In Russia, more and more people are talking about the need for sex education in schools. In September, it turned out that almost 75 percent of Russians support the idea of introducing sex education lessons, but officials are still confident that it will bring nothing but debauchery, and neither teachers nor parents should engage in sex education for children. Meanwhile, stories about 13-year-old schoolgirls who give birth to children from their peers are no longer surprising, and schematic drawings depicting a woman's body are regarded as pornography. Psychologist and sex educator Maria Davoyan told Lente.ru about what sex education is, why it is needed and how its absence affects the lives of Russians.
"Lenta.ru": Is there an exact age when you need to start talking to your child about sex?
Davoyan: The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that this age is four years. But don't think that four-year-olds are being asked to show their vaginas and tell them how to have sex, no. At the age of four, children should start talking about the autonomy of the body, about the fact that your body is only yours and only you have the right to do with it what you want. At this age, it is important to teach a child to say "no" to something that is unpleasant for him. This is, firstly, a useful practice from a psychological point of view, and secondly, it is also some protection of the child from sexualized violence in childhood. In other words, if a child knows how to say "no", there is a possibility that he will refuse a person who tries to do something with him.
So first we talk about borders, then about relationships. For example, we explain to the child that respect is very important, that there is no need to pull the girl's pigtails in order to show how much you like her, that it is better to speak honestly and truthfully about your feelings. Then, closer to adolescence, you can start talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), about pregnancy and how to prevent it, and so on. Because, according to research, pregnancy for a teenager is socially and educationally unsafe. First, a teenager is unlikely to be able to earn enough to feed himself and his child. Second, due to early pregnancy, adolescents receive a poorer level of education than their peers without children.
Also in adolescence, you can disclose the topic of sexual abuse. Here we are no longer talking about borders as such, but about what to do in the event of violence. If you talk about this with a four-year-old child, you can just scare him. And teenagers are already quite wealthy to accept this information.
What's the best way not to talk to children about sex? Are there any topics that are best left untouched? Can I tell children about my personal experience?
There is a very fine line here. If the child himself asks about something, the most correct decision would be to answer him honestly to the question. The parent can choose the degree of frankness, but in any case, his answer should not be from the series "the stork brought you to us."
If we talk about parents who are ready to discuss their sex life, then there is nothing terrible in this, as long as the child is not pulled into an adult relationship. In other words, for example, a child asks mom about sex, and she says without details something like: "Look, I have a vulva, dad has a penis, and when they connect, something happens."
In systemic family psychotherapy, this is called triangulation - drawing the child into the relationship of adults. In this case, the child leaves the child's position, and he has to be on an equal footing with adults and cover some of their needs. For example, the need to be listened to. The child simply does not have enough of his own resource for this.
Where is the middle ground between the complete lack of sex space and the child's involvement in adult problems?
The sweet spot is to answer your child's questions as they grow older. This should be done honestly and truthfully, but focus on age and provide less detailed or more detailed information.
If the child does not ask questions - some adolescents are ashamed of their parents, as we know - then it is worth taking the initiative and talking about what worries you, but not in an instructive way. This is ineffective and can only cause negative reactions in the teenager.
You just need to share your experiences, say: “I remember myself at your age, I remember that I was worried about such and such problems, I would like to talk to you about this, because it seems to me that I can give you knowledge that you can find nowhere else. you won't get it. " Then you can begin to tell what abuse is (psychological violence in a relationship - approx. "Lenta.ru"), where you can turn for help, say that parents are always there, that in case of violence, only the rapist is guilty. The child should constantly broadcast the idea that he can always turn to you as a parent, and you will not judge him, because often children, getting into unpleasant situations, do not want to go to their parents precisely because of fear. They are afraid that they will be scolded. This often leads to even more dire consequences.
And if we talk about sex education not in families, but in schools - are these lessons necessary? How would they affect society as a whole? For example, would there be fewer early pregnancies? Less violence?
In an ideal world, from the age of eleven or twelve, children should receive the most ethical information about sex and sexuality in schools from a central location. Therefore, lessons are, of course, needed.
But I can't say for sure that sex clearance in schools will definitely reduce the number of early pregnancies. At the same time, studies show that in those countries that have introduced sexuality education, there are fewer, for example, carriers of STIs. Also in these countries, the incidence of sexual violence has decreased, not only in adolescence, but also in adulthood. In addition, there is less domestic violence in these countries, which, by the way, is a very interesting additional plus of sexuality education. At first glance, domestic violence has nothing to do with sex directly, but in any case, sex education helps in this area, because it teaches people to understand their boundaries.
