Bolshevik Medicine and Russia’s Sexual Revolution Dan Healey Department of History University of Wales Swansea




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Bolshevik Medicine and Russia’s Sexual Revolution
Dan Healey

Department of History

University of Wales Swansea

Swansea SA2 8PP

Wales, UK

d.healey@swansea.ac.uk



Preliminary draft - please do not cite without author’s permission.

When thinking about the Russian Revolution and the first socialist state, sex and gender radicals look back to the twentieth century’s first sexual revolution with a degree of romanticism. Familiar habits of mind, well-trodden narrative paths, and a small gallery of heroes and villains characterise the radical memory of Russia’s sexual revolution. This memory recalls and lauds the emancipatory decrees of the early Soviet state (secularising marriage, permitting free divorce and abortion on demand, decriminalising male homosexuality). These changes are linked, sometimes tightly and sometimes tenuously in our recollection, to the proclaimed objective of Bolshevik ideology to emancipate women from ‘patriarchal family relations.’ The first Soviet people’s commissar of welfare, Aleksandra Kollontai, is the chief hero of this traditional tale, the prime ideologist of sexual freedom, especially for women, in a socialist society. The 1920s are vaguely assumed to have been a time of sexual experimentation in Soviet Russia (although we have little or no idea what that looked like in people’s minds or bedrooms). The villain of the tale is of course Josef Stalin, who reversed the sexual policies of the revolutionary era in the 1930s with the recriminalisation of sodomy, banning abortion, making divorce less accessible, and promoting a conservative and natalist family ideology. Stalinism inaugurated a “great retreat” in socialist values, a “sexual Thermidor” - and thus the degradation of Moscow’s sexual policy, a policy that had such an impact on the sexual politics of other communist regimes in the second half of the twentieth century, set in.1 The long shadow cast by Stalin and the dead hand of communist sex-phobia had the effect of making Vladimir Lenin look like a sexual revolutionary. This illusion of Lenin as sexually emancipatory, created by historical perspective, is part of the radical historical memory-box labelled “sexual revolution.”

Naturally, the box of memories I have just described is a rather crude stereotype. More specialised and thoughtful accounts of what happened in early Soviet Russia do exist, and especially since the end of the communist regime the sexual history of Russia is on the agenda. A lot of new work has been published in Russian and in other languages.2 I want to examine one aspect of Russia’s sexual revolution of the 1920s - the medical aspect - in order to suggest various problems in the familiar radical narrative. It may also suggest ways in which the history of the left, and the history of sex, need to be reconsidered. This paper draws on my work on the history of homosexuality in tsarist and Soviet Russia, and on my current research on medical views of sexual crime in early Soviet Russia.3

Background: What did Bolsheviks think about sex?

Since Bolsheviks could not agree, initially at least, on what to do about the economy, it is hardly surprising that they also disagreed about sex. I have divided Bolshevik thinking about sexuality into two rather schematic camps, the rationalizers and the libertarians. It is helpful to sketch out the views of each position to describe the context in which Soviet medicine operated when working on sexual questions.

