The USSR and Homosexuality (Part IV) Dr TS Atarov and Others


‘Harmonious behaviour is achieved when the interests of freedom and the personal desires of the person coincide with, or at least do not contradict, the interests of the people around him or her, as well as the interests of society as a whole.’

Dr TS Atarov – Problems of Sexual Education (1959) USSR

In 1961, the BBC correspondent and Russian-born British journalist – Alexander Werth (1901-1969), published his book entitled ‘Russia Under Khrushchev’. This was a culmination of interviews, research and experiences that Alexander Werth had during his 1959 visit to the USSR. Due to his ability to read, write and speak Russian, he had been one of the few ‘foreign’ journalists allowed to ’embed’ with the Soviet Red Army for virtually the entirety of the Great patriotic War (1941-1945), and this visit to Russia was his first in 15 years. Russia Under Khrushchev covers all the main facets of Soviet life in its 28 chapters, and gives a very balanced view of life in the Soviet Union at that time. However, in this article I will be focusing upon Chapter 15 – entitled ‘Soviet Man – Private Life and Sex’.  Alexander Werth points-out that by 1959, the USSR remained a morally conservative nation which followed the thinking of Lenin that required a Socialist Society to be both disciplined and controlled in all areas of endeavour. In this regard, the private life of a Soviet Citizen, particularly with regard to sexual attitudes and sexual expression, must not be allowed to fall into bourgeois modes of decadent expression. This type of control was to be generated through education (and not coercion), and be demonstrated as Revolutionarily superior to those oppressive sexual modes routinely expressed within the capitalist world. This attitude hinged upon the emancipation of women from patriarchy, and so did not include men as the victim, but rather as the historical villain (particularly within feudalistic and capitalist societies). Soviet morality, therefore, was an ideological counter-balance to potentially out of control and aberrant male sexual behaviour. in 1917, Soviet women were freed from the kitchen and the bedroom, and were allowed to take their rightful place in the workforce as equally contributing citizens of a developing Socialist Society. From that moment onward, the bodies of women were nolonger subject to the tyranny or desires of patriarchy, and the minds of women were educated to a very high degree.

In the US during the post-WWII era, the Kinsey Reports of 1948 and 1953 sought to scientifically observe, record and understand sexual behaviour in men (1948), and women (1953). Werth points-out that in the decade or so after WWII, no such similar study had been carried-out in the USSR, until Dr TS Atarov published his book entitled ‘Problems of Sexual Education’. This was published in Moscow in 1959, with a hundred thousand copies being sold in just a few days! Its preamble was composed of long quotes from Marx and Engels regarding the historical oppression of women, and the need for Socialist Societies to be premised upon full and total emancipation. There were ideological attacks upon the decadent values found within Western societies, and the preference for ‘Socialist’ monogamy and the wholesome upbringing and care for children. Marriage was preferred over ‘free’ associations, and the Soviet State was designed around assisting married copies with dependent children. Dr Atarov is open and frank about the behaviour of some Soviet men who think nothing of betraying their wives and engaging in illicit sexual relationships – a mode of expression, Dr Atarov explains – that has been left-over from feudal times. He also criticised the modern habit of routine divorce (practised equally by Soviet men and women), and lamented the fact that this instability caused by selfish adults led to regressive tendencies in the development and education of the children involved. In this regard, Dr Atarov comments:

‘Also, it is wrong when teachers are mysterious about sex, as if it were a subject on which it was awkward to say anything, on the other hand, it is wrong when any manifestations of the sexual urge in children and adolescents are automatically treated as a sign of depravity or immorality…  It is essential to put an end to both “neutrality” in these matters, and to the prevalent “conspiracy of silence.’

Dr Atarov is of the opinion that parents must work to carefully keep their own sexual behaviour strictly separate from the obvious attention of their children (with no affection being displayed in public, or around the children), so that sexual (biological) and emotional urges and behaviours are not triggered too early in the development of the child. Dr Atarov in the USSR, and Dr Kinsey in the US, both appear to have made the same observations about the development of Children in as much as children possess a latent sexual ability that only manifests when triggered by environmental factors, but that this ‘triggering’ should be at a time that is both ‘morally’ and ‘socially’ acceptable, when the child has developed into a young adult, etc. Where as Dr Kinsey in the US equates the early triggering of Child sexual behaviour with sexual abuse (inflicted by offending adults upon young children), Dr Atarov simply equates it with Soviet children perhaps observing (by mistake), their parents in a passionate embrace. This suggests that the plague of child sexual abuse prevalent in the capitalist West, did not exist in the Soviet Union, and was unknown.

Alexander Werth notes on a number of occasions, the complete lack of any mention by Dr Atarov of ‘homosexuality’ in his book. Indeed, it is treated as if it does not exist at all. This cannot be blamed on the idea that homosexuality was ‘unknown’ in Russia, as many famous Russians had been Gay (including Tchaikovsky), including a number of early Bolsheviks who had been quite open about their sexuality.  Furthermore, authors such as Tolstoy had even written near pornographic novels dealing with the subject of homosexuality. Despite all of this liberality, however, Werth states that the Russian people – probably under the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church – remained reticent about sexuality even after the Revolution. Alexander Werth offers this footnote as a means explain Dr Atarov’s omission of homosexuality:

‘In the standard textbook on Psychiatry (Uchebnik Psychiatriyi by OV Kerbikov and others, Moscow 1958, p. 313) we find the following on this point:

“Why are sexual perversions so unusual in our country? Because phenomena like homosexuality (which are acquired and not innate) have nothing in our environment to encourage them… In the capitalist world, with its sadistic films and books, there is a good deal of  sadism. In prewar Berlin there were three papers for homosexuals, and 120 widely advertised clubs, besides numerous cafes where people sharing this tendency met. The healthy atmosphere in which Soviet youth is brought up provides no conditions which would encourage the development of such perversions; and these are very unusual in our country. Under our law (Art. 154a of the criminal Code of the RSFSR) homosexuality practises between males are punishable, and although homosexuality is a morbid phenomenon, persons guilty of such practises are considered responsible for their actions, and cannot plead irresponsibility.’

Werth is quoting from a Soviet Psychiatry manual dated ‘1958’, giving the impression that the work was then contemporary and up to date, but this cannot be the case for the following reason. Article 154a of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR was enacted in 1926 and stated:

‘Sexual intercourse of a man with a man (sodomy) – deprivation of liberty for a term of three to five years. Sodomy committed with application of violence or with the use of the dependent status of the victim, – the deprivation of liberty for a term of five to eight years.’ 

However, this law was abandoned in 1934 and replaced with Article 121 which states:


Sexual relations of a man with a man (pederasty),

Shall be punished by deprivation of freedom for a term of up to five years.

Pederasty committed with the application of physical force, or threats, or with respect to a minor, or with taking advantage of the dependent position of the victim,

Shall be punished by deprivation of freedom for a term of up to eight years.’

Article 121 was in force from 1934 until 1991 (and the dissolving of the USSR), and was the law in 1959 when Werth was visiting the Soviet Union. I have written elsewhere that despite its peculiar wording, both Article 154a and Article 121 were not specifically ‘anti-Gay’, or intended to demean or attack homosexuality in and of itself. These laws, in their original Russian language form, are clearly designed as a safe-guard to prevent child sexual abuse. It would be interesting to ascertain the ‘original’ publication date of the Psychiatry manual quoted by Werth, and to explore further, the thinking of its authors, as although Dr Atarov does not mention homosexuality, it is also true that he does not openly condemn it.

Further Reading:






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