Sexology in Russia and Estonia: Reflections on an Exchange

By Byers, E. Sandra; Slattery, Geraldine | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Sexology in Russia and Estonia: Reflections on an Exchange


Byers, E. Sandra, Slattery, Geraldine, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


Key words: Sexology Russia Estonia Cross-cultural Sexopathology

Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank Larry Heinlein, Ph.D. for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

In October 1995, a sexology delegation visited Russia and Estonia under the auspices of the Citizen Ambassador Program of People to People International founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. Eisenhower believed that "people-to-people" communication outside of official diplomatic channels would contribute to world peace in a way that government-to-government communication could not. Since 1961, the Citizen Ambassador Program has been arranging these exchanges among the world's people in a variety of fields. A sexology delegation to China in 1993 (Herold & Byers, 1994) is one such example.

The 1995 delegation comprised twenty four professionals from Canada, the United States and Australia who represented all aspects of sexology including health, reproduction, education, criminology and research. The delegation was led by Dr. Sandra Byers, Professor of Psychology at the University of New Brunswick. During the two-week visit, the delegation visited the contrasting cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia, as well as Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

The objectives of the sexology delegation were threefold: 1) To contribute to the growth of sexology as a profession and a science in Russia and Estonia through the exchange of knowledge and expertise among the members of the delegation and our counterparts in these two countries; 2) To assess our assumptions about the universality of some beliefs about human sexuality through exposure to knowledge, attitudes and behaviour within the Russian and Estonian cultures; 3) To build on these exchanges by furthering professional relationships after we returned to our respective countries.

THE PROCESS OF CULTURAL EXCHANGE

Reciprocity was one of the major principles guiding our delegation. The diversity of locations visited by the delegation added to the richness of the experience. These included university departments, specialist institutions, health care facilities both public and private, government departments, and new "grass roots" services. The settings themselves ranged from the generally rundown facilities in Russia to the well maintained institutions and settings in Estonia. A further contrast within Russia was the often hierarchical structure and formality of the meetings in the older institutions, particularly in Moscow, compared with the more informal and reciprocal exchanges in the non-government agencies. The Estonian meetings were marked by informality and mutual exchange.

Members of the delegation experienced a sense of anticipation and excitement prior to meeting our colleagues; many of our counterparts conveyed a similar spirit. The typical pattern at the professional meetings included: a welcoming speech by a senior member from the host organization; a response by the delegation leader, Dr. Byers, who would then introduce the delegation; an overview of the work of the institute; presentations by three or four members of our delegation who specialized in the area of focus of the meeting (e.g., HIV/AIDS education, sex therapy); and more in-depth round-table discussion. These discussions gave us a chance to recognize similarities to and differences between the experiences of members of our delegation and our Russian and Estonia counterparts. One of the more moving aspects of the exchange was the ritual "gift giving" by members of the delegation of papers, journals and more practical resources. Such resources have not been readily available to our colleagues in Russia and Estonia and were highly prized by them. On several occasions, they presented us with copies of their own publications and general information on their organizations, all of which were equally valued by us.

More relaxed exchanges occurred during the of official dinners hosted by the delegation in Moscow, St. …

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