The rationalizing position was the dominant position in the Communist Party, and Vladimir Lenin was unquestionably in this camp. He wrote very little about the “sexual question” (as it was normally referred to in Party discourse), and much of what we take to be his position comes from correspondence with Inessa Armand in 1915, and from a 1920 interview with German Communist Clara Zetkin.4 In assisting Armand with the composition of a pamphlet, Lenin outlined his views on “freedom of love.” The material basis of love relations must first be transformed; proletarian love must be freed of material considerations first and foremost. Only thereafter could the entire superstructure of religious, social, legal and police regulation be tackled. He particularly insisted that Armand’s tone must be “serious.” The “freedom of love” was not freedom “from the serious in love…from childbirth…[and] freedom for adultery.”5 Lenin’s comments to Zetkin amplified this emphasis on the seriousness of sexuality, and introduced a strident attack on “these flourishing sexual theories” by which he meant Freudianism and probably other modes of thinking about sex as a means to individual, psychological fulfilment. These theories of sexuality he denounced as mere “modern fashion” and “ignorant bungling,” and interest in these issues was “a hobby of the intellectuals and of the sections nearest to them.” The so-called “glass of water theory,” the crude idea that under communism sex would be reduced to physical satisfaction, he condemned as “completely un-Marxist, and moreover, antisocial,” because it ignored the individual’s duty to society and the creation of progeny. Lenin’s tirade against hobbyists of sexual theory ended with a protest that he was not being a bourgeois prude but only asking activists to focus on the goal of political revolution while adhering to a code of purity, hygiene and self-discipline.6 (This was in effect the common nineteenth-century moral code of Russia’s radical intelligentsia.) The sex issue should be left to doctors and the Party to handle, and young Communists were mistaken to spend so much time worrying about sex.

The rationalizing position had a number of implications for the role of medicine in shaping a revolutionary sexuality; these I will discuss a little later. But at this point I want to contrast Lenin’s line with the tone and arguments put by the libertarian wing of Bolshevik thinking on sex. The key representative of this viewpoint (but not the only one) was Kollontai.

It might be helpful to think of Kollontai as a revolutionary who was focused on the destruction of the old sexual order. Bolsheviks were far from alone in this focus; it was a touchstone for radicals of all persuasions in tsarist Russia that the old regime’s legal and religious constraints on sexual and family life had to go. Authentic relationships, “based on the unfamiliar ideas of complete freedom, equality and genuine friendship,” would flourish after the abolition of private property and with it, hypocritical bourgeois morality.7 A critical difference with Lenin’s perspective was her timetable for sexual revolution. Kollontai argued that sex and love were being transformed in the present, by what she regarded as positive revolutionary processes. Experimentation in love arrangements was already happening, was part of the revolution, and should not be put off to a later stage in the development of socialism. Another significant divergence from Lenin’s views was the emphasis Kollontai placed on the personal fulfilment, or self-realisation, that came from sexual autonomy. For her, the sexual revolution was a psychological revolution, especially for women. The freedom to choose when to have children, and the knowledge that the state would provide for them, were keys to sexual and psychological self-determination. The transformation of everyday life (in Russian, byt, a keyword in 1920s Bolshevik discourse) would facilitate women’s transformation. Becoming more like men in their public activity (by studying and taking paid employment), women grew more like men in the private realm as they chose their sexual partners according to their own desires. Kollontai’s radicalism implicitly offered women access to sexual pleasure, and appeared to argue that pleasure could be a positive, transformative revolutionary force.

The two tendencies in the Bolshevik Party co-existed during the 1920s when political leadership was contested, and each had its own political applications, sponsors, and logic. The libertarian line was often expressed by officials in two “soft-line commissariats” (health and to a lesser extent justice).8 It is undeniable that libertarian views on issues like freedom to marry and divorce were commonplace inside the state apparatus: debates during the mid-1920s when revisions to family law were canvassed show this perspective was widely held. Yet this was not the sentiment in the country as a whole. Peasants expressed heated resentment of the revolutionary line on marriage, divorce and women’s equality. The Party was forced to trim its radical ambitions in various ways when it proclaimed a new family code in 1927.9 Interestingly, outside the country, where the gains of the sexual revolution were still to be won, the libertarian viewpoint was popular and profitable, especially in Germany, where the sexual question was a significant rallying point for Communists. The Soviet leadership presented itself, and was presented, as leading the sexual vanguard, particularly through organisations like the World League for Sexual Reform.10

