Less freedom, more sex
There were no goods in shops. You weren’t allowed to travel. Rock stars didn’t come to the country to perform. So how else were Czechs supposed to entertain themselves?
“Sex was one of the few pleasures that were available back then at the same standard of quality as today. The bread rolls tasted bad. You don’t even want to know what kind of meat was sold in shops. And pears, for example, you couldn’t get those anywhere. But sex wasn’t any worse than it is today, and so people actively made use of it. A typical snapshot of life under Czechoslovak socialism was the sexual act on the office desk.”
That’s how sociologist Ivo Možný explained the attitude of Czechs under Communism towards sex to Czech Radio. Sociologist Kateřina Lišková continues:
“There wasn’t much pressure on people at work to achieve results, so there was space in workplaces for other things. People colonised their workplaces to some extent and used them for various types of relationships, including sexual ones.”
Justice doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, and even under communism, factory workers and subway drivers didn’t get to have sex at work, while at administrative offices and research institutes, the air was heavy with lust.
Office desks were the centre of sexual life also because you weren’t allowed to rent a hotel room in the same city that you lived in. Prostitution was a punishable crime. And anyway, why would you look for paid sex when you have dozens of bored colleagues at work?
There was an old joke at the time:
A man comes home and finds his wife in bed with his friend.
“Don’t shout like that,” his wife says to him. “The wine was gone, there were no cigarettes and we were out of coffee. So what else was I supposed to offer him?”
And to a certain extent, that’s how things worked.
Marriage counsellor Petr Smolka says that nowadays, Czech psychologists have almost forgotten what sex is. While under communism, how to improve one’s sex life was a topic that was continually discussed in counselling sessions, nowadays, sexual problems have taken a backseat.
On the other hand, casual sex and infidelity, especially in the 1970s and 80s, obviously caused problems in people’s marriages, which became a widespread societal problem. Psychologist Kateřina Irmanovová expounds:
“The number one reason that people sought out marriage counselling in those times was infidelity. I would say that infidelity was a kind of way of finding freedom back then. It sounds absurd, but it really was like that. Infidelity and leaving the family was the only form of rebellion that was realistically possible. As a result, married couples often got divorced. Divorce wasn’t the financial catastrophe back then that it is nowadays, especially for women. Nowadays people often can’t afford to get divorced, and therefore tolerance of infidelity is higher.”
But the communists always loved to say that the family was the foundation of the state. And mass divorce was not in the interests of the state.
Let’s listen now to a clip from the radio of the most popular marriage counsellor of the 1970s and 80s, Miroslav Plzák.
“A wife discovers her husband’s infidelity. This woman divorces her husband. Her reasoning is, ‘I can't live with my husband's infidelity’. Most people would say she is right to do so, because the norm remains in our subconscious that the husband is morally culpable. But some people prioritise love between a husband and wife over love for one’s children. In this case, the subjective pain of the woman was greater than her love for her children. This approach cannot continue to be seen as a moral one in the future. The relationship between parents and children should come first, and only then the relationship between spouses. It is the duty of the wife to learn to live with her husband’s infidelity.”
In other words, divorcing due to your spouse’s infidelity is a greater moral failing than the infidelity itself. Children suffer in a divorce, and the having and raising of children is the fundamental duty of the citizen of a socialist state.
One final aspect of family and sexual life under communism is worth mentioning. In those days, the marriage rate was 96%.
Once more, we hear from the prominent marriage counsellor of the time, Miroslav Plzák.
“He who avoids marriage is a social parasite.”
However, in every society, around 4% of people are homosexual, 3-4% have severe mental disabilities, and a further roughly 4% are severely physically disabled. That means that in every society, there is at least 10% of the population that don’t have the physical or sexual requirements for marriage (as anything other than heterosexual marriage was prohibited at the time). But nevertheless, these people were pushed into marriage by the regime.
This had the result of creating a subsection of society who couldn’t possibly be happy in their marriages or satisfied with their sex lives, and had to look for their kicks elsewhere…
This was the first episode in our new series about sex under communism. It was primarily about the 1970s and 80s, but next time we'll delve further into the past and look at why Czechs in the 1950s were the greatest experts on the female orgasm in the world.