GROWING PAINS: Russia's Sex Education Comes in Kids' Gossip

Sex education in Russian schools is a positive maze of incongruity. Since the British press is awash with stories of 12-year-old mothers, and one of my daughters is now theoretically able to present me with a grandchild, I rushed into school to find out when they start sex education and was met with total confusion.

This isn't to say I haven't done my own little bit in explaining to my girls that babies don't actually come from cabbages (the Russian version of the stork), but after the age of 10 I have meet with a solid, "I-don't-want-to-hear-that-word," blank wall. So now, I decided to pass the buck.

The first problem is that there apparently isn't "sex education" here as such apart from the pure mechanics of the thing, which is taught in biology classes at age 15. If, however, teachers of "The World About Us" or possibly "Safety in Life" classes bravely take it upon themselves to touch on seks, then well and good. But it can be dangerous, and with no guidelines or training, they can take a highly individual approach.

Take the example of the English teacher who taught "Psychology of Family Life" lessons in a former school. He decided his 15-year-old pupils should know about contraception as well as how to manage the family budget and told them to go out and buy some over the weekend. Angry parents consequently wanted him fired.

The cast-iron 75-year tradition of having no such sordid thing as sex in the glorious Soviet Union is compounded by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has campaigned against introducing sex education. They believe it tempts young people into practicing sex without love and undermines Christian doctrines. The upshot is that schools must teach biology, but are left to use their own judgment regarding subjects like AIDs and homosexuality.

I was brought up in a "no sex outside marriage" environment myself but don't recommend it for my millennium age daughters.

In Europe, sex education rightly begins as early as seven years - before the child is old enough to feel embarrassed by the issue. All that Sasha's 11- and 12-year-old friends know about sex is what they see in X-rated films on television and in porn magazines. And this turns anatomy lessons at age 15 into a farce. But the sexiest thing my Sasha has seen is Godzilla.

So I guess the closest she'll get to a talk about intimate life for the moment is gossiping about the latest boy band with my young nanny.

Er, come to think of it, maybe that's not such a good thing either as the nanny was telling me the other day that her second husband bored her sexually and she was looking for a lover on the side. (Just the sort of thing a fortyish mother wants to hear from her pretty babysitter!) Oh, and by the way - she never had sex education in school.