Reporting on a Mirage in South Ossetia

Author: Tamara Terashvili

Reporting on sexual education in South Ossetia is like reporting on a mirage. It does not happen, it is not in the cards in any foreseeable future, and the bottom line is that no one wants to talk about it - as if sex simply does not exist. There is a feeling of imbalance with reality, and in the republic, traditional customs have it that sexual life starts at marriage and everyone seems to be fine with it. But is it really? 

No one feels comfortable about discussing sex in their teenage years, let alone to be photographed or filmed. Schools do not provide basic notions and parents willfully ignore the complexity of puberty, hence teens in Tskhinval and beyond are left alone as they venture into their first sexual explorations.

At 18 Alan Doguzov and his peers know where to find the answers no adults are willing or are prepared to provide to him - on the Internet.

Teenagers strolling to school on the first of September in Tskhinval.

As tech gadgets are wildly popular, pedagogues increasingly stumble upon sexually explicit material on teenagers’ telephones. Tamara Tuaeva is one of them. An English language teacher at school number 5, the 30-year-old notes that “such videos are often found in the phones of the youngest and middle-aged school kids. The measures against such are simply to delete the videos, which teachers do.” 

Parents, on the other hand, feel powerless - not that those findings push them to be more open about sex with their sons and daughters. When an explicit video was found in the phone of a child whose parent is a teacher, the mother reacted by saying that she simply cannot control it all and then such things are simply freely available on the Internet. At a conference held at the end of August 2017, Nataly Gassieva, South Ossetia’s Minister of Education, flagged the possibility of banning the use of smartphones in schools, allowing only handsets without Internet connection - officially the motivation was that students would not get distracted. No ban has been implemented thus far though.

Olga Michailidi, headmaster at Tskhinval’s school number 2, maintains that in any case it would not be enough. “A comprehensive approach is needed,” she notes.

I think that having such talks,I think that separately with boys and girls, should be a regular practice, but not every teacher is capable of doing that.

We should return to methods used in the past, during the USSR. Back then it was ideal, there was a subject called ‘The Ethics and the Psychology of Family Life.’ We should not have someone talking to children about his/her personal experience, but teaching [to them] the following specific textbooks and books. If prepared, a person can both teach the course in the right way and have the right approach to the students’ questions. In most cases, the children are shy to ask to their parents, and parents cannot always give the right answer. So a prepared person [educator] can do all that, easily. Also children [tend to] feel more at ease with such a person. I think that there should be specialists who would not do harm. To anyone who just says ‘I can do that’ [I respond] it’s not so! It’s not about personal experience, the teachings must be based on textbooks. There were and there still are such books. However these books must exclude the word ‘sexual education,’ [considering] the Ossetian tradition the best word [to present it] is ‘ethics.’ ‘Ethics and culture,’  or ‘Ethics and Psychology of Family Life’ is what can provide the right answers to the questions of the children and be in line with our traditions.

Many education officials are aware of the need to educate children about sex, reproduction, and the consequences connected to ignoring the basics. Once a year, professionals from the venereology ward of Tskhinval hospital and the police department of underaged criminals hold sessions in schools - in all schools - about early sexual life. However, discussions tend to be warnings against a “light-hearted” behaviour and the focus remains on sexually transmitted diseases - a discussion rarely ventures into sensitive issues like rape, early pregnancy and abortion, of which no statistics are available at all in South Ossetia.

A teacher talks to teenage girls in the corridors of the school number 2 in Tskhinval.

In case of teen pregnancies, girls are often left alone - social pressure is strong, parents would feel the shame, so teenagers face the abortions by themselves. No statistics, no figures are available, just “everybody knows,” people would say. Anonymously.

None of the schools in South Ossetia provide lessons about sexual education. Once a year, health and police professionals hold sessions about the consequences of a sexual life in teenage years. These meetings focus on STDs and rarely touch upon rapes, early pregnancies and abortions.

However, some teachers are of the opinion that schools are not the right place for sexual education - “there was no Internet when I was young,” says Tuaeva, “and we all figured it out.”

For Anna Kokoeva, 18, teenagers are left without many choices.

It is quite difficult for for me to start a talk with my parents about sex, and after asking a question I immediately want to leave, it is quite an uncomfortable topic [to discuss] with them. I can say the same about my friends. I think everyone finds information on the Internet. Parents [should] play a role in all that, at least they should start talking about sex, like, ‘how,’ ‘what’ or ‘what not to’ at a proper age [in teen years], then it would be easier for the children. We are being kept away from wrongdoings, however we are not told about the essence [and the consequences]. I think it is because of the mentality, as in Ossetia, and in the Caucasus, it is not common for parents to touch upon these subjects.


Taboos/ Stigmas


Chai-khana Survay