Do Communists Have Better Sex?

| March 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

Karl Marx didn’t write much about sex. Much. But he did write about human relationships as an abstract whole.

For Karl, the ethical issue at stake in discussing capitalism was nothing less than the loss of humanity he saw in the capitalist system.

He called this loss of humanity alienation. Under capitalism, he reasoned, the individual is transformed into a laborer. As the term implies, a laborer is defined by their work, and they must work to live. In ideal state, Marx imagines that a person would choose how to labor, and therefore affirm their own will and ability in the laboring process. But capitalism inverts this by making the laborer’s life dependent on his labor and on his product. This inverted domination of labor and product over man–a separation of man from his self-agency–is alienation.

As Charlie Chaplin’s “Factory Work” shows, the rule of economic interests and competition alienates people from other people, too. Relationships between humans are reduced to relationships between buyers and sellers, bosses and employees, and capitalists and proletarians. The fuller mental, emotional, and spiritual life Marx imagines for society is denied.

Do Communists Have Better Sex? is a 2006 film by Andre Meier that uses this theory to examine the sex lives of people in West and East Germany after World War II. (Here’s one review.) In capitalist West Germany, the economic relegation of women to domestic roles corresponded to Church-led efforts to maintain a heterosexual, nuclear-family model of sexuality. But in the communist East, the film claims, women were supported in the workforce as equal laborers. Their greater economic agency carried over into sexual agency, resulting in more fulfilling sexual relationships.

How does this bear out Marx’s theory of alienation? Just as the capitalist division of labor in the factory produces an alienated worker, the gendered division of labor within capitalism also produces alienated gender laborers–women. After all, raising children, doing housework, and servicing a male breadwinner is unpaid labor women must perform in order to give capitalism its workers. Restricted domestic roles and restrictive sex roles reduce women and alienate them as much as industrial labor alienates the worker. Human relationships, including sexual ones, thus become defined by products and outside forces: objectified views of the body, societal expectations of sex from porn and advertising, and actual economics, in cases of sex work and even some marriages.

Feminists often raise the issues of sexualization and our current toxic sexual climate. Many note that depictions of sex don’t depict an interaction between two human individuals anymore. Some point out that people have a competitive or achievement-based view sex, as if it were a sport, or a task to be accomplished, rather than a particular way of interacting with another person. In a way, people are reduced to their body parts, and their body parts are regarded as instruments.

But how often does this conversation on sex return to the economic system that might be underlying it?

The issues in one’s private bedroom, influenced by the structure of intercontinental economics? It’s an unsettling idea, but potentially important for anyone with a sex life–anyone with a life–to consider.


Source on Marx: Tucker, Robert C., Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton, 1978.

Featured photo credit: x via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Politics, Social Activism, The (Sex)es

Huey Wu

About the Author ()

Huey Wu is a Senior studying Comparative Literature. When not writing in a journal, writing for class, or working as a writing tutor, they enjoy volleyball, puzzles, and gentle company.

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