[Marxism] Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 13 12:58:41 MDT 2017

NY Times, August 13, 2017
Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism
Red Century
Kristen R. Ghodsee

When Americans think of Communism in Eastern Europe, they imagine travel 
restrictions, bleak landscapes of gray concrete, miserable men and women 
languishing in long lines to shop in empty markets and security services 
snooping on the private lives of citizens. While much of this was true, 
our collective stereotype of Communist life does not tell the whole story.

Some might remember that Eastern bloc women enjoyed many rights and 
privileges unknown in liberal democracies at the time, including major 
state investments in their education and training, their full 
incorporation into the labor force, generous maternity leave allowances 
and guaranteed free child care. But there’s one advantage that has 
received little attention: Women under Communism enjoyed more sexual 

A comparative sociological study of East and West Germans conducted 
after reunification in 1990 found that Eastern women had twice as many 
orgasms as Western women. Researchers marveled at this disparity in 
reported sexual satisfaction, especially since East German women 
suffered from the notorious double burden of formal employment and 
housework. In contrast, postwar West German women had stayed home and 
enjoyed all the labor-saving devices produced by the roaring capitalist 
economy. But they had less sex, and less satisfying sex, than women who 
had to line up for toilet paper.

How to account for this facet of life behind the Iron Curtain?

Consider Ana Durcheva from Bulgaria, who was 65 when I first met her in 
2011. Having lived her first 43 years under Communism, she often 
complained that the new free market hindered Bulgarians’ ability to 
develop healthy amorous relationships.

“Sure, some things were bad during that time, but my life was full of 
romance,” she said. “After my divorce, I had my job and my salary, and I 
didn’t need a man to support me. I could do as I pleased.”

Ms. Durcheva was a single mother for many years, but she insisted that 
her life before 1989 was more gratifying than the stressful existence of 
her daughter, who was born in the late 1970s.

“All she does is work and work,” Ms. Durcheva told me in 2013, “and when 
she comes home at night she is too tired to be with her husband. But it 
doesn’t matter, because he is tired, too. They sit together in front of 
the television like zombies. When I was her age, we had much more fun.”

Last year in Jena, a university town in the former East Germany, I spoke 
with a recently married 30-something named Daniela Gruber. Her own 
mother — born and raised under the Communist system — was putting 
pressure on Ms. Gruber to have a baby.

“She doesn’t understand how much harder it is now — it was so easy for 
women before the Wall fell,” she told me, referring to the dismantling 
of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “They had kindergartens and crèches, and 
they could take maternity leave and have their jobs held for them. I 
work contract to contract, and don’t have time to get pregnant.”

This generational divide between daughters and mothers who reached 
adulthood on either side of 1989 supports the idea that women had more 
fulfilling lives during the Communist era. And they owed this quality of 
life, in part, to the fact that these regimes saw women’s emancipation 
as central to advanced “scientific socialist” societies, as they saw 

Although East European Communist states needed women’s labor to realize 
their programs for rapid industrialization after World War II, the 
ideological foundation for women’s equality with men was laid by August 
Bebel and Friedrich Engels in the 19th century. After the Bolshevik 
takeover, Vladimir Lenin and Aleksandra Kollontai enabled a sexual 
revolution in the early years of the Soviet Union, with Kollontai 
arguing that love should be freed from economic considerations.

The Soviets extended full suffrage to women in 1917, three years before 
the United States did. The Bolsheviks also liberalized divorce laws, 
guaranteed reproductive rights and attempted to socialize domestic labor 
by investing in public laundries and people’s canteens. Women were 
mobilized into the labor force and became financially untethered from men.

In Central Asia in the 1920s, Russian women crusaded for the liberation 
of Muslim women. This top-down campaign met a violent backlash from 
local patriarchs not keen to see their sisters, wives and daughters 
freed from the shackles of tradition.

