A recent scandal involving school students in Baku has stirred up stormy public discussions
There are no official bans and age limits for the outset of sexual activity in Azerbaijan. The Criminal Code provides a framework that helps differentiate between child abuse, violence and normal voluntary sexual intercourse, but how do Azerbaijanis themselves answer the question ‘when to start’?
video of an intimate scene involving teens spread through the WhatsApp mobile application in Azerbaijan about a month ago. The video was made in a locker room at one of Baku’s central schools. It was a major scandal because the girl in the video was only 12 years old. The police interfered, trying to figure out on what charges a criminal case could be opened – was it seducing a minor or dissemination of pornography?
It was more or less clear from a legal point of view: the legal age of consent is 16, so if both were under the age of 16 and everything was by mutual consent, then no criminal offense was committed.
However, social media users in Baku were concerned by another aspect – who is to be blamed for that in terms of the ‘unspoken code of honor’ rather than from just the Criminal Code point of view?
Here are some Facebook comments:
“He’s lucky not to have been condemned to death by stoning as was the case in the Prophet’s times.”
“School teachers are too preoccupied with taking bribes. Who is going to take care of a child’s upbringing? How come they didn’t notice that the girl was spoiled?”
“Why do you attack the teachers? What can we do if we have to deal with children who are already spoiled when they come from their families? As for that girl, she’s just a girl of the streets, that’s clear.”
“My grandmother’s friend called her saying that she watched that video, and that it clearly showed that the girl was guilty. Generally speaking, in our country sex is regarded as something where there is always a guilty party.”
When is it safe to begin?
“This or that form of intimate relationship between teens is commonplace. It has always been the case in all schools around the globe from time immemorial. The only difference is that earlier there were no mobile phones to capture it,” said Azad Isazadeh, a psychologist.
Another point is that psychologically teens usually aren’t ready to start having sex yet: pregnancy at this age may be fatal for a girl, whereas teenage maximalism, emotional immaturity, and often teenage cruelty in such a delicate issue as one’s intimate life can have a devastating effect.
Psychologists say there are no clear-cut criteria for determining one’s readiness for being sexually active. There are only conditionally selected figures that are based on a combination of some medical and legal factors:
Under the age of 13 – it’s a child and any sexual activity is out of question.
Between 13 and 14 – the beginning of adolescence, when boys and girls go through puberty accompanied by growing sexual interest.
The age of 16 – the age of consent and the lower age limit when one is given the ‘go-ahead’ by legislation and psychologists to begin sexual activities.
And finally the age of 18 – the generally accepted age when, along with suffrage and a right to buy alcohol one also gets a full and unconditional right to engage in sexual activities.
Sarkhan, 29: ‘Its better to start late.’S
arkhan enrolled in school one year earlier than was planned. He was the youngest and the shortest student in class, and he was physically less developed than his classmates. Nevertheless, at the age of seven he already knew where babies came from.
He learned about it from his classmates. However, at the time this information neither shocked him nor piqued his curiosity. Generally speaking, Sarkhan’s sexual maturation passed much slower than that of his peers. While he was learning to draw and write rap songs, his classmates and older guys were already experimenting with all their might and main. Though they did it without female partners.
“Cards with pornographic images were very popular among boys in our school. As far as I know, many of them were already learning how to masturbate, sharing their experiences in this regard with one another. I didn’t consider it as something shameful, I just had some other interests.”
Sarkhan kept his virginity until the age of 20 and had never been ashamed of it. The first time he had sex was with a girl about his own age, though it was hardly her first sexual experience.
“I rented a nice apartment overlooking the sea with some pictures on the walls. I wanted to make it as beautiful as possible. Besides, I’m rather squeamish, so I couldn’t have it anywhere. I also ordered a huge pizza for a break. Because I knew that it would take a while. Indeed, it was a long process. It was long, beautiful and interesting. First of all, I wanted to thoroughly study my partner – after all, it was the first ‘real’ nude woman I saw in my life. Afterwards we dated for a couple of months. Once she told me that she liked having sex with me, because I had a ‘creative’ approach to it.
Sarkhan regards himself as ‘a happy exception to the rule’.
“Sexual formation of a person in Azerbaijan usually proceeds under the following scheme: boys learn from porn films, then they are retrained by prostitutes and later they themselves teach the women what they’ve learned from prostitutes, having omitted certain things. I think it’s a stupid scheme. So I’m quite satisfied that I started it late, because I managed to achieve quality.”
