Sex in the USSR: The Life of Dr. Mikhail Stern, the First Soviet Sexologist

A new documentary that will explore the complexities and contradictions of sexuality in the USSR through the experience of Dr. Mikhail Stern. Dr. Stern was born with the Revolution, was slated for execution by Stalin in the infamous "Jewish Doctor's Plot," but survived to fight against the ignorance and misinformation of Soviet society in the realm of sexuality. He made many enemies in his lonely fight against sexual abuse by those in power, sexual mis-education that led to widespread venereal disease and the highest abortion rate (and death rate from abortions) in the world. He was arrested on trumped up charges and sentenced to eight years of hard labor in a Kharkov gulag in 1974. Through the efforts of Jean Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir, he was released after two years and settled in Amsterdam. He died in 2005.

The documentary provides an encyclopedic look at Soviet sexuality through the eyes of Dr. Stern. It weaves together five re-enactments based entirely on primary sources (letters, memoirs, news reports) as well as dozens of interviews with elderly Soviet citizens who discuss their firsthand experience with Soviet sex, on topics ranging from pornography, prostitution, abortion, reproductive rights, gay life, and rape in the gulags. 

Logline: One Soviet dissident's lonely fight against the perversion of sexuality under the totalitarian regime of the USSR.

Director's Note:  While the issues the film explores -- gay life during the 1920s (when homosexuality was decriminalized), illegal abortions during the reign of Stalin, sexual assault and immunity by those in power, and sexpionage -- are drawn from true stories of a dead regime, each has important lessons and relevance to current trends as Soviet nostalgia grows in Russia and authoritarianism slowly re-appears across the Western world. 

1. 1918: Dreams of Sexual Utopia

Alexandra Kollontai

At the start of the Soviet experiment, sexual freedom swept Russia. Homosexuality was decriminalized, no-fault divorce allowed, sexual communalism celebrated, and sexual intercourse itself considered as natural as “drinking water.” Group sex, nude marches, Down with Virginity rallies at high schools, and even proposals for public booths in city parks to be used for the sexual gratification of the citizens were all seriously discussed.

Alexandra Kollontai was the philosophical leader of this movement toward sexual utopia, and she left her own child and husband to focus on building a radical society without marriage and in which children would be raised communally. 

1925: An Openly Gay Couple 

Nika Polyakov & Stepan Minin lived as "husbands" for years after the Soviet Union decriminalized homosexuality. They drew up a marriage contract to seal their love for one another.

1937: Sexual Terror and the KGB

Stalin demolished sexual freedom and imposed the state into the bedrooms of Soviet citizens. Many leaders used sex to terrorize the population. 

Any hopes of the USSR becoming a utopia of sexual freedom quickly vanished by the end of the 1920s. Stalin realized that the state had to control the family so as to ensure a steady supply of workers and warriors. Homosexuality was outlawed in 1934, abortion became illegal, divorce became a much more difficult and public affair, and sex itself was considered an "anti-Soviet" waste of time.

At the same time, some of the world's most notorious sexual predators rose to the upper echelons of the Soviet government. Beria is only the most famous. While not establishing the gulag system or working on the NKVD, which he founded, he prowled the streets of Moscow and had his bodyguard Rafael Sarsikov pick up young girls, who then faced rape or death.

1951: Illegal Abortion Under Stalin

The Soviet Union had the highest abortion rate in the world (as well as the highest death rate from illegal abortions), and our film explores this through the true story of one unlucky girl and her Stalin-adoring grandmother with a secret.

1975: Sexpionage

The Soviet Union merged spycraft and sex in an unprecedented way.

Honeypots and female double-agents were employed throughout the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and even in the West. A great many diplomatic careers were ruined by the resulting “kompromat” and an unknown number became Soviet spies in an effort to keep embarrassing information from leaking.  

"Sex Schools" were run by the KGB to recruit and train young attractive men and women in the arts of seduction and sex. After a long course, they were prepared to trap any foreign diplomat the authorities wanted to compromise.

Inspiring Stories, Poetically Told