In the period of glasnost, or openness, in the Soviet Union, the conversation on prostitution became a public topic (Von Geldern). It wasn’t until 1987 that specific laws prohibiting prostitution were introduced in the Soviet Union. Prior to 1987, prostitution was taboo to many Soviets. I found it interesting that during an American talk show for American and Soviet audiences, when the American host discussed sex, Russians used the English word for sex, showing that “sex” is a foreign concept because there was no word for it in the Russian language.
Prostitution was becoming more structured and organize. There was a hierarchy within prostitution: foreign-currency prostitutes, middle-level prostitutes, and train-station prostitutes (Maidanskaya). Many young girls saw prostitution as a way to get money and leave their hometowns. An article spread around that glorified prostitution, and 14-16 year-old girls streamed into Moscow in hopes of attaining this luxurious life. However, most girls didn’t get further than being train-station prostitutes (Maidanskaya).
Some viewed prostitution as a way for a woman to choose what she does with her body. Some people noticed the problems that arose with prostitution, such as the huge increase in AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases and organized crime. Once prostitution was recognized, administrative sanctions were imposed that affected over 5,000 prostitutes. There were proposals to shoot, (yes, with an armed weapon) put in prison, or exile prostitutes, but many punitive laws have proven to be ineffective.
Many authors and directors even started writing about and documenting the life of prostitutes in the Soviet Union. The most distinguishable work that started the discussions was a novel (that was later adapted into a movie) Intergirl. Vladimir Kunin, the author of the Intergirl novel, followed prostitutes for several of months and conducted a study on their activities (Kon). The film tells the story of one foreign-currency prostitute (which is the highest-ranking prostitute in the Soviet Union) named Tanya. Intergirl was very successful, being the most watched Soviet film in 1989. Intergirl had a sad outcome for Tanya and the people closest to her. Intergirl, along with other works produced around this time, spread the message that women “found no liberation or happy fate when she revealed her body” (Von Geldern).
Kon, Igor (1997). Опасный секс: Насилие, проституция, болезни [Dangerous sex: Violence, prostitution, diseases]. Sexual Culture In Russia: The Strawberry on the Birch (in Russian). Moscow: OGI. ISBN978-5-900241-33-3.
Maidanskaya, Nadezhda. Combating Prostitution: A Pessimistic View.War Against Prostitution: The Prose of the ‘Sweet Life.
Von Geldern, James. Female Sexuality. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/female-sexuality/