On 10 February 2017 the Centre for Gender and Science invited associate professor Kateřina Liškova, expert on sexuality and gender in Czechoslovak sexological discourses during communism, to give an annual talk. It was the fifth iteration of the Centre´s annual lectures by outstanding woman researchers.
The room was packed and the debate touched on all kinds of topics – progressive work of Czechoslovak sexologists in the 1950s and 1960s, communists’ concept of equality between women and men, state-driven emancipation, and a conference organized in the 1960s which was solely devoted to the female orgasm.
Little known is the fact that one of the first sexology laboratories was established in 1921 in Czechoslovakia. The research of sexology quickly developed and it overtook the West in many respects. In 1949, the family law forged equality between men and women in marriage. As early as the 1950s, Czechoslovak sexologists started doing research on many progressive topics, including female orgasm. Debates about women’s emancipation in the household and workplace, sex life or sexual pleasure, contrasted with the trends in post-war West where women were expected to stay home and dedicate their time to child care and housework.
Progressive sexology research of the time was reflected in Czechoslovak legislation. In 1961 homosexual acts were decriminalised. There was also a conference devoted to female orgasm. The topic of sexual equality and relationships soon became a very popular subject debated on the radio and television. Socialist sexologists focused on the importance of the equality between men and women as a core component of female pleasure. “Some sexologists insisted on men sharing child care and household work. According to them, that was the condition for quality of sex in both partners,” said Kateřina Lišková. A socialist marriage was to be based not on economic dependence of the woman upon the man, but equality in a relationship and economic independence of the woman.
In the 1970s, Czechoslovak sexologists noted a non-functional sexual life in marriage as one of the main reasons for the rising divorce rate. The survey at that time reported incredible 42 percent of people who stated non-functional sexual life as grounds for divorce.
Since the end of the 1960s there was, however, a stronger push for women to take up child care. After the invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies in 1968 and the political purges the country saw the onset of what is termed “Normalization.” With political reprisals and many prominent sociologists fired from their academic positions and relegated to medial jobs. This shift occurred just at a time when the second wave of feminism was picking up in the West, with the aim to liberate women in sexuality, family, workplace.