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March 31, 2008

Lessons in Love: The Millionaire Hunters

In the new Russia, a country obsessed with wealth and status, snagging a superrich man is big business — and so are the outrageous classes that claim to give women a leg up.

russian love instructors posing in front of students at moscow's geisha school

At Moscow's Geisha School, women learn new moved in the "Sexy Dance Class," part of a three-month course in sex and seduction with an Eastern flavor.

Photo Credit: Natali Arefieva

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You have to admire a nation of women who wear stilettos in the snow and make it look easy. It's minus 10 degrees in Moscow, and the frozen sidewalks are teeming with glamorous female shoppers. Clad in fur and sparkly accessories, they navigate the ice in perilously high heels. The trick, it seems, is not to totter gingerly, but to stride ahead fast and never look down.

After mastering this art, you'd think that negotiating love and marriage would be a cinch for modern Russian women. Not so, says Yulia Varra, 38, a Muscovite "love instructor" who runs classes in sex and seduction. In the new capitalist Russia, a country consumed with money and status, snagging a desirable man is a tough business. "Women want a husband who owns a private plane, a yacht, and an oil well. It's not impossible, but they need superfantastic skills to succeed," says Varra, who has a riot of curly blonde hair and wears tight black jeans tucked into silver boots — high-heeled, of course.

Despite the weather, it's positively steamy inside the Moscow basement where Varra holds various courses for women, including "How to Marry in Three Months" and "Oral Sex for Experts." Her seduction school is one of many new businesses designed to help women get ahead in Russia's post-communist marriage market. The economy has boomed, creating a superrich ruling oligarchy and a huge class of cash-loaded entrepreneurs. And, in what is no doubt partly a backlash against the Soviet era — when women toiled in state industries alongside men — many young women today would prefer to marry a millionaire than work to become one themselves.

Varra says she encourages students to look beyond a man's wallet to find other good qualities — to avoid being trapped in a "loveless golden cage" — but outside the new rich elite, decent prospects remain sparse. Russian women outnumber men by more than 10 million, and many men suffer from joblessness, chronic alcoholism, and early death (male life expectancy here is 59).

Holding on to a good man long-term is an equally high-stakes matter. Divorce in Russia is easy; a powerful man can divorce his wife "in an hour," according to one local insider. Under the country's anachronistic divorce laws, husbands are generally not obliged to give their wives a penny, and they are often awarded custody of the children. "Relationships are like roulette for modern Russian women," says the insider. "They have a lot to win and everything to lose, so they can never afford to get complacent."

On a Saturday night at Varra's school, against a backdrop of garish reds and pinks, five students are gyrating their hips and tossing their hair to the manic beat of Russian disco (think early Madonna crossed with Cossack music). And this is just the warm-up. Tonight's class is "How to Be Your Man's Number-One Lover." Lessons include trying out erotic massage on a live male model, practicing fellatio with the aid of bananas and lollipops, and learning how to praise a man's sexual prowess "convincingly."

"Russian men relate to women mainly through sex," Varra tells the students, who range in age from 21 to 60, and who wait as long as a year and a half to attend the popular classes. "So if a man is happy in bed, you're halfway there." But only halfway, she cautions, because even the most sexually acrobatic woman won't succeed unless she knows how to manipulate a man's brain as well. "You must show him you have self-respect, that you are a precious jewel he must cherish," says Varra, who is a trained psychologist with three divorces under her flashy silver belt. "Otherwise he will get bored and drink vodka." She winks. (Interestingly, Varra herself is not looking for another husband; she is focused instead on her booming business.)

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