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.

Chad Gracia, President

Chad Gracia is a filmmaker focused on telling powerful, poetic character-driven stories about the Soviet world and worldview that illuminate our past and warn us about our future. His first film, "The Russian Woodpecker" -- an exploration of how government lies sicken and ultimately destroy a society through conspiracies and paranoia -- won the Grand Prize for World Documentary at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, among many other awards. He has served on film juries globally and given talks on Dramaturgy in Documentary from Harvard to Chernobyl. He speaks Russian and has offices in Kyiv, New York and Boston.

Marina Orekhova, Managing Producer

With over 10 years experience in documentary and fiction production, Marina produced a Sundance 2015 Grand prix for Best documentary and festival darling THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER (Chad Gracia) and a multiple award-winner THE BABUSHKAS OF CHERNOBYL (Holly Morris & Anne Bogart). Collaborated on a number of TV films with the leading international media: ARTE, ZDF, rBB, Al Jazeera, BBC, Wired. Marina is an experienced festival and international cultural events manager. In 2008, as a member of a founding team for Ukrainian Cinema Foundation, she set up the first ever Ukrainian pavilion at the EFM (Berlinale) and Village International (Cannes).

Viktoria Trofimenko, Script

As a film student at Kiev's National University of Theatre, Film, and TV she directed a number of documentary films for TV and shorts for international festivals. For her graduating film, she decided to make a feature-length adaptation of the novel by Swedish classic Torgny Lindgren. The resulting debut drama Brothers. "The final confession" (2013) was selected to 3 "class A" festivals and got several international awards. It was theatrically released in 28 cities in Ukraine, screened in many countries, and sold to Swedish TV channel SVT. In 2016 Victoria became the first Ukrainian participant selected to the program "Ekran+" from Wajda School & Studio (Warsaw). And in 2017 - the first Ukrainian selected for the script writing program "eQuinoxe Europe," where she developed the script for her second feature film "Yakiv," under the guidance of award-winning international mentors. IMDB.

Artem Ryzhikov, Cinematographer 

Artem was the winner of the International Documentary Association's "Best Cinematography - 2015" award for his work on The Russian Woodpecker. He graduated in 2010 from the Kiev University for Theatre, Film and Television, and was legendary Soviet cinematographer Vadim Vereshchak’s last student and studied for several years under Bogdan Verzhbitsky. As Director of Photography, Artem’s work has won multiple awards worldwide. His short film, “Hindrance,” was a semi-finalist in YouTube’s “Your Film Festival” and was presented at the Cannes “Short Film Corner” as a selection from Ukraine.

Inspiring Stories, Poetically Told