Yet the Party itself was led by men - not only Lenin - who espoused the rationalising, not libertarian, viewpoint. The much-noted transformation of the Party during the 1920s from a small cohort of Europeanised intellectuals into a mass organisation of workers from the factory bench, white-collar officials, and peasants, still led by an upper echelon of old revolutionaries and intellectuals, increased the strength of the rationalizers in sex matters. So too did the fact that the gains of the sexual revolution were institutionalized inside Soviet Russia. On the law books at least, there was nothing left to tear down of the old regime’s moral edifice. Yet the transformation in personal psychology and self-determination expected by libertarians failed to emerge. Instead, continued poverty and high female unemployment made women’s economic independence a distant dream. Sexual crime persisted, and even flourished, along with prostitution. Rationalizers believed that the sexual revolution could not simply stop with the destruction of the old prohibitions. Their instincts were to impose new forms of regulation on the sexual subject. They were particularly suspicious of pleasure. The dominant Bolshevik discourse of the NEP (New Economic Policy era, 1921-1929) viewed pleasure not as a revolutionary transformative force, but as a dangerous siren leading backwards to the capitalist market.11 Moreover, rationalizers looked forward to scientific advances (in medicine, biology and other technologies) that would enhance ‘biopower’ - the productive and reproductive capacity of the new society.

A summary of the two Bolshevik currents on the sexual revolution:

RATIONALIZERS

LIBERTARIANS

Wait for a socialist economy

Sexual revolution now

Pleasure is unsocialist, a danger

Pleasure is revolutionary

Technocratic (medical) solutions

Everyday life (byt) solutions

Collectivist

Individualist

Domestic appeal

External appeal



Bolshevik medicine and sexualities

Recent research suggests that no one authority or institution was granted control of “sex” in early Soviet Russia. The Party was evidently occupied with the succession struggle and was content to guide discussion rather than force it into one discursive channel.12 Authors of novels and poetry, small-town physicians, big-city psychiatrists, the police, social and welfare workers, women activists in the Communist Women’s Department all had their say in the 1920s. In turn they influenced and were influenced by popular currents about which very little is known. In this environment, medical discourse did enjoy a particular, widespread authority. For example, a substantial number of female and male homosexuals expressed medical understandings of their condition - Krafft-Ebing’s phrase “stepchildren of nature” was used by many. Intersexed people journeyed to Moscow in search of doctors who could “cure” them, be it with surgery or some hormonal treatment. The market for popular pamphlets on sexually transmitted diseases, on “hygienic” sexual relations, and on other problems of the sexual life was lively, and satisfied an apparent popular demand. “Ask the Doctor” columns in the local press offered advice to peasant and workers, seekers after sexual knowledge. Even sexual criminals sometimes knew enough about recent developments in sexology to ask for clemency on the grounds that they were mentally ill rather than responsible for their actions.13

The Party leadership tended to guide these discussions towards the rationalizing perspective, and viewed medicine as the most reliable authority to deal with the sexual question. This preference for medical approaches to sexuality, for the authority of medicine to dictate what was “rational” in this contested sphere, had long roots in Russian radical thinking. Medical study and practice in Russia had an association with nihilism and populism from the 1860s onwards, and many branches of medicine were dominated by oppositional attitudes to the tsarist regime. At the same time, a personal asceticism in sexual matters became the dominant moral ideal of the radical movement. Problems of sexuality, whether of disease, excess, inappropriate object, or physiological disorder, were politicized as phenomena created by the capitalist tsarist order. After the Revolution, this kind of ascription of sexual disorder continued as long as enemies of the revolution (NEP-era capitalists) continued to be tolerated. Yet it was also believed that political and economic change alone would not guarantee the “healthy” sexuality of the first socialist state. Sexual science offered apparent resolutions to many of the disorders of sexual life, and offered a language of modernity that (for Bolsheviks at the time) drained this controversial issue of “bourgeois philistinism” and satisfied the ascetic instincts of the Party. It also, of course, resonated with the inheritance from Europe of “scientific Marxism.”

