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 Russia's New Sex Freedoms but old ways of religion result in huge problems


MOSCOW (AP) -- People once joked that there was no sex in Russia. Now some say there's too much.

It beckons from newsstands in almost every town, where magazines detailing ``How to Stage an Orgy'' dangle next to children's coloring books and recipe journals. It steams from young couples groping each other on escalators and park benches, eager to escape apartments overcrowded with watchful relatives.

Sex scandals raise few eyebrows, and adultery is widespread. Russian television viewers were amused but hardly shocked when state-run television aired a videotape in February showing a man resembling Russia's top prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, having sex with two prostitutes.

Olga said she began selling her body last year, after the hair salon where she worked trimmed her hours to just a handful a week because of Russia's economic crisis.

``I don't have any illusions that (prostitution) is an ideal job,'' she said, speaking at a clinic where she was being tested for venereal disease. ``It's profitable.''

Venereal disease rates have soared since the Soviet collapse. Syphilis cases in Russia increased 50-fold from 1990 to 1998, according to World Health Organization estimates. Even accounting for Soviet habits of underreporting health problems, today's infection rate in Russia is staggering: at least 262 syphilis cases per 100,000 people, compared with about three per 100,000 in European countries.

AIDS, which appeared relatively late in Russia, also is on the rise.

Doctors say the main problem is the lack of sex education. Russians have grown accustomed to seeing soft-core porn on mainstream television, yet are still timid about teaching teen-agers about sex.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which holds significant sway over Russian politics, has opposed sex education in schools.

The result, not unexpected is contraceptives are unpopular and abortion remains the primary method of birth control; the Health Ministry estimates that Russian women on average have three to eight abortions.


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