Sexuality in the Soviet Union (СОВЕТСКИЙ СЕКС)


The following is gleamed from a very interesting Russian language article entitled ‘Soviet Sex’ (СОВЕТСКИЙ СЕКС), authored by Denis Dragunsky (Денис Драгунский), and net published on the link provided below.  This seems to centre around the 1970’s (perhaps when the author was young), and includes some very interesting first-hand observations and experiences of living in the Socialist Soviet Union. The article appears to be asking ‘what is Socialist sexuality?’ – and answering from the perspective of Soviet science. Firstly, in the early days of Socialist life in Russia, the principle of bourgeois excess was thoroughly rejected and abandoned. Sexuality, in the most part, consisted within marriage between a man and a woman, and existed simply to procreate – or produce ‘new’ Socialist children. The concepts of ‘pleasure’ and ‘desire’ were looked upon with suspicion, and generally down-played as truly ‘Socialist’ motivations for sexual relations within society. This was viewed as an antidote to bourgeois notions of exploitation of the working class human body, used solely for sexual gratification of the rich. It was the responsibility of the parents to raise their children in a ‘Socialist’ manner, which involved the use of the mind (and body) in the pursuit of scientific endeavour, coupled with the altruism of caring for one another within society. Personal relationships existed to reflect the totality of society within the family, and not as a vehicle for promiscuous bourgeois notions of individuality. It was only during the 1970’s that this view began to change.

In 1977, the Soviet attitude towards sexuality began to change with the publication of the scientific work entitled ‘General Sexual Pathology’ (Общая сексопатология) – edited by Georgiy Stepanovich Vasilchenko (Георгия Степановича Васильченко).  This was an incredibly detailed scientific account of human sexuality in all its many facets, that clearly indicated that the historically ‘narrow’ Soviet interpretation of ‘Socialist’ sexuality was inadequate and incomplete. The data gathered had took years to compile, and featured entire case studies of individuals and couples, detailing every aspect of interaction and motivation. The conclusion was that the sexual experience had other positive and important psychological and physiological effects upon the individual mind and body that were quite separate and distinguishable from the process of procreation itself. In other words, Soviet science in the late 1970’s came to the conclusion that sexuality was in fact multifaceted and not limited only to procreation.

The reason this view changed was not because the Socialist model of Revolutionary purity was ‘wrong’ – far from it – but because Soviet scientific development understood that as a model, it needed to be elaborated and explained in a more sophisticated manner. Although it is true that the bourgeois attitude toward sex is one of master and servant, after decades of Soviet education in Russia, it was thought that these disruptive and corrupt elements in their grossest manifestations had been eradicated, and that it was time to re-define just exactly what ‘Socialist’ sex was. In 1978, for instance, the Soviet film ‘Strange Woman’ (Странная женщина) was released in the USSR, which presented a story-line that involved a love affair between an older woman and a younger man (that had nothing to do with marriage or sublime love). At the same time, the Pravda newspaper published a review of this film, stating that 1 in 3 Soviet marriages were ending in divorce. Although the world-wide capitalist press immediately pounced upon this statistic, it was hardly the first time that the Soviet System had admitted that its citizens were free to exercise the power of divorce. Soviet scientists began to state that events in the USSR demonstrated that the concept of sexuality involved more than mere ‘procreation’, and that sexual interaction between humans, with its often irrational desires and hidden pleasures, was in fact a phenomenon in its own right. This being the case, Soviet Sexologists started to study sexuality as being related to, but separate from the function of procreation.

The concept of a Soviet sexuality, however, is a little misleading. Russia is a big place, and the Soviet Union even bigger. There were Revolutionary atheists, Soviet Baltic peoples, Muslim and Buddhist republics, Jewish peoples, Evenk people, tribal peoples, Trans-caucasian peoples, Christian peoples, vast rural populations, dense populations in cities and towns, and any number of other identities and cultural groupings. Although there might be this or that cultural peculiarity at the point of contact, in reality, sexual interaction remained remarkably consistent, demonstrating it as a distinct ‘species’ behaviour. Furthermore, the Soviet Union experienced many historical epochs, such as the war-torn early 1920’s, the reforms of the 1930’s, the Nazi German invasion of the early to mid 1940’s, the re-construction of the 1950’s, and the relative stability from the 1960’s onwards. All these social and cultural changes tended to influence sexuality to lesser or greater degrees, and as wealth increased in the USSR, particularly after 1960, the development of sexual desires and sexual appetites developed also. From the 1970’s onward, Soviet science studied sexuality as it then manifested. This was significant, as life within Soviet cities was considered to be at its greatest levels of development (reflecting advanced Socialist society, as compared to that found in the rural areas).

The Soviet System had the immense task of developing a backward, feudalistic, agrarian society into an advanced industrialised society (built along Socialist lines). Psychological and physical habits conditioned over hundreds (or even thousands) of years were often hot-wired into the minds of the vast majority of Soviet citizens, and were sometimes difficult to break. Cleanliness, for instance, was a major aspect of Soviet social planning (to raise living standards, prevent disease, and prolong life), but despite being given flats or houses with running water and electricity, many ordinary Soviet citizens still thought it an extravaganza to wash daily, usually limiting their bathing to just once a week (despite education to the opposite). This led to the bizarre behaviour of people in a block of flats all deciding to wash on the same day, and consequently spend hours queuing to use a bathroom that had been free all week! This led some foreign observers to incorrectly assume that everything was ‘rationed’ in the USSR, and so people were forced to ‘queue’ to get anything. This is wrong. In fact outside of times of warfare, life was very good in the USSR – certainly an improvement upon Czarist times – but old habits die hard and Russian people had to live through tremendous (and historically ‘sudden’) changes in their lives, but they retained a number of their group-orientated peasant activities – even when living in an advanced city. Women were certainly free’ within the Soviet System, but patriarchy proved very difficult to uproot despite wide-spread Socialist education. Prostitution was, of course, outlawed (due to its exploitative and oppressive characteristics), but evidence suggests that men and women ‘discreetly’ met to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. As bourgeois attitudes of material gain through profit were non-existent in the USSR, it could not be truthfully said that Soviet women engaged in these illicit affairs for material gain, and yet they did accommodate the extra-marital desires of men. Compared to the highly sexualised imagery of the Capitalist System, (particularly with regard to pornography and erotica, etc), Soviet women were relatively quite ‘plain’. Prior to basic make-up, (which became more prevalent in the 1970’s), a Soviet women (with hairy legs and armpits), would prepare for a date by simply washing her hair! Where it was known that men paid women for sex, the price charged was so cheap as to be almost pointless as a motivating factor. This was to do in part with the Soviet attitude of altruism, and having no means (or knowledge) of truly exploiting another – and yet sex outside of marriage did exist. Of course, it was not practised by everyone by any means, but it did exist. Even up to the end of the USSR, there were people totally committed to the Soviet interpretation of sexuality as defined immediately after the October Revolution. The point is that even when the bourgeois (and exploitative) notion of sex for money was removed from the equation, the human sex-drive still sort out ways to fulfil its needs.

Russian Language Article:

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