Soviet forensic medical practices of the 1920s offer several illustrations of this Bolshevik turn to science to deal with sexuality. Revolutionary criminal law greatly medicalized the problem of sexual disorder, and overturned tsarist suspicion of medicine in the courtroom by offering forensic medicine and forensic psychiatry crucial roles in criminal investigations and courtroom judgements. In particular, the Bolsheviks in their legislation accorded legal psychiatry a parity of esteem with other forms of “objective” forensic science, such as forensic gynaecology or forensic chemistry or ballistics. In my preliminary work on legal psychiatrists and sex crime in 1920s Leningrad, I have noted that doctors of the mind were indeed called upon to examine accused sex criminals (especially abusers of children and minors) and sometimes victims too. They were required to assess whether apparently mentally disturbed persons accused of crimes were fit to stand trial. If not, they had the power to direct such individuals to psychiatric care for treatment (and theoretically eventual release). Bolshevik lawmakers hoped to bring rational science to bear on the sensational sex-criminal. The horrific would be explained, and society’s approach to what was now dubbed the “sexual psychopath” would apparently be dispassionate and scientific. This was a major upgrading of the status of psychiatry since in the tsarist courtroom psychiatric expertise was mistrusted and there had been a gulf of suspicion between the profession and the regime over the politics of penal psychiatry.

Yet surprisingly, psychiatrists seem to have used this power sparingly. In all but 2 of 18 cases reviewed by the Leningrad courts (admittedly a very small sample), mental doctors declined to divert alleged perpetrators of sexual crimes from the criminal justice system to psychiatric treatment. Paradoxically, even as they refused to assume custody over these sex criminals, they offered speculative diagnoses of these offenders. Frequently, they noted “signs of a degenerative character,” “neurasthenia,” or “neuro-psychic degeneration.” I hypothesise that these psychiatrists were caught on the horns of a dilemma. It was a dilemma created by Bolshevik lawmakers who brought psychiatrists into the courtroom hoping that their expertise would explain sexual disorder. Boshevik jurists seemed to have been unaware that sexology was not a ”hard” science like forensic ballistics. The label “sexual psychopathy” was not a stable, tightly defined diagnosis. Doctors could not point to a known root cause. They lacked plausible therapies for the “condition” if indeed it was one. Soviet doctors recognized potential clients with problems, very much wanted to claim custody of them, but possessed little in the way of an effective medical and therapeutic arsenal to deal with them. Wherever Western psychiatry was practised at this point in the history of psychiatric medicine, doctors of the mind faced the same problem.

Instead, in these cases what Soviet psychiatrists did was to say that despite the “signs of a degenerative character” which sex offenders displayed, they were still “responsible to answer for their crimes.” Relying on the same vague notion of degeneration, doctors were sometimes also asked to confirm that victims of sex crime were not complicit seducers but sexual innocents. Early Soviet psychiatrists ended up co-operating with police and courts in ways that undermined their claims to scientific impartiality. Often in such cases they were making moral decisions about the future of accused sex criminals (or their victims), behind a fig-leaf of dispassionate science.

Another area of Bolshevik sex crime legislation that brought medicine into the courtroom involved what we would call the age of consent. To put it bluntly, the Bolshevik lawyers and police who wrote the first Soviet Russian criminal codes (of 1922 and 1926) abolished the age of consent. Instead, they introduced a medical concept to define the threshold of sexual autonomy: “sexual maturity.” The law declared that “sexual intercourse with persons not having attained sexual maturity” was an offence; defloration or “perverted forms” of intercourse in such cases attracted additional penalties.14 Revolutionary lawmakers abdicated responsibility for defining the moment of sexual self-direction, turning instead to doctors for what they evidently believed would be an unambiguous scientific standard. In revolutionary law, someone who had reached “sexual maturity” had achieved full sexual citizenship and could consent freely to intercourse (ordinary and “perverted”) and the loss of virginity. (Soviet sex crime law in general sought to purge the law of archaic religious and moralizing language, and was almost entirely gender-neutral, which was unusual and progressive in the 1920s.)15 The concept of sexual maturity remained in Russian and Soviet criminal law until 1997 when the first post-communist Russian penal code finally adopted an age tariff instead.16

