How the CCSR organized the sex revolution and why it was quickly forgotten

“There is no sex in the USSR!” This phrase is known to almost everyone. We are talking about how the Soviet Union became the most liberal state in terms of sex education, and then raised generations of dense citizens who did not know about condoms.

Who said the phrase “There is no sex in the USSR”

In reality, of course, this famous phrase is taken out of context. It was spoken by a simple Soviet woman Lyudmila Ivanova, who took part in 1986 in a teleconference hosted by Vladimir Pozner . A US citizen asked her if there was a television advertisement in the USSR based on the topic of sex.

Instead of logically answering that there is no advertising in the USSR, Lyudmila Ivanova uttered her catchphrase, and the audience literally lay down with laughter. “We didn’t even understand what it was and where it was possible to advertise sex, we didn’t have porn films or advertisements, we only had the word“ love ”,” Ivanova later confessed to a BBC correspondent.

The topic of sex was really taboo in the Soviet Union, which is often remembered with nostalgia by modern fans of the “great and mighty”. Here, they say, people lived without debauchery.

However, this was not always the case.

Frame: the film “Little Vera”

20s: Laws on Civil Marriage and Equality

When the Bolsheviks came to power and announced the formation of a new workers ‘and peasants’ state, the life of the people of now Soviet Russia changed radically. The attitude of the law to the sexual sphere also changed – church marriage was abolished by appropriate decrees and civil marriage was introduced. The husband ceased to be the official head of the family, and the woman was guaranteed equality.

In fact, the new Soviet legislation was then the most liberal in the world. So, in the 20s the society of radical nudists “Down with shame” was active. Its members ran around Moscow without clothes, tied with ribbons, on which the inscription “Children of the sun and air” flaunted, as the activists called themselves. They not only paraded through the streets, but also ran in a crowd into trams, frightening the townsfolk, and campaigned (for which, of course, they were often beaten by indignant passers-by).

In the agitation plays of that time, sex was not only not taboo, but was actively discussed. For example, here is an excerpt from the script of one of these productions, which discusses the pressing problems of the country of the Soviets:

“Two people come out on the stage with posters“ Every Komsomol member must meet him halfway, otherwise she’s a bourgeoisie ”and“ Every Komsomol member can and must satisfy his sexual aspirations. ” The girl on the stage goes and sits on the bench on which the Komsomol member sits. The song “Yablochko” is cut off. After silence, the Komsomol member turns to the Komsomol member, ending the conversation with the word “Let’s go.” The music is playing “Yablochko” again (very quickly). They are hiding. Two people with placards converge in the middle of the stage and pronounce with conviction what is written on his placard.

Foreign sexologists, mainly from Germany, came to Soviet Russia, books and brochures on this topic were published. The number of children born out of wedlock rose sharply. Dermatovenous dispensaries were created, which made it possible to significantly reduce the number of sexually transmitted diseases; abortions were allowed.

Everyone had the right to sleep with everyone

Komsomol communes, where young people lived in groups of about ten people, led not only a common household, but also a joint sex life. As psychologist Boris Besht wrote, it was not allowed to split into pairs among them – everyone had the right to sleep with everyone. Childbirth was not encouraged, and if a child was born, he was often sent to a boarding school.

Komsomol members are greeting Azerbaijani women who have taken off their veil. Azerbaijan SSR. 1926 year. Photo: RIA Novosti

In particular, the free morals of the first post-revolutionary years were met with approval by young people, mainly students. However, they received rather contradictory signals on the topic of the “sexual question”. As the American historian Sheela Fitzpatrick writes in her work “Sex and Revolution”, the message from above was quite clear: the new Soviet man should be liberated in all respects.

At the same time, it is worth remembering the rather comic message of the propaganda play described above: each Komsomol member must satisfy the wishes of the Komsomol member, otherwise she is a bourgeoisie. He was not born by chance.

After the end of the civil war, many Red Army soldiers were demobilized and brought home from the battlefield a completely traditional macho approach to sex and relationships. Their younger brothers, looking at such heroes, tried to repeat them in everything. However, the girls quite willingly assimilated the messages about emancipation, the abolition of the institution of marriage and a free attitude to sex.