Children who have completed a course in sexuality education begin to have a sex life on average three to four years later than their peers. And they do it more consciously. That is, most sex educated people use a condom the first time they have sex. Their peers who did not have sex education lessons only use a condom 50 percent of the time.
There should be a sex gap in schools, because in many families the topic of sex remains one of the most tabooed. According to a study by the Levada Center, Russians are afraid to talk about sex even more than about suicide.
At the same time, a Rosstat study showed that 88 percent of Russian women fully support the idea of sexuality education and would like to have such a course in schools. In their opinion, this course should include aspects such as HIV and AIDS, other STIs, the menstrual cycle and how it works, pregnancy and, accordingly, contraception. Some of the aspirational topics included premarital abstinence and family life skills.
More than a million Russians are now HIV-positive - and this is only the official statistics. This means that almost every hundredth in our country is a carrier of the virus. These are no longer only marginalized groups. A decent MGIMO student with pigtails and two higher educations can be a carrier of HIV today. Therefore, it is very important to protect yourself in any case. And know about prevention.
And yes, we do have very high rates for teenage pregnancies and teenage abortions. More than half of adolescent pregnancies are accidental. All of these indicators, according to research, can be reduced through sex education.
Is there a line between a conventionally good sex gap and a bad one?
There is a comprehensive sexuality education that helps to improve statistics on abortions and cases of violence, and abstinence sex education. There is a difference between them. The second is based on the idea of not having sex and abstinence until marriage. People who do this, instead of telling how to protect themselves and how the body works, scare teenagers with sex. They either impose the dogma "sex before marriage is a sin", or they say that it is simply harmful and even deadly.
In the United States, there are different laws on sexuality education depending on the state, and in those states that have laws based on abstinence, rates for teenage pregnancy and STIs are, oddly enough, higher. This approach is not only useless, it is harmful.
Therefore, our task is to teach you to have sex safely for yourself and your partner. And if we introduce abstinence-based sexuality education in Russia, then, I'm afraid, this could lead to even worse consequences than the complete absence of sex education.
What other concerns are there about sexuality education in Russia?
Parents have three main areas of concern. First and foremost, they fear that sexuality education will provoke children into sexual experimentation. As if right after the lecture the children would go and have sex. Of course, this is certainly an unwarranted concern, because other studies show that comprehensive sexuality education has a positive effect on later sexual debut.
The second fear is the lack of knowledge and competencies of the parents themselves. And this fear is really true, because most of the adolescents are not satisfied with the answers of their parents, and besides, most of the parents really cannot provide sexuality education in full.
The third and most important concern is uncertainty about whether this or that information is age-appropriate. There are certain supporting points that are important to highlight at each stage of growing up, and most parents have no idea at what age and what to talk to their child about.
How can parents recognize sexual problems in their children?
Of course, not only hormones affect adolescents. Sexual problems can arise from over-sexualization of the environment, from the consumption of sexualized media and porn, and even from bullying. If the teenager has become more closed, you need to be wary. Some become whiny or, conversely, aggressive. In this case, you need to give your teen more attention and try to talk to him. If there is a relationship of trust, this will not be a problem.
If there is no trusting relationship, then you can ask another adult to talk, but in any case, it is important to talk. The main thing here is to find out from the teenager himself where his mood swings come from, and not to run to school and figure it out.
And the problems can be different. In addition to what I have already listed, a teenager may experience maladaptive masturbation. Of course, adults also face this problem, but for adolescents this is one of the most frequent difficulties. Maladaptive masturbation is those types of stimulation that either directly harm health or can significantly affect social connections. For example, if a person chooses to masturbate over meeting friends, it harms his life and is considered a violation.
The adolescent may close down or, conversely, become hypersexual and, after an act of violence, try to regain his actorhood through constant attempts to initiate sex.
There are also problems associated with porn. Teens who watch it too often can develop self-esteem problems. After all, no body looks like the bodies of porn actors and actresses, and that's okay, but teenagers compare themselves to them and are disappointed. Again, it is up to parents and teachers to explain that these are unrealistic expectations that you don't have to live up to.
As people grow up, these unrealistic expectations may persist. As well as problems in relationships with other people that have arisen after violence or maladaptive masturbation.
Now adolescents can at least sexually educate themselves on the Internet if they have no sex education at school or in their families. And in the USSR there was no sex at all. What are the dangerous consequences of the complete absence of sex education, as a rule?