Boys to the left, girls to the right
The rite of ‘attestation of virginity’ after a wedding by elder female members of the family has been preserved in Azerbaijan up until now. Thus hymenoplasty (revirginization) is thriving in the country. Certainly not all Azerbaijanis adhere to the tradition of premarital virginity, but the majority believes that a woman shouldn’t have sex before marriage.
Although this rule doesn’t apply to men, it rebounds on them to a certain extent. According to Azad Isazadeh, for that very reason many young men in Azerbaijan begin their sexual life with sex-workers.
Murad, 35: ‘A brunette woman on the second floor.’M
urad reached adolescence in the mid 1990s. It was the street that largely contributed to his sexual upbringing. The street was located in one of Baku’s sketchiest neighborhoods, where there were discarded syringes scattered around the benches in the yard and where ‘wall-to-wall’ fistfights were commonplace.
“I was 13 when all my friends started boasting about their ‘first time’ one after another. I realized that it was high time for me to start. I didn’t perceive any of the female coevals as sexual objects, but I also knew that I stood no chance to have sex with grown-up girls. So the only way out was to go to a prostitute, like most of the guys from our neighborhood did.”
One warm night in June a senior friend of Murad took him to a brothel.
It was an ancient three-storey house, similar to those numerous buildings that could be found in the back alleys crisscrossing Baku’s center. They climbed up the high, jagged stairs to the second floor and found themselves in the narrow hallway of an ordinary apartment. The room where Murad found a pretty, relatively short brunette woman (who was about 10 years older than him) also slightly differed from a standard living room.
“There must have been a shower there, but I didn’t make use of it. I stayed in that room for less than 20 minutes and when I left, I didn’t notice any significant changes in me. I just had a feeling that I did something as a matter of fact.”
Throughout the subsequent years he kept visiting brothels, though he did it very rarely, no more than a couple of times a year – he couldn’t afford doing it more often. He, however, showed this well-trodden path to his friends who also were burdened by their virginity.
“Now I realize that despite my physical readiness, I was quite unprepared for that mentally. It was probably due to that very start that I’ve developed a rather practical and even a little bit cynical attitude towards sex. Frankly speaking, I think it’s the soundest attitude. At the time I simply didn’t have any other options. But times have changed and present-day boys should start it in a different way – not so early, with their female coevals and in a more romantic manner.”
Murad had his first kiss four years after his first sexual encounter. He kissed his classmate only after he was 17.
Disregarded sexual revolution
Sanubar Heydarova, a sociologist, commented on the premarital sex ban for women, saying it was typical for all patriarchal Muslim countries:
“The situation is paradoxical: it is considered indecent for a woman not only to have pre-marital or extramarital sex, but also to have any sexual desires as such. A ‘decent’ Azerbaijani woman shouldn’t want sex at all and she should have it only for the sake of her husband and reproduction. On the other hand, a tumultuous sex life is regarded as a necessity for a man, and if he is still a virgin at a certain age he will be scoffed at by his peers. All those traditions are firmly entrenched in our society. However, we live in the era when 12 to 13-year-old teens already have access to information about intimacy and their bodies, they are more freedom-loving and they refuse to follow the old rules.”
Azerbaijan’s sexual revolution is underway, but it is still disregarded by society
According to Sanubar Heydarova, it’s imperative that this process shouldn’t be ignored: if not accompanied by appropriate education and upbringing, the emancipation of modern teens may have deplorable consequences.
“Patriarchal traditions should be replaced with education and awareness, whereas in our country it is superseded by abortions and teen violence. Teens have already realized and decided for themselves that they want to make love and live freely. However, no one has explained to them how to do it in a humanely manner, without harming themselves or others. A sexual revolution is underway in Azerbaijan, but it is still disregarded by the society.”
Ayten, 38: ‘Spring beyond a tattered curtain.’А
yten was brought up in a strict, conservative family where parents kicked the children out of the room every time someone was kissing on TV. Until the age of 13 Ayten sincerely believed that a girl grows up, graduates from the institute, and afterwards her stomach gets bigger on its own and a baby is born.