For many students and female students, Alexandra Kollontai’s book “Winged Eros”, glorifying free relationships, was a tabletop. And the majority of young people did not need any theory. For example, the Russian and Soviet teacher Lyudmila Seifullina in her book of memoirs quotes the propaganda speech of a Komsomol activist: “Down with the capitalist tyranny of parents! Kiss and hug! Free love for free people! “

12 sexual commandments of the proletariat

However, this period of unbridled sexual freedom did not last forever. Recognizing that sexual promiscuity leads to all sorts of antisocial phenomena, and also does not at all contribute to an increase in the birth rate in a country conducting accelerated industrialization, the Bolsheviks decided, if not to close the shop at one moment, then to oppose at least some kind of discipline to love without borders and rules.

In 1924, the Soviet psychiatrist Aron Zalkind released the famous “Twelve Sexual Commandments of the Revolutionary Proletariat”, which declared abstinence before marriage, sexual intercourse as a product of love, loyalty to a partner, the absence of “sexual perversion” and, of course, sexual selection along the class line.

Tightening went on all fronts. “Down with shame” was banned, as was the art of “nude”. For photographs of people without clothes, they could easily be imprisoned for distributing pornography.

Liberation from the bonds of “bourgeois morality”, for which Leon Trotsky so advocated , finally ceased with the beginning of Stalin’s reaction. Foreign sexologists are being expelled from the country, sex education among young people is curtailed. Condoms disappear from the shelves, divorce just like that, because you want, you can’t. Abortion is prohibited.

Contraception propaganda in the USSR. Poster by an unknown artist, 1938. Photo: Wikipedia

Society tends to confidently return to the familiar state that has existed for centuries. Therefore, very quickly the freedom of the first Soviet years is replaced by a complete taboo on this topic. There is sex, but it seems to be not. In general, the words related to sexual intercourse very quickly became immoral again, and sex really did not become – at least in the public field.

Ashamed, comrades, ashamed! How can you talk about such things? “The Twelve Commandments of Sexuality” also worked in the cinema of the 30s and 50s. A woman and a man in work clothes raise production together and along the way begin to have feelings for each other. No flirting, nothing particularly complicated: here they look into each other’s eyes and talk about the successes of the Soviet homeland, now they already have a child.

But outside of the movie screen, of course, it was not like that. Citizens huddled in communal apartments occupied toilets at night in order to indulge in shameful practices, and locked themselves in shared kitchens. Happy families of the 60s, registered in odnushki khrushchob, hid in a cramped bathroom.

Of course, given the lack of any education on this topic, contraceptives and the impossibility of discussing the problem in a public field, women became pregnant and went for an abortion. Some came several times a year, having no idea how they could live differently.

Sex as politics

At the same time, the Stalinist government from above dictated not only the need to follow, in fact, traditional values, but also called for building relations on a class approach. In the Soviet magazine Novy Mir of those years they wrote: “A Soviet person cannot ‘simply’ love someone without approaching this issue critically, without political and moral vigilance.” Citizens were urged to “no longer rely only on natural desires”, but to choose a loved one who “deserves” the feelings of a partner. The selection criterion should have been that he (or she) had “the best Soviet qualities.”

According to Thomas Weisset, PhD in history, this situation was not like a sexual revolution, but like a “sexual civil war,” where a constant conflict of norms creates a crisis in the role of the sexes.

On the one hand, an emancipated Soviet woman had to work, become more independent, and participate in public life. And she did it. But on the other hand, the traditional role of a housewife was still tacitly assigned to her. Therefore, the woman still had to look after the children, cook and clean (and at the same time go to work). The expression “head of the family” always meant a husband, but the real heads of families were Soviet wives. A stout and dissatisfied woman with her life and an alcoholic man crawling home “on his horns” have become a symbol of marriage.

