common to our countries as they enter the twenty-first century. ==

Sexuality and sex education have become “a scapegoat in the anti-Western political rhetoric. The Russian Orthodox Church is rapidly assuming the Communist ideological mantle of sexual repression. Attacking all sex education in schools and any expression of sexuality as “satanic,” Orthodox clergy have demanded a United Nations-sponsored sex education project be stopped immediately, because it is a Western conspiracy to depopulate Russia. Although a few medical efforts and the Russian Planned Parenthood helped reduce the abortion rate since 1991 considerably, teen syphilis rates increased thirty-fold, as teenage coital experience increased and began earlier. Orthodox clergy preach that they alone can provide proper sex education, and claim that Westerners are trying to exterminate Russian culture by reducing its birthrate with abortion, contraception, sexual excesses, masturbation, and homosexuality. Artistic and mass-media freedom is also threatened by the draft law’s too broad and indiscriminate definitions of pornography and “products of a sexual nature.”

Russian Sexology

Igor S. Kon wrote in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “ In the early 1900s, the first sexual surveys were conducted among students at Moscow and other universities. Sexual concerns were raised within the disciplines of medicine, history, ethnography, and anthropology. The word “sexology” as a name for a special subdivision of science was suggested by Rosanov in 1909. [Source: Igor S. Kon, Ph.D. International Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]

“Historically, the professional training of sexopathologists was delayed in favor of other priorities. The first department of sexology was organized in the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Institute for Advanced Medical Training only in 1989. Students at other medical colleges receive no sexological training at all. ==

“The beginning of the 1990s saw extensive promotion of individual medical activity and group work. Numerous medical cooperatives and profit-making centers are increasingly advertising the services of sexopathologists. The development of this type of medical practice reflects the public’s demand for it. The professional level of this practice is sometimes problematic. ==

“The Russian Sexological Association Health and Culture was established in February, 1991, to promote an interdisciplinary investigation of sexual behavior, sex education, and sex culture. But, like many other post-Soviet voluntary organizations, it exists only on paper and serves as a cover for private commercial activities like sex shops. Somewhat more efficient is the medically oriented Soviet Sexological Association.” ==

References and Suggested Readings

Attwood, Lynne. 1990. The New Soviet Man and Woman: Sex-Role Socialization in the U.S.S.R. Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press. Borisenko, K. K., and O. K. Loseva. 1994. “Zabolevaemost Molodyozhi Boleznyaimi, Peredavaemymi Polovym Putyom.” Planirovanie Semyi. 4:20-22. Chervyakov, Kon, and Shapiro. 1993. Full citation not available. Engelstein, Laura. 1992. The Keys to Happiness. Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siecle Russia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Flegon, Alex. 1976. Eroticism in Russian Art. London: Flegon Press. Gessen, Masha. 1994. The Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men in the Russian Federation: An International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Report. San Francisco: I.G.L.H.R.C. Golod, S. I. 1984. Stabilnost Semi: Sotsiologichesky i Demografichesky Aspekty. Leningrad. Karlinsky, Simon. 1989.

“Russia’s Gay Literature and Culture: The Impact of the October Revolution.” In M. B. Duberman, M. Vicinus, and G. Chauncey, Jr., eds. Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. New York: New American Library. Kon, Igor S. 1989. Vvedenie v Seksologiu (Introduction to Sexology). Second enlarged edition. Moscow, Russia: Translations: Bulgarian (1990), Chinese (1990), Ukranian (1991). Kon, Igor S. 1995. The Sexual Revolution in Russia: From the Age of the Czars to Today. New York: Free Press. Kon, I., V. Chervyakov, and V. Shapiro. 1994. “Podrostki i Seks: Utrata Illuzii.” Ogonyoh, 2. Kon, Igor S., and James Riordan, eds. 1993. Sex and Russian Society. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Includes chapters on “Sexuality and Culture,” I. Kon; “Patterns of Birth Control,” L. I. Remennick; “Sex and the Cinema,” L. Attwood; “Sexual Minorities,” I. Kon; “Soviet Beauty Contests,” E. Waters; “Sex and Young People,” S. Golod, and “Medical Sexology,” L. Shcheglov. Lenhert, Phillippe, Irina Pavlenko, Larissa Remennick, & Adrian Visser. 1992 (May). “Contraception in the Former USSR: Recent Survey Results on Women’s Behavior and Attitudes.” Planned Parenthood in Europe, 21 (2):9-11. Levin, Eve. 1989. Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Loseva, O. K. 1991.

“Seksualnoe Povedenie Bolnykh Sifilisom (Epidemiologicheskie I Mediko-Sotsialnye Problemy),” Avtoreferat Dissertatsii na Soiskanie Uchenoi Stepeni Doktora Meditsinskikh Nauk (Moscow: Tsentralnyi Nauchno-Issledovatelskii Kozhno-Venerologicheskii Institut, 1991) Loseva, O. K, 1994. “Sotsialno-Meditsinskie Aspekty Boleznei, Peredavaemykh Polovym Putom, u Detei i Podroskov,” Rossiyskaya Assotsiatsyia “Planirovanie Semyi,” Pervaya Natsyonalnaya Konferentsya “Problemy Planirovania Semyi v Rossii” (Materialy Konferetnsii. 7-9 Dekabrya 1993, Moskva, Moscow “Kvartet,” pp. 89-96. Loseva, O.K., T.V. Chistyakova, A. V. Libin, and E.V. Livin. 1991. “Seksualnoe Povedenie Podrostkov, Bolnykh Sifilisom.” Vestnik Dermatologfi i Venerologii, 2:45-49. Lunin, I. I. 1994. “Seksualnoe Prosveshcheme Kak Faktor Profilaktiki Seksualnykh Posyagatelstv.” Problemy Planirovaniya Semyi v Rossii. Pervaya Natsionalnaya Konferenfsia Rossiiskoi Assotsiatsii “Planirovanie Semyi” (Moscow), pp. 96-105. Lunin, I., T. L. Hall, J. S. Mandel, J. Kay, and N. Hearst, Adolescent Sexuality in St. Petersburg: Russia in the Era of AIDS (in press). Maddock, James W., M. Janice Hogan, Anatolyi I. Antonov, & Mikhail S. Matskovsky, eds. 1994. Families Before and After Peristroika: Russian and U.S. Perspectives. New York/London: The Guilford Press. Popov, A. 1992.

“Induced Abortions in the U.S.S.R. at the End of the 1980s: Basis for the National Model of Family Planning.” A paper for the Population Association of America 1992 Annual Meeting (Denver, Colorado, April 30-May 2, 1992). Popov, Andrej, Adrian Visser, & Evert Ketting. 1993 (July/August). “Contraceptive Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practice in Russia During the 1980s.” Studies in Family Planning, 24 (4):227-35. Stafford, Peter. 1967. Sexual Behavior in the Communist World. An Eyewitness Report of Life, Love, and the Human Condition Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Julian Press. Stanley, Alessandra. 1994 (April 17). “Sexual Harassment Thrives in the New Russia Climate.” The New York Times, pp. 1 & 8. Stanley, Alessandra. 1995 (October 21). “Russian Mothers, from All Walks, Walk Alone.” The New York Times, pp. A1 and A5. Waters, E. 1993. “Soviet Beauty Contests.” In Igor S. Kon and James Riordan, eds. 1993. Sex and Russian Society. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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