From Homophobia to Sexophobia: Russias Continued Crusade for ‘Traditional Values’
June 28, 2024
Historian Rustam Alexander looks at about morality-mongering initiatives launched by Kremlin loyalists and compares them with Soviet practices.
Anastasia (Nastya) Ivleeva, a popular actress and blogger, has come under attack for her supposedly immoral behavior. Source: Wiki Commons
In December 2023, Russian TV presenter and Instagram blogger Anastasia (Nastya) Ivleeva hosted a lavish private party at Moscow’s Mutabor nightclub with an “almost naked” dress code. It was a hit, attended by a host of famous Russian musicians, journalists, bloggers and other media personalities. Dressed in underwear and lingerie, Ivleeva’s guests paraded around the dance floor and posed for photos, which they immediately posted on Instagram. The rapper VACÌO wore only a sock on his penis.

The guests went home unaware that the “almost naked” party would change their lives – unfortunately, for the worse. The photos of Ivleeva’s guests went viral, triggering a wave of harsh criticism from pro-war activists and Telegram channel administrators. How dare these spoiled celebrities party at such a difficult time for the country, they asked, especially as Russian soldiers are sacrificing their lives in the “special military operation.”

Yekaterina Mizulina, the head of Russia’s so-called Safe Internet League and described by nongovernmental media as “the face of Russian online censorship,” noted that Russian soldiers on the front line were “not fighting for this.” Some conservative MPs even accused Ivleeva of promoting LGBTQ+ propaganda with the party.

Over the next few weeks, Ivleeva’s guests had their scheduled concerts and sponsorships cancelled and contracts rescinded. Some of them were cut out of advertising campaigns and TV shows. VACÌO got a short jail sentence.

Frightened by the reaction to the “almost naked” party, Ivleeva’s guests began to grovel and apologize on their Instagram accounts. Ivleeva herself posted two long videos, apologizing in tears.
The persecution of Ivleeva and her guests represented a new milestone in the state’s crusade for ‘traditional values’: from all-encompassing homophobia it has now moved to sexophobia.
Yekaterina Mizulina, head of Russia's censorship lobbying group. Source: Yandex.Dzen
This new campaign against “moral impropriety” seeks to control people’s sexual lives.

On the night of February 4, law enforcement officers stormed the club Fabrika in Yekaterinburg, where an erotic party called Blue Velvet was taking place. The attendees of the party were harassed and interrogated. A few days later, the Russian sex-positivity project Kinky Party officially suspended its events in Moscow after an official warning from the government.

More recently, conservative critics and Mizulina condemned Russian pop star Olga Buzova for her “offensive” outfit on stage at a concert in the city of Ufa, which happened to take place on the Day for Protection of Children. Mindful of the consequences of Ivleeva’s party, Buzova swiftly apologized, but whether that was enough to placate her critics has yet to be seen.

More examples of governmental attacks on moral impropriety are sure to come.

From perestroika freedoms to anti-gay persecution

Russian people began to embrace sexual freedom from Gorbachev’s perestroika. In fact, as some scholars suggest, following the collapse of the USSR, Russia became obsessed with sex, a trend that was most evident in the Russian media landscape.

Up until 2013, the Russian government did not interfere with people’s sexual lives in any serious way. Even after Putin approved the gay propaganda law in 2013, the authorities did not show much interest in controlling homo- or heterosexual lives. Gay life in Moscow was as vibrant as ever. In 2016, Moscow hosted the first kinky parties, which became increasingly popular.

In later years, however, homophobic campaigns grew much nastier. Facing roundups and other persecution, many members of the LGBTQ+ community decided to flee from Russia. Things got worse still after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The Russian government intensified its crackdown, going as far as pronouncing the “LGBTQ+ movement” (not a registered entity in Russia) “an extremist organization.”

It seemed that the authorities would further focus on stirring up homophobia, pretty common among Russians and easy to capitalize on. The number of people in Russia who believe that “adults do not have the right, by mutual consent, to enter into relationships with people of the same sex” rose from 60% in 2013 to 69% in 2021.
But it turned out that sexophobia was also becoming the new normal.
‘Sexophobia’ in the Soviet Union

The term sexophobia in relation to Soviet society was coined by Soviet/Russian sociologist Igor Kon in 1995. He claims that sexophobia became commonplace in Soviet society from 1930. Back then, amid the Stalinist conservative turn, all discussions of sex vanished from the public sphere. Homosexuality and abortion were made illegal. In 1943, Stalin organized same-sex schools, whose aim was to prepare young men to be warriors and women to be housewives and mothers.

The situation somewhat improved under Khrushchev: abortion was decriminalized, and same-sex schools were replaced by co-ed ones, yet sexophobia persisted. In 1961, Khrushchev introduced the “Moral Code of the Builder of Communism,” which was supposed to lay down the high standards of Soviet morality. Although the code did not explicitly talk about sexual relations, Khrushchev-era educators made it clear that sex was about procreation, not pleasure.

Sex was acceptable only within marriage, and any indecent behavior that could stimulate “unhealthy” interest in promiscuity and sex was to be discouraged. Furthermore, “excessive” interest in sex was believed to be a sign of deleterious Western influences. Under Khrushchev, Komsomol activists helped the government to police sexual morality. In 1957, for example, during the Sixth World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow, Komsomol brigades tracked down the young women seen in the company of foreigners and shaved off some of their hair to shame them for such indecency.

As you might expect, such attempts to enforce Soviet morality had little effect on Soviet youth. Nor is it surprising that the Komsomol vigilantes who were preaching sexual continence and decency were no more averse to “corrupting” influences than those whom they were supposed to police. In an example I cite in my soon-to-be-released book, a group of activists who in the 1960s participated in the entrapment of Moscow prostitutes ended up using the services of one of them.

Modern Russian sexophobia is only in its initial stages, and how far it will go remains to be seen. Today’s morality-mongers appear to be driven mostly by a desire to curry favor with the powers that be. Meanwhile, their campaign to expose the immorality of celebrities continues – Ivleeva has once again come under attack, this time for the slogan “suck it,” which she used to promote her new Moscow restaurant.
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