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The Sexual Scripts and Identity of Middle-Class Russian Women

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to provide an analysis of changes in the organization of sexual life among Russian women and to describe a spectrum of sexual scripts that characterize different generations. Based on biographical interviews with urban middle-class women we identify five such scripts of sexual life. On one hand, the analysis shows that representatives of the late Soviet generations are oriented towards the pronatal, romantic and friendship scripts of sexual relationships. Soviet women faced structural barriers in their sexual lives: gender inequality and lack of institutional provision of sexual practices. On the other hand, the analysis shows that the sexual culture of women belonging to the younger, post-Soviet generation differs considerably from that of their (demographic) mothers and grandmothers, the women of the Soviet generations. Among the women belonging to the post-Soviet generation, the hedonistic and instrumental scripts become more articulate. The current rationalization trend in sexual life presumes women’s conscious choice of sexual partners and reproductive strategies. Women are reflexive towards their sexual desire and represent agency, acting intentionally in order to control intimate relationships in which they are involved. However, young women also face numerous barriers caused by the lack of institutional reflexivity on sexuality and gender polarization.

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Notes

  1. According to Goffman (1997: 201–207) institutional reflexivity is connected with the “ability” of an environment to display/create sexual differences. Institutional reflexivity towards gender on the micro-level is illustrated by spacial segregation, gender interactions and the system of identification. According to Giddens (1991: 20), institutional reflexivity is “the regularized use of knowledge about circumstances of social life as a constitutive element in its organization and transformation”. We use this term in a more broad sense—as availability of expert knowledge, reflexive recognition of sexuality and its institutional provision.

  2. The collection of interviews in 1997 was compiled as part of a Finnish-Russian project “Cultural Inertia and Social Changes in Russia” (under the supervision of E. Haavio-Mannila, J.P. Roos and A. Rotkirch).

  3. This set of interviews (2005) was collected as part of the collective research project of Gender program, European University at St.Petersburg supported by Ford Foundation in St. Petersburg.

  4. In these projects we conducted interviews with men as well but they are not analyzed here.

  5. Thomas Cushman, Hilary Pilkington and Elena Zdravomyslova (Cushman 1995; Pilkington 1994; Zdravomyslova 2003) introduced the term ‘tusovka’ ib the analysis of the late-Soviet public sphere. This slang term designates the milieu and the place of informal getting. It is applied to the Soviet rock-culture, youth culture and counterculture of the 1970-s–1980 s and to such groups as hyppi, stylyagi, gopniki, panks.

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Acknowledgments

The article is based on research supported by Central European University (CEU), the Ford Foundation, and the Novartis company. We are thankful to A. Rotkirch and anonymous reviewers for their comments and to B. Schechter for language correction.

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Temkina, A., Zdravomyslova, E. The Sexual Scripts and Identity of Middle-Class Russian Women. Sexuality & Culture 19, 297–320 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-015-9272-7

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Keywords

  • Sexual scripts
  • Women
  • Generations
  • Russia
  • Gender identity