Spouting advice surreal enough to befit a figure with the title of Russia's "Children's Rights Commissioner," Pavel Astakhov is urging schools to forgo sex education altogether. "It is unacceptable to allow things that could corrupt children," the high-profile former lawyer insisted in a TV interview, The Guardian reports. Instead? Turn to Russian literature for your birds-and-bees needs.
Really, that is what he prescribed:
"The best sex education that exists is Russian literature," said Astakhov. "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."
Let's be clear. Russia has a remarkably rich literary tradition. It is the tradition that produced greats Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Pushkin and—later—Nabokov. It is the tradition that's responsible for several of the finest novels of the nineteenth century, among them The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and Dead Souls, richly woven modernist masterpieces. It is a significant part of any college humanities major's literary diet.
But it ought not be a part of any adolescent's sex education curriculum. Nor is it a repository of sex-based "family values."
Think about it. Lolita? That's a maniacally vivid traipse through the life and mind of a pedophile positively shaken with lust for a 12-year-old girl. Its erotic turns—detailed by a murderer's "fancy prose style"—are among the most disturbing in modern fiction.* Anna Karenina? Sure, if you want to believe the cost of a woman's sexual yearnings and infidelity is despair and suicide by moving train. Or take Gogol's masterful "Diary of a Madman," which finds a disturbed bureaucrat so obsessed with a crush he slides into madness and convinces himself he's a Spanish king. Speaking of short stories, there's Leonid Andreyev's "The Abyss," which The Guardian's Shaun Walker summarizes thusly:
A young couple in love go for a romantic walk in the forest at dusk, but get lost and are accosted by a gang of youths. They beat up the man, drag off the woman and rape her. When the man comes to, he finds his wife naked and unconscious but alive. He begins kissing her body passionately, and then "is swallowed by the dark abyss". The story ends.
Children, heed: there is no sex education for you here.
Unfortunately, thanks in large part to religious forces, there's virtually none in Russian schools either, which means scarce access to condoms and little information about consent or STDs. Not coincidentally, Russia battles a frightening HIV epidemic of the sort that should be fought with education and safe-sex awareness.
Dostoevsky can't help with that.
*Yes, we know Lolita was written in English and first published in Paris. But given that its author was a Russian native who published nine books in his first language and borrowed richly from Russian influences, it is not unreasonable to include it within that national tradition.
Photo of Astakhov: Associated Press; photo of Tolstoy: Shutterstock