She saw her first sex scene on TV at home:
“We had to pass through rooms with doors between them. Sometimes those doors were left open even at night. Once, as I was lying in my room, I saw my father watching a German porn film in the living room. I was 14 then and I wasn’t impressed by what I saw at all.”
Ayten had her first kiss at the age of 17 after she graduated school:
“I really liked a guy and I wanted to kiss him, but I still regarded it as wrongdoing. So, I was kissing and pushing him off at the same time. Now I understand how comical it was.”
Ayten had sex for the first time at the age of 21 when she met her first boyfriend. She rented an apartment in Baku’s ‘shanty’ neighborhood for a month. The couple met there every day after university classes.
To get to the place, she had to get off at a bus stop and walk downhill on a road full of potholes.
“It was a neighborhood that seemed to have stuck in the Middle Ages. I dressed myself down trying to be inconspicuous, so that nobody could guess where I was going and for what purpose. It resembled a spy movie with surveillance and cover apartments. Every time my heart was beating fast, my hands were shaking and I couldn’t get the key into the keyhole for quite some time. Besides, it always took me long to open that heavy door, which made a loud noise when it was opened, as if it was doing it on purpose.”
The small rooms in the apartment was overly ‘spartan’. There was a single bed with gray-color bed sheets that were either dirty or faded over time. There was also a table and a chiffonier (a chest of drawers). Ayten once hid in this chiffonier when someone suddenly knocked on the door and her boyfriend went to open it.
“I think it was an electricity bill collector or someone like that. They talked for a couple of minutes while I was hiding in the chiffonier all that time. On the one hand I was terribly scared because I thought they would find me and somehow report me to my parents. On the other hand it was a great rush of adrenaline.”
A tattered curtain barely covered the window facing the wall of a neighboring tumbled-down house. But most importantly, there was spring beyond that window.
“Spring was in the air – not just outside the window, but also in my head, and even in the damp smelly apartment. I lost the feeling of time and space, and for the first time ever I was completely overwhelmed by sexual arousal. No matter how pathetic it may sound. I wasn’t afraid of losing my virginity, though by my family’s standards doing that before marriage was equal to a major catastrophe. Perhaps I took it that easy because I really loved that guy and I thought that he would marry me. Or maybe because I’ve been overwhelmed by all sorts of ‘rebellious’ thoughts since my teens.”
Early sex permitted only within marriage
Early marriage, a traditional practice of getting married at the age of 14-15 which is still preserved in Azerbaijan, testifies to the fact that people have a more tolerant attitude to early sex than to a premarital one. It can just be conditionally referred to as ‘getting married’ because the minimum legal age for entering into marriage is 16.
The rate of such marriages can’t be correctly estimated, therefore we have to judge it by birth rate statistics. According to official data, girls under 17 gave birth to about 3 000 babies in Azerbaijan in 2016. Emilia Rahimova, a pediatrician who’d worked in a children’s outpatient clinic for quite a while also recalled that many of those parents who’d brought their newborn babies to her for a checkup were barely 16:
“Almost none of them had a marriage certificate, because they weren’t old enough. When doctors mentioned that it was too early to start a family and give birth to a child at the age of 15-16, they would argue that ‘our grandmothers did it in exactly the same way’.
What should parents do?
Azad Isazadeh, a psychologist, complains that Azerbaijani teens have no access either to sexual or legal education. For example, they are unaware that recording and disseminating videos of their classmates having sex is also a crime punishable under the Criminal Code.
Isazadeh recommends that parents who would like to prevent their kids from becoming acquainted early with the ‘delights of adulthood’ should avoid doing the following:
- convince oneself that there is absolutely no chance of it;
- hiding behind false shame and traditions;
- placing responsibility for solving this problem on schools;
- setting bans or threatening.
Instead of all the aforesaid, parents should rather monitor their child’s sexual maturation closely and start educating him/her in this regard in an unobtrusive manner. Simply put, to mildly peddle it into a child’s mind that there is no need to hurry.
As for the boundary line between the norm and the pathology in teen’s sexual behavior, according to Isazadeh, it’s not much different from the norms that are applicable to adults. In other words, anything that doesn’t imply infliction of physical harm to oneself or others, violence and obsession, can be regarded as a norm. If your teenage child doesn’t manifest any of the aforesaid during puberty, then there is no reason ‘to clutch at your head’ in despair – said the psychologist.