Why did lawmakers choose this unusual mark of sexual autonomy? They left no paper trail to tell us - or directives to doctors at the time. At medico-legal conferences during the 1920s, high Justice Commissariat officials said that the concept was designed to take racial and social factors across the Soviet Union into account. Northern girls supposedly began menstruating later than girls in the warmer southern regions, and in the southern and eastern periphery so-called “primitive” societies (Islamic by and large) permitted shockingly early sexual access to young brides. There were also perceived disparities between Russians: “civilised” workers matured later, while “primitive” peasants adhered to traditions of early courtship and marriage. Soviet forensic doctors raged at jurists, police and judges that “sexual maturity” was a meaningless notion invented by jurists “without leaving their own offices” to consult the medical profession. A few doctors threw the problem back at police and judges when they were required to determine whether a presumed victim was sexually immature or mature (and thus, whether a crime had been committed or whether consensual acts between adults had taken place). There was no official definition by the Soviet authorities of “sexual maturity” until 1934. Most doctors adopted their own menu of criteria.

During the 1920s Soviet medical researchers got support to conduct surveys to study “sexual maturity.” My preliminary comparison of these studies shows that there was a fundamental gender divide in conceptualizing, measuring and defining sexual maturity. Two studies from the Saratov Institute of Forensic Medicine, one of women and the other of men, vividly illustrate this dichotomy.

A graduate student in the institute, V. S. Piaternev, directed a massive anthropometric study of 1,000 girls and women between 10 and 20 years of age, in 1926.17 Each female was measured in 27 different ways, with each measure taken three times and then averaged, a dizzying total of 81,000 measurements calibrated without the help of computers or calculators. The subjects were residents in the Saratov guberniia’s student dormitories and from “other social organizations,” and were presented as urban and Russian. Piaternev and his team measured a range of factors including height, weight, circumference of head and shoulders, and breast development; but the most indicative measure of women’s sexual maturity he discerned was the development of the pelvis. This criterion was key, he concluded, because so many complications arose from pregnancies where young mothers had an incompletely developed pelvis structure. As a result, Piaternev concluded that the average girl “in our conditions” reached sexual maturity at 17 years of age, and full physical development, at 19. The natalist functionalism and purely physiological approach to the question of sexual maturity was replicated in other studies of young women, some of them recapitulating the anthropometric heroism displayed by Piaternev’s team.18

In contrast, a rare study of sexual maturity in men undertaken at the same Institute began from data captured in a biomedical setting - the venereal disease clinic - but focused on sexual psychology as revealed through patient questionnaires. Dr. L. Leitman’s analysis of responses from 1,779 male factory workers to a sex survey conducted by the Saratov venereal clinic turned entirely on questions about the men’s first sexual experiences.19 (Leitman was not permitted to design and conduct her own survey; she had originally intended to use Saratov University students as a sample group.) Leitman acknowledged that her colleague Piaternev’s study of women concentrated on “a range of objective indicators associated with conception, carrying the foetus, giving birth and nursing a child.” By contrast she said that the “sexual function of a man is significantly simpler than the functions of a woman” and that therefore anatomical and physiological studies of male sexual maturity were insufficient to the task. She presented data showing that many men in her survey began their sex lives at an age that “significantly preceded the onset of sexual majority” with 29% claiming their first sexual experience between 9 and 17 years of age. Leitman found that 73.9% of the respondents reported as the motive for their first sexual activity “sexual desire,” “marriage,” or “love and attraction” - motives which she interpreted as stemming from the appearance of the “sexual instinct,” and therefore indicative of the onset of sexual maturity. Men whose first experience was the result of “the influence of comrades,” “drunkenness,” or “a woman [who] seduced me” constituted a minority, and their numbers dropped considerably if the respondent’s first sexual act took place later in his teens or early twenties. Leitman’s conclusions reflected the discontinuous discourses that plagued the problem of defining sexual maturity. Noting that the legal minimum age for marriage was 18, while “biology says the male organism achieves full development at 25,” she worried that her data showed a quarter of the surveyed men “experienced insistent sexual desire before age 18.”

