Staunton, June 11 – People in the North Caucasus do not speak freely about sex and married life, but there is a growing gap between the conservative views typically ascribed to them and their practices, according to Irina Kosterina, the coordinator of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Gender Democracy program.
In a new and as yet unpublished study, “How do North Caucasians Relate to Sex, Virginity and Marriage,” Kosterina says that the rhetoric of people in the region remains conservative but the practices they find acceptable and engage in reflect what she calls “globalized trends” (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/336525/).
There are some people in the North Caucasus who live according to these declared principles, she continues, “but there are those who live in an entirely different way.” Primarily young men, they do not see any reason not to take lovers or engage in pre-marital or extra-marital affairs.
Those who live in villages all the same generally follow traditional norms, while those who have lived and worked in cities or gone to Russian areas to the north of the region often behave very differently even if they continue to maintain in public that they follow traditional norms.
This split is further divided, Kosterina says, by the one between traditional North Caucasian attitudes which rest in adat or customary law and Islamic principles, given that Islam in general is not as restrictive on sexual behavior as adat is. Thus, many of those in the region who identify as pure Muslims are more liberal when it comes to sex than others.
Svetlana Anokhina, a Daghestani journalist, says that in online communities, North Caucasians increasingly discuss sexual questions openly; but even those who do so in that venue don’t among family members or villagers. There they hew to what has been the pattern for generations.
But even if people don’t talk about sex in public, they do so among themselves. According to Anokhina, “the theme of intimate relations as such is not taboo.” Even in traditional societies, it is “always being discussed,” although frequently via euphemistic expressions or folk tales.
The latter, she says, are often as ribald as anything contained in Afanasyev’s “secret tales” found in traditional Russian communities.
Another layer of complexity in the relationship between words and actions in this area is offered by journalist Maksim Shevchenko. Islam in one way or another matters to many, but there are also, especially among older North Caucasians, people who might be called “secular conservatives,” a group whose members still follow Soviet-style puritanism.