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.
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.
Russia 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.
“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.”
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.