There are many fascinating aspects of these studies and the others like them that I could point to, but the chief aspect I want to highlight here is the disparity in the gendered approaches taken by doctors who studied sexual maturity. Women were imagined as arriving at the threshold of sexual citizenship not as bearers or expressers of sexual desire, but as baby-making machines. No forensic doctors interested in the problem of sexual maturity conducted surveys to discover when girls and young women first experienced sexual desire, nor did they ask what motives lay behind their first sexual experiences. Women’s sexuality was apparently passive and maternity-centered, and in the context of assessing sexual maturity there was no need to ask about women’s emotional or social reasons for engaging in sex. Meanwhile, men’s sexual majority was represented as the successful mastery of sexual desire that was properly channelled towards loving heterosexual monogamy. The dangers here were not physiological - an insufficiently developed pelvis, or infertility - but social in the form of alcohol abuse or hooligan-comrades. The sex lives of Dr Leitman’s male factory workers were historicized and endowed with a socio-cultural and not physiological basis. While the intention of Bolshevik sexual revolutionaries may have been to realize a gender-neutral vision of sexual citizenship, doctors responsible for defining the threshold of such citizenship recapitulated the trope of women’s “biological tragedy” in their benchmarks.20 The dream (if it ever existed) of equal sexual autonomy for both sexes was undone by biomedical experts whose science was permeated with cultural fears of feminine sexuality.


Conclusions

I began this paper by describing a stereotype of the traditional radical narrative of Russia’s sexual revolution, and then by suggesting that in fact Bolsheviks were divided on matters of sexuality into a dominant stream of rationalizers and a less influential current of libertarians. Having examined some aspects of the reliance of Bolshevik rationalizers on medicine to deal with sexual issues, I want now to reflect on the radical tradition’s view of the sexual revolution.

The radical tradition is weakest when it ignores the degree to which Bolsheviks rationalizers regarded sex as a technocratic problem to be dealt with by specialists. I have only touched on two aspects of medico-legal administration, but Bolsheviks also idealized technocratic solutions when it came to what they called “sexual enlightenment” (sex education, for adults and children) and “sexual anomalies” (homosexuality, intersexuality, and transgendered individuals). Early Bolsheviks eagerly, sometimes impatiently, looked to science to discipline sexuality in a fashion that was classically modern. The presumption that forensic psychiatry and forensic medicine could deliver “rational” solutions to what were in the bourgeois world “moral” problems illustrates this expectation. The excitement in the 1920s of Soviet scientists, doctors and research patrons when contemplating the apparent possibilities of sex-hormone therapies is another excellent example of this technocratic view. While in other nations Freudian psychoanalysis and other currents of sex-psychology were growing in prestige, Soviet medicine preferred to focus attention on physiological mechanisms to explain the sex drive and discipline it.21

Another weakness of the traditional radical narrative is the emphasis it places on individual liberation, the tendency to exaggerate the psychological and personal release of the sexual revolution. This is again that optical illusion created by our focus on Alexandra Kollontai, on the libertarian perspective that the Communist movement made such political capital from in the 1920s, especially in Weimar Germany and in forums like the World League for Sexual Reform. The early Bolshevik reliance on technocratic solutions to sexual issues, and the “political incorrectness” of pleasure in Bolshevik thinking of the 1920s, devalued attention paid to individual sexual fulfilment. This was of course assisted by the overarching ideological value placed on collective, not individual, goals and desires. Sexual autonomy was available to politically conscious workers, intellectuals and (when suitably cleaned up) peasants, but it was managed autonomy, disciplined by sexual hygienists of various kinds. Their prescriptions contained numerous embedded assumptions that could subvert the libertarian logic of the sexual revolution. Soviet women, in the minds of most Bolsheviks of the 1920s, were never the autonomous freewheeling sexual subjects, as feminists looking back at them in the 1970s imagined they might be. They were still by and large seen as potential mothers first and foremost. Sexual autonomy was (as the forensic medical researchers looking at young men’s “sexual maturity” unconsciously demonstrated) a man’s preserve, despite ten years of revolutionary sexual equality and campaigning.22