The huge amount of domestic and sexual violence in Russia is in many ways a consequence of the lack of understanding of what is permissible in relationships. Because sexuality education is not only about sex, but also about mutual respect and the ability to negotiate. If this is not the case, then we have the decriminalization of domestic violence and our entire post-Soviet reality.
In addition, many women over forty have never had an orgasm and do not consider it a problem. Younger women, of course, also may not experience an orgasm, but at the same time they understand that it is possible and necessary to work on this. In general, female pleasure is a fairly new concept, and its absence in the sex life of the older generation is more a norm than a deviation.
Is it true that today's adolescents are experiencing a decline in interest in sex? Is this due to the awareness that sex lumen gives? Or is the trend more negative?
I associate this with the availability of sex in general and in particular with the availability of 24/7 porn and dating applications. The need for sex is now closed much easier than it was, for example, in the 90s and even 2000s. Because of this, you should not ring the bells and say that we will stop having sex - no, this will not happen, just the interest in sex has dropped a little. There is nothing wrong with that, just sex has become more accessible.
This has nothing to do with sex education, although I would like it to be. Teens have hardly stopped wanting sex just for the sake of sex and now need real intimacy. People on average under 25 do not really want a serious relationship. They, of course, want to be in love, but sex still prevails over the search for special relationships.
What are the constraints faced by teachers in the field of sexuality education in Russia?
There are only three of them. The first is propaganda, God forgive me, homosexuality. As you know, this word is incorrect, but we still use it. The problem is that a comprehensive sexuality education course should include information about homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality.
But is it propaganda until the age of 18?
Is this considered propaganda if everything is based on scientific research? I don't understand myself. According to the law, it seems not, because scientific research is not considered propaganda, but, on the other hand, you never know when you will break the law and when you will not.
The second limitation is the distribution of pornography. Artist Yulia Tsvetkova only drew a naked woman, which was viewed as pornography. Since a sex education course must include at least a schematic representation of the genitals, the question arises: where is the line between pornography and education?
Well, the third limitation is the law on harmful information. Information about rape, for example, fits this definition. That is, they can rape a teenager, but tell him what to do if this happened to him, explain - this is already a rather dangerous thing, it can be prohibited. Therefore, we can talk about rape again in the context of statistics and science, but it is unclear whether it is possible to say that you should not go to the shower right away and it is better to go through a medical examination first?
We give our course to parents, and they are already deciding whether they are ready to give such information to children. We can cooperate with schools only by personal agreement, and for each school we have to adjust our curriculum. That is, we come to the director and discuss what we are ready to remove and what is not. In general, we can come to schools and teach children about sexuality, but we must do this with the consent of the principal.
We have no religious restrictions, because we do not force anyone to listen to our course. But at the same time, the course will definitely not harm the child, even if he is from a religious family. On the contrary, most likely, he will become even more rooted in his beliefs and will continue to wait until marriage, but when he enters this marriage, he will have ideas about how what works and how to make his sex life better.
If there are no religious restrictions, then where does the program “Pregnant at 16” come from in Russia, in which it is shown that early pregnancies are not so scary, and it is better to give birth than to have an abortion? Are these not traces of propaganda?
Yes it is. This is an all-encompassing process. I have friends from the film industry who make cartoons and shoot TV shows, and we thought to do something like Sex Education ("Sex Education" - a Netflix youth comedy series, - "Lenta.ru") in Russian reality, for what people who deal with grants told us that it’s easier for us not to apply with such an idea, because such an application will not even be considered. Everything is focused on the agenda, but our agenda is different now. Definitely not sex positive.
What to do about it?
Probably, all that remains is to wait and do some grassroots initiatives. The same Yulia Tsvetkova, who continues to engage in activism in the field of body positive, is doing a great job.
And who or what is the biggest obstacle to doing sexuality education in Russia?
Perhaps our biggest enemy is fear. Not an ephemeral government and not the ROC, but fear of the government and the ROC. A lot of people refuse useful projects related to sexuality education, only out of fear that they will be punished in connection with the laws that we talked about. And many projects did not come to fruition only because of the fear of people. They are afraid that something might go wrong, because, as we said, this topic is taboo.
There is nothing wrong with changing attitudes about sexuality. Each of us has this, and it is stupid enough to ignore this fact. It remains to contribute little by little and change these attitudes. After all, we made a course, and we were not sent to prison.