In the 1930s, Joseph Stalin reversed much of the Soviet Union’s early 
progress in women’s rights — outlawing abortion and promoting the 
nuclear family. However, the acute male labor shortages that followed 
World War II spurred other Communist governments to push forward with 
various programs for women’s emancipation, including state-sponsored 
research on the mysteries of female sexuality. Most Eastern European 
women could not travel to the West or read a free press, but scientific 
socialism did come with some benefits.

“As early as 1952, Czechoslovak sexologists started doing research on 
the female orgasm, and in 1961 they held a conference solely devoted to 
the topic,” Katerina Liskova, a professor at Masaryk University in the 
Czech Republic, told me. “They focused on the importance of the equality 
between men and women as a core component of female pleasure. Some even 
argued that men need to share housework and child rearing, otherwise 
there would be no good sex.”

Agnieszka Koscianska, an associate professor of anthropology at the 
University of Warsaw, told me that pre-1989 Polish sexologists “didn’t 
limit sex to bodily experiences and stressed the importance of social 
and cultural contexts for sexual pleasure.” It was state socialism’s 
answer to work-life balance: “Even the best stimulation, they argued, 
will not help to achieve pleasure if a woman is stressed or overworked, 
worried about her future and financial stability.”

In all the Warsaw Pact countries, the imposition of one-party rule 
precipitated a sweeping overhaul of laws regarding the family. 
Communists invested major resources in the education and training of 
women and in guaranteeing their employment. State-run women’s committees 
sought to re-educate boys to accept girls as full comrades, and they 
attempted to convince their compatriots that male chauvinism was a 
remnant of the pre-socialist past.

Although gender wage disparities and labor segregation persisted, and 
although the Communists never fully reformed domestic patriarchy, 
Communist women enjoyed a degree of self-sufficiency that few Western 
women could have imagined. Eastern bloc women did not need to marry, or 
have sex, for money. The socialist state met their basic needs and 
countries such as Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East 
Germany committed extra resources to support single mothers, divorcées 
and widows. With the noted exceptions of Romania, Albania and Stalin’s 
Soviet Union, most Eastern European countries guaranteed access to sex 
education and abortion. This reduced the social costs of accidental 
pregnancy and lowered the opportunity costs of becoming a mother.

Some liberal feminists in the West grudgingly acknowledged those 
accomplishments but were critical of the achievements of state socialism 
because they did not emerge from independent women’s movements, but 
represented a type of emancipation from above. Many academic feminists 
today celebrate choice but also embrace a cultural relativism dictated 
by the imperatives of intersectionality. Any top-down political program 
that seeks to impose a universalist set of values like equal rights for 
women is seriously out of fashion.

The result, unfortunately, has been that many of the advances of women’s 
liberation in the former Warsaw Pact countries have been lost or 
reversed. Ms. Durcheva’s adult daughter and the younger Ms. Gruber now 
struggle to resolve the work-life problems that Communist governments 
had once solved for their mothers.

“The Republic gave me my freedom,” Ms. Durcheva once told me, referring 
to the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. “Democracy took some of that 
freedom away.”

As for Ms. Gruber, she has no illusions about the brutalities of East 
German Communism; she just wishes “things weren’t so much harder now.”

Because they championed sexual equality — at work, at home and in the 
bedroom — and were willing to enforce it, Communist women who occupied 
positions in the state apparatus could be called cultural imperialists. 
But the liberation they imposed radically transformed millions of lives 
across the globe, including those of many women who still walk among us 
as the mothers and grandmothers of adults in the now democratic member 
states of the European Union. Those comrades’ insistence on government 
intervention may seem heavy-handed to our postmodern sensibilities, but 
sometimes necessary social change — which soon comes to be seen as the 
natural order of things — needs an emancipation proclamation from above.

Kristen R. Ghodsee, a professor of Russian and East European studies at 
the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of numerous books on 
European Communism and its aftermath, including, most recently, “Red 
Hangover: Legacies of 20th-Century Communism.”

This is an essay in the series Red Century, about the history and legacy 
of Communism 100 years after the Russian Revolution.

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