The traditional view of the sexual revolution conceals many longer duration continuities in gender, national and social attitudes associated with Russian sexuality. Despite the genuinely inspiring and world-leading advances in sexual legislation that 1917 inaugurated, Bolsheviks brought more than the European socialist movement’s analysis of sexual problems to bear on the issues. They also operated with a number of inheritances that conditioned the reception of socialist sexual values. Russia’s preponderantly peasant social structure, the devastation of war and civil war, and diplomatic and economic isolation were clearly determinants. But Russia’s medical heritage, in both its radical ambitions and conservative undercurrents, was a significant influence on the evolution and interpretation of the Soviet sexual revolution.



1 The “great retreat” from socialist values was formally described in Nicholas Timasheff, The Great Retreat (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1946); for the “sexual Thermidor,” Richard Stites, The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978).

2 See especially Eric Naiman, Sex in Public: The Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); and Frances Bernstein, “What Everyone Should Know About Sex: Gender, Sexual Enlightenment, and the Politics of Health in Revolutionary Russia, 1918-1931,” PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 1998, and idem, “Envisioning Health in Revolutionary Russia: The Politics of Gender in Sexual-Enlightenment Posters of the 1920s,” The Russian Review .57 (1998): 191-217. In Russian, e.g., Igor S. Kon, Seksual'naia kul'tura v Rossii: Klubnichka na berezka (Moscow: OGI, 1997); N. B. Lebina and M. B. Shkarovskii, Prostitutsiia v Peterburge (Moscow: Progress-Akademiia, 1994); M. Levitt and A. Toporkov, eds., Eros i pornografiia v russkoi kul'ture/Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture (Moscow: Ladomir, 1999).

3 Dan Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001). My current project, “Early Soviet Forensic Medicine and the Limits of Sexual Utopianism” will result in a monograph on this subject. The project has been supported by the Wellcome Trust (grant no. 054869) and the Arts and Humanities Research Board (UK).

4 Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, 112-14.

5 V. I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 55 vols. (Moscow: Gos. izd-vo polit. lit-ry, 1959), 49: 51-52, 54-57.

6 Clara Zetkin, Lenin on the Woman Question (New York: International Publishers, 1934), 7, 10-11.

7 Alexandra Kollontai, “Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle,” in Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai, trans. Alix Holt (London: Allison & Busby, 1977), 241.

8 Soft-line commissariats presented “revolutionary” policies in humane, sometimes liberal, guise, according to the distinction drawn by Terry Martin. Hard-line commissariats (such as interior affairs) presented tougher solutions to most problems, but in the 1920s were not always in a position to implement them. See Terry Martin, “Interpreting the New Archival Signals: Nationalities policy and the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy,” Cahiers du Monde russe 40.1-2 (1999): 113-24.

9 Wendy Z. Goldman, “Working-Class Women and the "Withering Away" of the Family: Popular Responses to Family Policy,” Russia in the Era of NEP, eds. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Alexander Rabinowitch, and Richard Stites (Bloomington and Indianapolis: 1991) 125-143; idem, Women, the State, and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

10 Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, 132-34.


