Distributing condoms on the factory floor – Communists and sexual health in the Netherlands


Editor: Elke Weesjes

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Format: Article

Publication date: June 15, 2021

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Elke Weesjes

Dutch communists were remarkably progressive in their views on (heterosexual) sex, sex education, contraception and family planning. Many were active members of the Nederlandse Vereniging van Sexuele Hervorming (‘Dutch League for Sexual Reform’ or NVSH), and were passionate advocates of sexual health, and promoted the use of contraceptives and the legalisation of abortion. This progressive stance on sexuality and contraception was not led by the Dutch Communist Party (CPN). In fact, from the 1940s until the late 1960s, topics related to birth control, sex education and family planning had been given a wide berth in the CPN and its organisations. The CPN seemingly followed the example set by the Soviet Union, where, after a very brief moment of sexual liberation in the early post-revolution years, conservative views about sexuality, the family and household organisation had prevailed. Considering the Dutch party’s refusal to address sex education and family planning, it is quite remarkable that so many of its members were such passionate advocates of sexual health. Based on a series of interviews with twenty-five cradle communists, communist archives, and a wide range of other sources, this article explores communists’ stance on sexual health, and discusses their roles in the NVSH and the abortion rights movement during the Cold War. It argues that in regard to sexuality and sex education, the ideas of Dutch communists were much more in line with utopian socialist traditions that predated the Russian revolution as well as anarchist traditions carried through to communists, than with the Soviet ideology.