Sex and Repression  

Lots of interesting details in Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea about how the highly repressive, extractive regime in North Korea works. Here is one that is fascinating: all sorts of sexual activity, including dating and kissing, are highly repressed in North Korea (Most marriages are arranged by families or by communist party officials and grandees). Most people would not have had a boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage, and unmarried men and women cannot be seen together. State officials and defectors to the South claim that there is no premarital sex in North Korea. And all this despite the fact that Kim Il-Sung discouraged early marriages, declaring that men should marry at 30 and women at 28. The state even regulates women’s hairstyles and length of their skirts. And this of course sharply contrasts with the much more permissive attitudes towards dating, sex and marriage in South Korea.

Perhaps there is a pattern here. Sex — of course for regular people not the elite and their thugs —was highly repressed and regulated in Mao’s China, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany. Why would this be?

Could it be that authoritarian regimes cannot pick and choose which freedoms to recognize? Could it be that you cannot give people sexual freedom and then totally repress their political and civil rights? 

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