Gender, Pleasure, and Violence
The Construction of Expert Knowledge of Sexuality in Poland
Published by: Indiana University Press
Behind the Iron Curtain, the politics of sexuality and gender were, in many ways, more progressive than the West.
While Polish citizens undoubtedly suffered under the oppressive totalitarianism of socialism, abortion was legal, clear laws protected victims of rape, and it was relatively easy to legally change one's gender. In Gender, Pleasure, and Violence, Agnieszka Kościańska reveals that sexologists—experts such as physicians, therapists, and educators—not only treated patients but also held sex education classes at school, published regular columns in the press, and authored highly popular sex manuals that sold millions of copies. Yet strict gender roles within the home meant that true equality was never fully within reach. Drawing on interviews, participant observation, and archival work, Kościańska shares how professions like sexologists defined the notions of sexual pleasure and sexual violence under these sweeping cultural changes.
By tracing the study of sexual human behavior as it was developed and professionalized in Poland since the 1960s, Gender, Pleasure, and Violence explores how the collapse of socialism brought both restrictions in gender rights and new opportunities.
Part I: Sexology and Society
1. The Development of Sexology and Sexual Rights Activism in Europe and North America
2. The Polish School of Sexology
Part II. Pleasure: Towards Good Sex
3. Sexuality and Scientific Knowledge
4. "Civilized" Sex and Gender Relations under Socialism
5. Gender and Pleasure in Expert Discourse Today
Part III. Violence: Expert Discourse of Rape
6. Rape: Definitions, Legal Understanding and Statistics
7. The Provocative Victim and the Male Limits of Self-Restraint: Stereotypes in Expert Literature
8. In the Court Room
9. Feminism: Changes in Expert Discourse and in the Court Room
Richly researched and engagingly written, this book challenges what you thought you knew about socialist sex. Focusing on Poland, Kościańska seamlessly combines anthropological methods with archival research to show what conditions socialism created for pleasure and how central expertise was for emancipating sexuality. A fascinating read, which will shape the debates about sex and gender in Europe for years to come.~Kateřina Lišková
Agnieszka Kościańska's brilliant book, Gender, Pleasure, and Violence, is a theoretically rich and methodologically robust exploration of expert knowledge of the field of Polish sexology before and after the fall of communism in 1989. Challenging the pervasive stereotypes of state socialist Eastern Europe as one monolithic totalitarian nightmare, Kościańska investigates the societal debates and public struggles that animated the field of Polish sexology throughout the post-War era. She deftly reveals how a more holistic and complex understanding of human sexuality was in many ways superior to its overly medicalized and pharmaceuticalized counterpart in the West. Kościańska tells a nuanced story about the many controversies and contradictions, but this book ultimately details how the medical/psychological establishment in communist Poland came to embrace far more progressive views than a Western reader might imagine for that era. This accessible book is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to know what sex was really like under socialism.~Kristen Ghodsee
Published in Polish in 2014, and now available in English, Agnieszka Kościańska's book is the first to discuss the history of sexuality in socialist and postspocialist Poland which inspired the development of new research on the subject. Based on rich ethnographic and archival sources, Gender, Pleasure, and Violence constitutes a brilliant anthropological exploration of the past and proves that there is no simple answer to the question of the heritage of communism in Central Europe.~Joanna Mishtal
This book masterfully combines historical depth, ethnographic sensitivity, and an impressive command of comparative scholarship on gender and sexuality. This is more than a vivid account of the history of sexology and sexual practice in communist Poland. Agnieszka Kościańska challenges us to rethink bigger subjects such as the idea of progressivism, the nature of state socialism, and the hegemony of the West.~Malgorzata Fidelis
This is a powerful and important book, which tells us much about how, from Socialism to postsocialism, Poles have come to think about sex and its personal, social, economic, and political meanings. Carefully mapping the patterns of Polish sexological and expert scientific discourses on sex and sexuality during and after Socialism, Kościańska combines meticulous archival work with rigorous ethnographic fieldwork to unfold a richly detailed and fascinating comparative history of Polish sexology's unique, and uniquely holistic, theoretical and political trajectories - and its profound social impact. Deeply rooted in cutting-edge scholarship on Central and Eastern European sexualities past and present, and consistently attentive to the shifting complexities of the relationship between official, expert discourses and women's and patients' agency, Gender, Pleasure, and Violence neatly brings together complex theoretical debates and specific, concrete practices to show how Polish sexology and expert sexual knowledge, and its intimate interactions with psychological and medical patients, feminists and queer activists, and cases of sexual violence, constructed new forms of gendered and sexual subjectivities, and gendered and sexual social orders. Kościańska convincingly demonstrates that despite its strongly emancipatory side, Polish sexology's impact was ultimately shaped by a profound gender conservatism, in which a particular vision of "healthy and satisfying sex" served to reinforce dominant sexual and gender hierarchies. Challenging our current narratives about the sites, sources, and personal, social, and political functions of scientific knowledge about sexuality, Gender, Pleasure, and Violence should be obligatory reading for those wishing to rethink not only the relationships between both science and sexuality, and Socialism and sex, but the significance of sex and sexuality to the emergence of alternate modernities, and the nature of the relationship between "East" and "West."~Hadley Z. Renkin