"There is No Sex in the Soviet Union...."

by Z*

Everyone knows that there was no sex in the Soviet Union. Now most people do not remember the origin of this catchphrase. It happened during a televised conference between audiences in the United States and the USSR. A woman when asked about sex in the Soviet media replied, “There is no sex in the USSR....”

Indeed, no one ever discussed how babies were born. My sister believed our dad found her in his vomit. For some reason he thought that was the most suitable explanation. I had a better story. I was purchased by my older sister at a diamond store. It is fun to reminisce about such stories but there is a deeper question to address in the former Soviet Union. How to encourage people to both use contraceptives and to have babies? First of all, schools and families should raise awareness.

My anatomy teacher in ninth grade did not want to deal with students giggling. So for the sake of discipline in class, she skipped chapters that talked about sex and reproduction. Some of us bothered to skim through them on our own. It was the closest we ever got to the topic.

Families do not fill in the gap either. In the local mentality, talking about condoms, sexually transmitted diseases, or birth control is mostly seen as encouragement to get sexually active. So parents pretend their kids are the products of inexplicable miracles, while kids learn anatomy oftentimes the troublesome way.

Abortion remains the top birth-control option not only in Russia but in neighboring countries. The anti-abortion versus pro-choice debates rarely take place. In fact, generally people do not have any opinion on abortion. It is common to hear women in line to see a gynecologist talk about having third or fifth terminated pregnancy. No one would even get an odd look or a simple question, “Have you considered birth-control?”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev thinks that rewarding big families will help improve the demographic situation in his country. Starting this year, such families will get money from the government. However, Medvedev’s generous $1,600 for a family of 17 means a little less than $100 for each family member. Somehow, I do not see this as an effective way to solve the issue.

Perhaps readers in the Western hemisphere could care less about the deteriorating demographic situation in Russia, Ukraine or any other former Soviet republic. But having seen my American friends looking for research or work opportunities in that part of the world, it crossed my mind that if the Soviet mentality is still alive then it will take more than Hollywood movies to educate our people. Sex education can be supplemental to the numerous English as a Second Language volunteer programs out there.

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

(For other recent posts on the topics of motherhood in our modern culture or abortion, please see: "Octuplets & the Ethics of Fertility," and "Obama: Executive Orders & the Oops Factor.")

(The graphic is a Soviet propaganda poster and is in the public domain.)

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Anonymous said...

pathetic. such a competent opinion kind of "in Russia there's a bears walking on the streets and robs vodka from children". well done, keep trying.

"it will take more than Hollywood movies to educate our people." - especially brilliant :) thanks God author not going to educate somebody with Beavis&Butt-Head series! :)

Z said...

Take a deep breath and re-read the article. For a second, pretend that you have no relation to the region and think critically. Just give it a try.

Let me help you, consider these questions: How many families do you know where mother talks to her daughter and tells her that if she chooses to have sex she should think of protection? Fathers to their sons? How many classes or special sessions in high schools are there that educate students on dangers of unprotected sex? How about colleges? TV? How often do your friends talk to you about unprotected sex?

After pondering for a bit, follow the links in this article, they are there for a reason: abortion rates are high because people in former Soviet Union republics (not just Russia, by the way) are rarely exposed to educational discussions on sex.

And yes to your chagrin, it is an expert opinion. It's based on facts, personal experience, and observation. I've been in classes where teachers skip sexual anatomy. I know couples or single women facing undesired pregnancies, and I've met people who got health problems simply because their parents or teachers prefer to assume that there is no sex, just like in Soviet Union.

If you can support your arguments with facts, I'll be happy to see some sound, weighted counter arguments. However, from what I see in your comment, all I can expect is another blind unsupported attack in denial of everything that relates to mother Russia. Perhaps, you'll get creative and come up with another nonsensical irrelevant analogy (come on, bears walking in russia?).

Anonymous said...

Wow. "Brevity is the soul of wit".

So you trying to earn your score in US by "revealing scary truth" about Russia to grateful listeners who likes to hear a scary stories about Russia? With what? You asking me of arguments, but where's yours? All that "diamond store" fairytales of your family, incompetence of your teacher etc - you have such a troubles in your country? Blame your country. Everybody got their sovereignty after USSR breakdown - well, use it! Oh, nobody here didn't interested in your country and scary stories about it? Well, you got a problem with that.

