Women’s Sexuality and the Changing Culture of the 1980s

Much like in the West, the Soviet Union experienced a “sexual revolution” – of a sort. By the 1980s, female sexuality had become a topic of interest, though it still was seen by many as taboo. The beginning of “glastnost,” or openness, led to more awareness of the female body; yet as with any sexual revolution, no matter how small, there was the inevitable push-back that came with female liberation.

According to James von Geldern’s essay “Female Sexuality,” glasnost began around 1985 and began peeling away at the many layers – both physical and mental – of the female body. It began with discussions of prostitution and was helped along by the media, like books, films, and talk shows. Yet von Geldern notes that it was still difficult for Soviets to discuss sex, as exemplified by the American talk show host Phil Donahue asking questions about sex and receiving the response “we have no sex here.” Despite their reticence on the topic of sex, “the ways that women appeared and talked in public had altered radically by the end of the 1980s,” writes von Geldern. Yet not everyone was satisfied with the changes occurring in Soviet society.

In a article published in April 1985, Sergei Chuprinin laments the changing roles of women. “The notion of a reversal in the traditional roles of men and women has been showing up in fiction as well as nonfiction,” Chuprinin writes. He examines the way that women being sexual aggressors in fictional stories has spilled over to real life, and how it affects men and their marriages to their wives. Women taking the initiative sexually is a temptation to all men, no matter how upright he may be, and this change is leading to a shifting power dynamic between men and women. Chuprinin quotes another author, Leonid Zhukovitsky, who writes that “matriarchy is not [just] approaching, we’re already living under a matriarchy.” Whether this is a good or bad thing, Chuprinin leaves to the reader, but it is clear that many were unsettled by the sexual liberation of Soviet women.

Glastnost led to a new conversation about women: their bodies, their sexuality, and their role in the world. As we’ve seen through our own sexual revolution, however, many were unhappy with women becoming more open about their sexual experiences. Ultimately, as von Geldern notes, whether someone was happy about the destruction of taboos or not, there was little satisfaction in a woman “liberating” herself. Too often it meant degradation rather than freedom.


James von Geldern, “Female Sexuality,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/female-sexuality/

Sergei Chuprinin, “Ladies’ Tango: Women as Sexual Aggressors in Recent Popular Fiction,” Current Digest of the Russian Press 11, no. 37, April 1985, 12.

3 thoughts on “Women’s Sexuality and the Changing Culture of the 1980s

  1. Heather, great post about changing thoughts on female sexuality! That article from the Current Digest really shows how threatened men felt by women gaining freedom in this realm of life. Great job!


  2. It’s interesting how the opposition to female liberation at this time claimed that a “matriarchy” was on its way, at the same time women were having to adhere to a double standard (“double-burdened”) of taking care of the children while also being a strong worker.


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