11 Naiman, Sex in Public, 137-41.

12 Only occasionally did the sex question become a central issue in the succession struggle, as in the 1926 Chubarov Alley gang rape scandal, which erupted in Leningrad. The uproar over workers’ sexual crimes allowed Moscow Stalinists to cast Leningrad’s opposition-minded leadership as poor guardians of worker enlightenment, facilitating a purge. See Naiman, Sex in Public, 250-88.

13 Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, 69-72, 105; Bernstein, “What Everyone Should Know About Sex”; Stephen P. Frank’s “Ask the Doctor!: Peasants and Medical-Sexual Advice in Riazan Province, 1925-1928,” in The Human Tradition in Modern Russia. William B. Husband, ed., (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2000); Dan Healey, “Early Soviet Forensic Psychiatric Approaches to Sex Crime,” paper given at Russia and Madness Conference, Ohio State University (Columbus), April 2003.

14 Dan Healey, “No Age of Consent? Soviet Forensic Medicine and the Problems of ‘Sexual Maturity’ and Marriage Age,” paper presented at annual conference of American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Washington DC, November 2001.

15 Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, 122-24.

16 The age was set at 16 for hetero- and homosexual acts; it was lowered to 14 in 1998 (reportedly, to protect a Kremlin figure implicated in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old). In 2002 new legislation was presented to the Duma with Kremlin backing and the support of nationalists and communists, to raise the age to 16 once more. This legislation was part of a broader package of measures to increase penalties for sexual exploitation of minors via the Internet and global commercial structures. At the same time, two small parties (normally, supporters of the Kremlin) tabled draft bills to criminalize male and female consensual homosexuality. Another attention-seeking parliamentarian offered a bill to make masturbation an administrative infraction. Duma hearings in February 2002 exposed a wave of conservative anxiety about Russia’s plummeting birthrate and population (declining by 800,000 annually) linked to the exploitation of minors, a women’s “birth strike” and “the despoliation of the national gene pool.” The future of these various legislative initiatives is ambiguous until the outcome of Duma elections in December 2003.

17 V. S. Piaternev, “K voprosu ob opredelenii polovoi zrelosti zhenshchiny,” Sudebno-meditsinskaia ekspertiza, no. 11 (1929): 21-26.

18 E.g., V. A. Riasentsev, “K voprosu ob opredelenii polovoi zrelosti zhenshchin,” Sudebno-meditsinskaia ekspertiza , no. 7 (1927): 26-29; N. V. Popov, “Neskol'ko zamechanii po voprosu o vremeni nastupleniia polovoi zrelosti,” Sudebno-meditsinskaia ekspertiza , no. 7 (1927): 29-33.

19 L. Leitman, “K voprosu o polovom sovershennoletii,” Sudebno-meditsinskaia ekspertiza, no. 9 (1928): 75-78.

20 On the origins of the “biological tragedy of woman” trope, see Naiman, Sex in Public, 191-98.

21 This is not to say that Freud did not have enthusiastic followers in early Soviet Russia. But few were in medicine; most were in cultural studies and pedagogic disciplines. See Aleksandr Etkind, Eros nevozmozhnogo: Istoriia psikhoanaliza v Rossii [Eros of the Impossible: The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia] (Saint Petersburg: Meduza, 1993) [this has been translated into English in the later 1990s]; Martin Miller, Freud and the Bolsheviks: Psychoanalysis in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1998). On hormone science in 1920s Russia, see Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia,134-35; Naiman, Sex in Public, 143-47, 290-91; Frances L. Bernstein, “Science, Glands, and the Medical Construction of Gender Difference in Revolutionary Russia,” in Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge and Practices, 1800-1950, David L. Hoffmann, Yanni Kotsonis, eds (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000).



22 Soviet sexual experts of various stripes were also far from utopian or internationalist in their outlook when it came to questions of nationality or ethnicity or “race” inside the Soviet Union, as the assumptions about “racial” differences in “sexual maturity” thresholds indicated. On the disparity of views about homosexuality across the ethnic/national divide inside the USSR, see Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, 158-62.



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