Mark Ames found his grateful auditory with his "US - nation of fat dumbs"-style articles, earning his score by blaming US in Russia, but he at least was an US citizen, how about you? Trying to press on "ex-soviet"? Soviet Union breaked up 18 years ago, wake up. You got totally no idea what is Russia and what is Russia's problems and weak points, don't try to depict an expert of yourself.

ps that "from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home" is ridiculous (: I'm imagine how special agencies of your country spend all days trying to figure you out (: You'll have to do something with your inflated self-assessment (:

Rick Rockwell said...

As the editor of this blog and someone who has worked as a journalist in Russia, I must now step into this debate.

As usual, commentators from the outside often reveal their own ignorance with their comments. And isn’t the crack about brevity and then a long response a bit of being hung out on one’s own petard?

We can assure you of a few things:

1) The commentator here knows about the subject matter as a native of the region and as someone who frequently travels through the region.
2) The security services in Russia and various former Soviet states do monitor such online commentaries from journalists and others who are critical of the governments in the region and these critical commentators have had difficulties. Please check the Committee to Protect Journalists’ website for a variety of examples.
3) If this commentator were truly trying to make a mark in the U.S. by criticizing the region, why not reveal their name and take credit? As with most other matters on this blog, the research and perspective are sound. We have good reasons to believe this commentator needs their identity shielded, otherwise, like others here, the byline would be present.

Perhaps you’d like to quibble with the form and tone this commentator takes. Fair enough. As someone writing in a second language, perhaps you will understand why this material takes the form it does. However, the writing is at least the equal of what you present in your comments. The response to your comments was more than fair. Please do not take to launching personal attacks if you disagree with the opinions expressed.

As noted, you have not disproved any of the points about the need for better sex education.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... Fresh blood in the thread (: Good.

Nope. I've meant "discuss wouldn't be short".

1) yeees yes, of course of course.
"to the region". I don't care of her region. But I don't like to read on US domain some girl "from a region" blame my country, that she hasn't any relation. I repeat: blame your country, blame your "region".

2) Looks like, Rick, you're much older than me, so I can't just laff in your face. But you really make me laff.
Look at your blog - it's empty like a desert, there's nobody except of your authors. Sorry, but your recource is too banal, too empty and too socially impotent to interest some government agencies. Just because there's too much of such an empty sites in the Web to mess with everyone of them. I hope you wouldn't be offenced much by that truth. (:

I think it's quite easy to understand my displeasurement - it's just like if some Mexico girl in Europe will blame US just because she's "from a region". Really pathetic.

Disproved? Sex education? Okay, take a look: http://doseng.org/2007/10/16/otkuda-ja-vzjalsja-35-foto.html
Makes you smile? As you can see that's a 1991 year of publication book. When we was 10(1994) we got an education lessons in schools with that book. To be honest - teacher's delicate explanation of facts that we've already knew was boring a little. Few years after there was full anatomy course without any withdrawal of reproduction system's topics (I still didn't understand why personal problem of some teacher "from a region" is reason to make opinion on Russia's education system?..)
When I've bought my first car(old jalopy Honda Prelude'88 hehe) and started to drive at home after nidnight, my parents talked to me did I know all that I should know... Of course I've already know it! (. I didn't know what a mental problems can make today's teenager to be grown in today's environment and didn't know what is AIDS, what is other sexually transmitted diseases, for what and how comndoms is used for etc. I've to say today's teenagers (atleast, in Russia) even overloaded by that information, it's more than enough.

As I can see - that's general line of your blog - "Russia is bad", and, of course, my comments never would change that. And, of course, some girl "from a region" who tries to immitate "kind of citizen kind of from Russia" who will approve that general line is a good find for you. Not as good as a real russian citizen, but at least much more than nothing.
I dont' want to make black would be white, Russia have a real bunch of problems - more that any other country, however all of in in another plane than you wish to find it. It's all some kind of political games, politicans points for their nations who they have to love and who they have to hate. I don't want to participale in it. When there was Gorbachov and Yeltzin - there was a terrible mess in Russia, but they was doing what US politican would like, so everybody in US loved Russia. Putin ain't going such way, so now everybody exept russian people themselves knows that "Russia - territory of unfree society", and other "Key-Gee-Bee" old good well-coined brands. It's not something to be proud of, it's just the way it is.

I like Russia, I like US. I don't like those who tries to fire up hostility between Russia and other nations, especially if they even didn't have a legitimacy for that. We are not friends, and looks like we can't be friends right now, but at least let's have a little respect to each other?
"But I tried, didn't I goddamnit? At least I did that."(c)One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Rick Rockwell said...

To the anonymous commentator in Siberia: I’m glad you are amused. Thanks for posting a civil comment that addresses the main issues. Reading all of your responses is quite revealing.

