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Russia's Debate: How Much Sex-Ed in Schools?

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But with the end of the Soviet Union, Russia now has sex, a lot of it. Sex aids are sold alongside boxes of tea in street kiosks, pornography next to serious newspapers in the subway. There are no laws prohibiting prostitution, and major urban streets usually feature a chorus line of teenage prostitutes after dark.

If Russian teenagers face the same pressures as Western youths to have sex early, Russian parents, who grew up during the Soviet era, are much more reluctant and ill-equipped to talk about sex than Westerners. "It's a very dangerous situation. On the street level, there's incredible licentiousness, permissiveness," Marianna Besrukikh, head of the Developmental Physiology Institute at the Russian Academy of Education, says. "But at the same time, you can't talk about it at home."

A partial solution to the information vacuum has been to offer sex education through private organizations such as Chestyakova's center in Tula.

Hers is one of more than 50 regional branches of the Moscow-based Russian Family Planning Association, a six-year-old nonprofit group that receives support from the Russian government and the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation.

A small, elegant woman in high heels, Chestyakova went into family planning after years of treating women who had become infertile as a result of numerous abortions or sexually transmitted diseases.

ON a rainy summer morning, a local day camp brings campers for a series of talks about health and sex education. The 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls go off with separate instructors.

The girls' instructor gently tells them that while it's great that some of them are going steady, they should hold off on having sex. She encourages them to visit the center, but stresses that their mothers are the best resource.

At this, 13-year-old Katya shakes her head and shoots back: "No, it's different with our moms. They grew up in a different time. They had a very closed childhood. Things are more open now. There's movies, magazines. If I want to know something, it's much easier for me to talk to my friends."

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