How Czechs became experts on the female orgasm

In the 1950s, during the darkest phase of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Czech sexologists started to research the female orgasm, outpacing most of their colleagues abroad. What triggered their interest in the topic and what exactly did their research focus on? Find out in another part of our mini-series Sex under Communism.

Sexual Liberation,  Socialist Style by Kateřina Lišková | Photo: Cambridge University Press

Was Czechoslovakia the first country in the world to have its own sexual revolution? Sociologist Kateřina Lišková, who authored a book called Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style Communist Czechoslovakia and the Science of Desire, wouldn’t go as far as that. However, she says, sexual evolution in Czechoslovakia definitely started earlier than abroad:

“Specifically, in the early 1950s, the female orgasm was being explored in Czechoslovakia, which was unheard of for that time, not only in the surrounding Eastern European countries, but also west of our borders.

“In the West, the female orgasm wasn't studied until about a decade later. In our country, other progressive things were already happening, like research on homosexuality, the legalization of abortion. So the 1950s in Czechoslovakia were actually very progressive sexually.”

Kateřina Lišková | Photo: Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences

There were also a number of progressive laws passed that made married and family life easier for women, says Ms. Lišková. But why, of all the possible topics, did Czech scientists become interested in the female orgasm?

“The research was triggered by studies of female and male infertility. At that time, there were around 10 to 15 percent of women who wanted to have a child but couldn’t conceive.

“Such women were treated in Czechoslovakia at the spa town of Františkovy Lázně, which specialised in gynaecological and reproductive problems.

“In the early 1950s, the gynaecologists there found that they had about nine percent of patients who couldn’t conceive even though they weren’t diagnosed with any physical problem. And these women complained of problems in their partnership.”

Photo: OpenClipart-Vectors,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

The gynaecologists classified it as a sexual problem and invited experts from Prague, where there had been a Sexology Institute since 1921. So they came to Františkovy Lázně to carry out thorough research:

“They also examined a control group of pregnant women and asked these women about all the different aspects of their lives. They learned, among other things, that the women who couldn't get pregnant were more likely to complain about problems in their married life, not only in sex. The husbands didn't respect them, didn't love them, and the women often didn't love their husbands either."

That is how the theory that satisfaction in marriage, hence the achievement of orgasm, is an important prerequisite for pregnancy, originated. We quote from a book by Professor Josef Hynie, director of the Institute of Sexology in Prague.

Josef Hynie | Photo: Archive of the Institute of Sexology,  General Hospital Prague

"It is true that a woman can become pregnant without experiencing an orgasmic climax. There are women who have had many children but have never known the sensual climax and true satisfaction of coitus. But, on the other hand, we know of women who couldn’t conceive until they experienced orgasm."

Czech sexologists have come to the conclusion that the secret of the female orgasm lies primarily in the quality of the relationship and not in the technique. Experts even warned against too much focus on the technique and against approaching sex as a sort of exercise.

Sexologist Jiřina Knoblochová wrote that sexual mismatch was not the result of clumsiness or ineptitude, but of alienation or emotional conflict between spouses. Communication and the husband's interest in his wife are essential, she said.

Photo: inoehren,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

What is also important is equality in the relationship, which implies that men must share in housework and childcare; only this will ultimately bring the woman to orgasm, she argued.

The views of Czech experts have naturally evolved and changed over time. As early as 1963, long before the famous US researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Czech experts started to recommend sex therapy.

Czechoslovakia ahead of the West in equality

Photo: StockSnap,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

Free exploration of the female orgasm was certainly not a typical phenomenon reflecting Czechoslovakia of the 1950s. The research could never happen without its medical and social justification, says sociologist Kateřina Lišková:

“It is very interesting, and I think it always surprises people, because what everyone remembers from history classes are the monstrous trials and judicial murders that took place in the early 1950s.

“At exactly the same time, at least two major things happened here in Czechoslovakia. In 1950, a new law on the family was adopted, which for the first time equalised the rights of men and women in the family.

“It may sound unimaginable today, but before 1950, inequality between men and women was enshrined in the law. The father or husband had rights over his wife and children, he had the right to make decisions about them.

“The wife could not make decisions about her occupation or education. These things were decided in the family by the husband or the father.”

Photo: GDJ,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

As Ms. Lišková points out, similar laws were also being passed in the neighbouring Eastern European countries at the time, while west of Czechoslovakia’s borders, they didn't come into existence until the 1970s, she says:

“This was a big surprise for female emigrants who came to West Germany, for example, after 1968. Here in Czechoslovakia they were used to working, they had a university education. But there they suddenly had to go with their husbands to sign a work contract. So the 1950s were a decade when equal rights for women really took off.”

Author: Libor Kukal
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