To tie up some loose ends:

1) Yes, we are a small blog. Call us a boutique, not a big store. We are not offended by what you call “truth” in regard to our readers because we know it is not true. We have regular readers in Congress, in the State Department, and other places in Washington, D.C. And we have readers in every state in the U.S. And like you, about a quarter of our readers are international. And because we can track that, we also know we need to take precautions.

2) Most of this blog is not about Russia. And most of the criticism is about the U.S. But Russia is a big enough country and powerful enough that it should be able to take some criticism from time to time. Thanks for giving us a very Russian perspective in response.

Anonymous said...

2) Oh, of course, my bad. (:
I had no intention to say about "general line" of your blog at all, but just in case of your Russia-related articles. Sorry for that.

1) I judge only by number of comments on the blog and that counters at the top of right panel. Of course you right, "if you have not persecution mania - it's not a proof that you not being persecuted" (: I wouldn't interfere your conspiracy game anymore - if your like to imagine "bloody hand of soviet KGB" over your blog - that's your choise.

Hope everyone of us will make some conclusions from that, generally offtopic thread. I'll have to make mine for now. Good luck (:

Bryce said...

The statement there is no Sex in the Soviet Union was obviously a translator error. I am not from there but from what I heard they were in many ways more open about real sexuality than we are in the United States, and do to the secularism of the Soviet Union much less moralistic and judgmental of peoples sexual choices. As a matter of fact my teacher in the United States was a woman born and raised in the Soviet Union. There was a week devoted to sex ed at my school and while she was a little nervous seeming her lesson was more matter of fact and up front than any lesson I have seen given by an American teacher. There is still much to be done in terms of educating people on safe sex in America. Anonymous has a point. You look on TV and the only Russian characters you see are gangsters drunks and soldiers who are always simple minded thugs, women are usually portrayed as homely helpless victims or sexy manipulative gold digging b words. its very unfair and just like propaganda against Muslims, and the propaganda that portrayed Native Americans Latinos and Africans as savages. its basically propaganda to justify wars or CIA orchestrated "color revolutions". Russia has great problems but the Russians are not a backward people. Russians tend to be highly educated and while socialism in Russia clearly became corrupted and failed the values of humanism and team work and internationalism are still very much alive in the vast majority of Russian people

Anonymous said...

It was my understanding that the woman who commented "there is no sex in the SU" in her broken English was actually referring to the fact that pornography (not sex!) was suppressed by the government. In effect, she was proclaiming the superiority of the Soviet system over those of the degenerate West. Having said this, the information on abortions chimes with my own experience--I know a number of women here in Germany who grew up in East Bloc countries, and I was absolutely astonished to learn that not a single one of them had had fewer than two abortions. As the blog says, abortion really was (still is?) used as a substitute for contraception.

Anonymous said...

How can it be a substitute for contraception, when the SU was one of the first countries in the world to make the pill freely availiable?
You could get it in any doctor's clinic if you asked.. my family has lived there all their lives, they'd know.
Abortion was prevalent because it was legal. I'm sure if the US had legalised abortion all those years, there would be the EXACT same situation.

barmaley said...

the soviet official was right, in her own mind at least. the word "sex" as used in russian probably conjured images of decadence, perverse refinement and hedonism in her puritanical party brain (yes-yes, in know, not a bad word about mother russia. yet soviet communist party was as puritanical as some of its usa bible-thumping counterparts).
so, absolutely -- there was no sex in the ussr. only some home-grown, honest, people's yebnya, or fucking.

Anonymous said...

She said "There is no sex in the USSR, there is only LOVE" - but nobody listened her next phrase, everybody laugh very loud.

Anonymous said...

I THINK YOU, HAVE MISTAKEN OPINION! FIRSTLY, this famous phrase "There is No Sex in the Soviet Union...." said one young Russian woman , in response to the question of American. Further, this phrase is sold in this form and now has a pejorative connotation to ridicule about the USSR. However, in fairness, I must say that this completely replica was: "There is no sex in Soviet Union – THERE IS LOVE"
And, in my opinion, it was a decent answer. And secondly, Russia is the biggest and the best country in this world(including other Slavonic countries) , we have rich and great history of our land, we have clever scientists, musicians, poets, actors, artists and etc…we have wonderful nature, our people are the most kind and friendly with open heart and soul, our woman are the most beautiful in the world and we just love our country!

Anonymous said...

Being born in Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic during the regime I know what the spreaker is talking about.
according to my mom I was found in a cabbage field.
the older generation still never of talk of admit existence of sex.

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