It was never discussed in public or in private. Any mention of it was considered vulgar and inappropriate. Moreover, for some reason there were no words in the daily vocabulary which were adapted for such discussions. Of course there was sex and love affairs, marriages, divorces and adultery. But some unspoken rules prohibited any mention of these events, even among friends. As a teenager growing up in Soviet Russia, I found sex confusing. It existed but at the same time it did not.
Publicly, sex did not exist. Any expression of love in public was not tolerated. In Soviet art and cinema love was expressed through romance and there were no sex scenes. The first film in the history of Soviet cinema that showed sexual intercourse was Malenkaya Vera, Little Vera, that came out in 1988. Films from other countries were pre-viewed by the censorship committees, which cut out all scenes related to sex and drastically edited scenes showing kissing or anything else with even a remote relation to sex.
Nevertheless, in Soviet Russia, condoms could be obtained in the pharmacies, just as they can be today. But back then, they were hidden behind the counter and not exposed on the central shelves. Customers had to ask for them, which often made them uncomfortable. They had to lower their voices when addressing a salesperson not to attract attention of other customers and knowing that they know you’re going to have sex and feeling judged. For example, psychologists reported on an increase in problems among couples because of their inability to express their sexual desires or troubles to each other, either because they were not used to it or because there were no words adapted to it.
Though this situation was rather unnatural, there were some good sides to it. Many believed in love in a very pure and uninterested way. There was also much less prostitution than there is today. Not only was it strictly prohibited, but sex in exchange for money was a lesser accepted notion than it is today. Many men and women were happy to get to know each other intimately, fall in love or meet occasionally and it was not necessary do so for money. Quite a few Soviet films of the era managed to express the beautiful feeling of love while avoiding prohibited scenes, and done well enough to make you want to watch these films even today–to remind you how profound, complex and sensitive real love can be.
Photos from the book Nu for Stalin, Soviet Photography 1920-1940. Moscow:Punktum, 2004.