forthcoming in 2018 by Cambridge University Press

Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style:

Communist Czechoslovakia and the Science of Desire, 1945–89


Katerina Liskova


Sexuality constitutes one of the most important terrains in the larger societal project of modernity. By tracing sexual tropes, mores and practices as they change across time and place, one can grasp the changing accents of modern societies. Adding science, the utmost contemporary social authority, creates a potent mix that forms one of the foundations of our everyday world. This monograph analyzes sexuality, intimacy and gender as these were formed by sexology and related forms of expertise under state socialism in Czechoslovakia. Using a time-sequence analysis of expertise (Haydu 1998, Eyal 2013), I argue that there were two distinct approaches to sexuality, intimacy and gender during the forty years of communism. I combine the breadth of archival material produced by experts (e.g. sexological papers for the medical community, their writings for the general public, expert advice to the government or courts) with the ways in which this expertise was adopted by the people (e.g. arguments during divorce proceedings, letters to the government or to the media). I show how during the 1960s, accentuating the idea of a “public family” with the equal gender roles that had been typical in the long 1950s, gave way to the “private family” with the rather traditional gender roles that came to define the era of Normalization. By analyzing the shifting sexological understanding of the female orgasm and male sexual deviance, I thus highlight the understanding of sexuality that upheld both the “public” as well as the “private” family regime. I further analyze the ways in which these distinct approaches came to be, and how the former came undone. This monograph aims to place sexual regimes within broader socio-historical processes occurring in the second half of the twentieth century in the geopolitical space where alternative modernity was attempted. 


This research was supported by a Marie Curie International Fellowship within the 7th European Community Framework Programme.