Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy: Russia’s only sex educators


Looking to classic novels to learn about the spirit of love is one thing, but what can “The Idiot” teach young people about sexual responsibility?

Instead of a curriculum covering condoms and sexually transmitted diseases, Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s ombudsman, is advising that children look to literary fiction. “The best sex education that exists is Russian literature,” Astakhov told Rossiya-24 news channel. “In fact, literature in general. Everything is there, about love and about relationships between sexes. Schools should raise children chastely and with an understanding of family values.”

But, to paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy families are alike so it’s the unhappy ones that have their values explored in the canon. Things have changed a little since Anna Karenina was forced to choose between the daily despair of her loveless marriage and the dangerous, disgraceful passion of her affair. Or, as AS Byatt noted in her 2004 review of “The Idiot”, “goodness tends to mean unselfishness, and unselfishness tends to lack sexual energy,” which is not often a problem faced by confused, poorly educated teenagers.


Astakhov opposes sexual education in schools.”It is unacceptable to allow things that could corrupt children,” he said in the television interview.

Sex education is not mandated in Russian schools. The Guardian reports that “Russia has over a million people living with HIV, and half of new cases are now sexually transmitted.”

Earlier this year, President Vladimir Putin with the Russian parliament passed a law that prohibits adults from teaching minors about lesbian, gay and transgendered ways of life. Some literature, including a biography of Tchaikovsky, whom many historians agree was gay, have been pulled from the shelves of Russian schools and libraries. It’s unclear whether children will be allowed to listen to Tchaikovsky while reading their way through the classic Russian cannon in an effort to learn about the pleasures and increasing dangers of sexuality.


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