Homemade erotic cards popular in the USSR. Photo: Avito

Why should this state of affairs be tolerated? According to the official discourse, divorce due to the fact that the partners’ feelings for each other had died out was unacceptable. This concept can be quite clearly traced in the criticism that fell upon the article “Love, marriage and family in a socialist society”, which appeared in the early 50s. In it, its author, VN Kolbanovsky, admitted that marriage, even in a socialist society, can be destroyed “by death, extinction or fragility of relations.”Read also

But Soviet people are not like that. Critics accused Kolbanovsky of seeing the relationship between the Soviet social unit and “biological factors”, although everyone knows that there can be only one reason for divorce in a socialist family – and that is due not to biology, but to social criteria. Namely, the fact that the partner turned out to be an “unworthy” member of Soviet society, not contributing to its development.

Of course, this concept existed mainly at the level of official propaganda, but nevertheless it really influenced society – it was really a shame to get a divorce. And since it is necessary to live with an unloved man, it is generally strange to talk about pleasure in such a relationship.

Sex as a means to get married

In unofficial discourse in the 70s and early 80s, sex was not an opportunity for women to enjoy themselves. It was a tool with which to try to get a “real man” as a husband. And given that there were not so many men in the post-war Soviet Union, the struggle for them was serious.

This, in turn, brought up a generation of male citizens who could behave as badly as they liked with a woman, knowing that she would not go anywhere, because “a child must have a father.” Therefore, topics such as getting pleasure from love and sex remained almost exclusively in the male environment and served as a way of male self-expression.

Frame: the film “Moscow does not believe in tears”

Men, on the other hand, generally did not think about the pleasure of their partners, and according to a survey conducted in the USSR at that time, 80 percent of women complained about the lack of affection. But sex was completely absent in the public field. Children were born of love, and how to do it – everyone decided for himself.

At the same time, the husband did not even think about where to get contraceptives. According to Vaset, there was a group of men who believed that according to their “code of honor” a man was obliged to interrupt sexual intercourse, and those who did not, were considered losers, because of which women were forced to have an abortion. Losers who “can’t play the role of a traditional man.”Read also

Where the children come from and what should be done or not at this moment, the offspring learned from their parents, and for the most part they were girls, to whom the mothers explained what was what. Fathers did not particularly like to explain to their sons anything other than the fact that they were found in  cabbage . Many children received this information from more experienced peers – simply because their parents thought they were too young to discuss such issues.

On the other hand, in comparison with the 1950s, a complete unspoken ban on this topic was lifted in the cinema and television of the 60s and 70s. Not that they didn’t hesitate to talk openly about sex on screens, but finally in the Soviet Union it turned out that a woman can not only lay sleepers and put on a padded jacket, but can be fashionable and elegant and even wear an attractive swimsuit. And who does not remember Svetlana Svetlichnaya , whose heroine tries to fool Yuri Nikulin in a hotel, and then suddenly her bra is unbuttoned!

Sex in the era of perestroika

Perestroika turned everything upside down. The policy of openness and pluralism of opinions announced by Gorbachev meant that now one could speak as he liked and about anything. Literature, which was previously difficult to obtain in samizdat in the USSR, unlike in the official press, was now published in the open.

Finally, for the first time since the 1920s, it was possible not only to talk about sex, but also to eliminate sexual illiteracy, condoms began to be sold in large quantities. This was largely facilitated by the HIV epidemic, which by that time had reached the USSR.

Frame: the film “Intergirl”

By the end of the 80s, no one was surprised at the manifestations of sexuality in the USSR. And perhaps the gray-haired grandmother could jump up in horror from the announcement in the “Evening Moscow” about the concert of Valery Leontiev, who stood on the stage with his bare chest, and around him they made dancers in defiant outfits. “This is animal sex! They show animal sex there! ” – an elderly woman could scream, not even understanding what this word basically means and what will happen in three years.

The legacy of the Soviet era has not gone anywhere. As many sociologists like to say, the so-called homo sovieticus continues to exist even now, in a generation of 40-year-old citizens who still think that it is natural for a woman not to want to enjoy sex, condoms can not be used, but the best remedy for sexually transmitted diseases – do not sleep with “wrong” women (and the correctness is determined by eye).