No wonder Russia’s population is declining so precipitously! On top of everything else (no pun intended), Russians are still scared of sex! The New York Times reports:
Past the topless woman dancing in a cage and the towering transvestite perched on three-inch heels, Ksenia Borisova was trying to grab the attention of passers-by. Her wares were housed in immaculate displays, complete with colorful instruction manuals, but after five years in business she was still having difficulty generating much interest.
As always, sex toys are a tough sell in Russia.
“We have to try to enlighten the customers,” said Ms. Borisova, an owner of Erotic Fantasy, a supplier of German-made intimate equipment in Russia. “No one knows what, why and how: what lubricant is, why a dildo is needed, how to use vaginal balls.”
Other vendors at a recent convention for sex shop owners in Moscow were similarly vexed.
Two decades after government-imposed prudishness ended with the Soviet collapse, Russians still shy away from embracing European-style sexual mores. Despite a burst of licentiousness in the early 1990s, when pornography and prostitution surged through the country, the sexual revolution has never really taken hold here.
Sure, sexual innuendo is commonplace: on television and in glossy magazines and in the provocative attire of women on the streets. Advertisements with busty models have long replaced posters of square-jawed women scything wheat. But, when it comes to the bedroom, Ms. Borisova and others said, tastes here tend toward vanilla.
“There is just no sexual culture, none,” said Nadezhda Dovgal, one of the organizers of the sex shop convention, called the X’Show. “People are still ashamed.”
This is partly the legacy of the Soviet era, she said. The Soviet government tried to drive all talk of sex under the covers, leaving public life effectively neutered. A lack of private space, especially in the communal apartments of major cities, limited access to sexual encounters even more. “There is no sex in the U.S.S.R.” was a satirical slogan of the perestroika era.
“We have always had sex, but information on this topic was practically nonexistent,” said Yelena Khanga, who hosted Russia’s first talk show about sex in the 1990s, coyly named “About That.” In general,” she said, “it was not acceptable to speak about sex.”
She said that when she started her show, which for the first time openly confronted topics like H.I.V./AIDS, homosexuality and workplace sexual harassment, “it was like a bomb went off.”
Though such topics are less provocative these days, the annual X-Show, which is in its ninth year, might still be a bit edgy, even if largely subdued by the standards of such events in the West. Beyond the caged strippers — and the coterie of men drooling over them — were models decked out in the latest latex fashions demonstrating proper whipping techniques.
Ms. Dovgal, the X’Show organizer, framed the convention as a social welfare project for a country where sex education is practically nonexistent.
“We know that we are needed to help people preserve their families,” she said. “It is not important for us whether your partner is a man or a woman,” she said. “What is important is that there is harmony in the relationship.”
While Ms. Dovgal’s recipe for marital bliss might not be for everyone, it is clear that Russian families are in crisis.
There were three divorces for every five marriages in 2008, according to the Russian statistics agency.
Russia is also suffering from a demographic crisis. The population declined by 6.6 million people between 1993 and 2008, according to a 2008 United Nations report. Emigration and a high mortality rate among middle-aged men are part of the cause. But so is a low birthrate.
To get couples copulating, some Russian officials have come up with several ideas that Ms. Dovgal and her sex shop colleagues would certainly endorse. For several years the government of the Ulyanovsk region has set aside a special birthing day, when couples are given a day off to help reverse the population decline. Prizes are given to mothers whose children are born on June 12, Russia’s national day.
Yet, for all Ms. Dovgal’s concern for families (“Unfortunately, we are not allowed to admit people younger than 18 years old,” she said), demographics did not seem to be the main concern for many visitors at the X’Show.
“I’m into fetish mostly — pretty clothes, corsets, leggings, collars, whips, things like that,” said Olga Podolskaya, 41, a psychologist. Though the exhibition lacked the extravagance of similar events she had attended in Berlin, she said things were improving.
Earlier, she said “the products in sex shop were limited to plastic penises.
“Now, along with an increase in selection, there are — how do I put it — various extra services: seminars, photo sessions, there are stories and various books.”
Indeed, the outlook for Russia’s sex toy industry does not necessarily appear to be as grim as some vendors described. In the last 10 years the number of sex shops in Moscow has grown from around 5 to over 150, Ms. Dovgal said, and there are many more Internet-based companies.
Sergei Agarkov, a prominent Russian sexologist, framed the change as sexual evolution rather than revolution. He said he believed that Russians were slowly growing more comfortable with sex as a new post-Soviet generation has come of age.
“These are the carriers of a new culture,” Mr. Agarkov said. “They are completely different people. They are relatively free. They do not have the prejudices that their parents had. And together with them, attitudes towards sex are changing.”
That seemed to be the attitude of Dmitri Karablin, a 20-year-old student, who along with his girlfriend was perusing the kiosks at the X’Show in search of vibrators and a sexy maid outfit.
“People are less ashamed,” he said. “I have a young mother and can talk to her about these things. She even once recommended a store that I should go to.”