Northern Illinois University Press

The Dictatorship of Sex

Lifestyle Advice for the Soviet Masses

Frances Lee Bernstein

“A valuable contribution ... will be of interest to a number of audiences—from historians of gender and the family to those that specialize in the history of medicine.”—Canadian Journal of History

“Beautiful and thickly descriptive. The source base is impressive.”—The Russian Review

"Richly documented and well-researched. Essential reading ... provides many important and original insights into Soviet reformers' ideas about gender, sexuality, marriage, and family in the 1920s and about their attempts to discipline the Soviet public."—Slavic Review

The Dictatorship of Sex explores the attempts to define and control sexual behavior in the years following the Russian Revolution. It is the first book to examine Soviet “sexual enlightenment,” a program of popular health and lifestyle advice intended to establish a model of sexual conduct for the men and women who would build socialism.

Leftist social theorists and political activists had long envisioned an egalitarian utopia, and after 1917, the medical profession took the leading role in solving the sex question (while at the same time carving out a niche for itself among postrevolutionary social institutions). Frances Bernstein reveals the tension between the doctors’ advocacy for relatively liberal social policy and the generally proscriptive nature of their advice, as well as their lack of interest in questions of personal pleasure, fulfillment, and sexual expression. While supporting the goals of the Soviet state, the enlighteners appealed to ‘irrefutable’ biological truths that ultimately supported a very traditional gender regime.

The Dictatorship of Sex offers a unique lens through which to contemplate a central conundrum of Russian history: the relationship between the supposedly ‘liberated’ 1920s and ‘repressive’ 1930s. Although most of the proponents of sexual enlightenment in the 1920s would suffer greatly during Stalin’s purges, their writings facilitated the Stalinist approach to sexuality and the family. Bernstein’s book will interest historians of Russia, gender, sexuality, and medicine, as well as anyone curious about social and ideological experiments in a revolutionary culture.

(2007) 264 pp., 22 illus.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-371-5
cloth $42.00

Frances Lee Bernstein is Associate Professor of History at Drew University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1: Disciplining the Sex Question in Revolutionary Russia
2: Making Sex
3: “Nervous People”
4: Envisioning Health
5: Conserving Soviet Power
6: Doctors without Boudoirs
Abbreviations List

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