Pornography in the Soviet Union was largely suppressed until the final years of the USSR. According to The Pornography and Erotica Debate: USSR, sex in general was viewed as "a wasteful consumer of energies better devoted to the building of Communism." In the Stalinist period, the importation of pornography to the USSR was a capital offence. Genrikh Yagoda, the third head of the NKVD, was accused during his trial (besides espionage and high treason) of storing a great number of pornographic films and pictures. Such accusations were also faced by Yezhov, who followed Yagoda. More recently, possession could get up to 3 years in prison, or a 300 ruble fine. The 1988 Soviet film Malenkaya Vera was the first to feature a sex scene. The resolution on Glasnost stated, "Glasnost must not be used...[to] disseminate pornography" but by September 1989, calendars of topless women for the year 1990 were being sold in Moscow.
In an interview with staff at Hot Specialty, veterans of the trade associate the beginnings of Russian erotica with Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika , when the country for the first time in fifty years opened its borders. Deep-seated social changes along with a sexual emancipation were among the most prominent effects of the fall of the iron curtain . Softened social norms and numerous commercial incentives provided to small businesses by the government made the country ready and yearning for erotic entertainment. Hot Specialty interviewers report groups of Soviet youth spending their spare hours in underground establishments overflowing with narcotics and promiscuous sexual activity. These places were responsible for the production of first Soviet amateur pornography. With rapid dissemination of consumer electronics such as VCR and portable camcorder, a simple porn studio and an adult movie theater could be set up in small converted apartments. Porn and erotica had a ready market that was quickly filled by Soviet entrepreneurs. Remarkably so, pornography was more than entertainment. The historical importance of this phenomenon was in its enduring social factors. Proliferation of adult materials helped eliminate notorious Soviet sexual restraint, mitigated the strictness of norms of morality and helped people find ways to self-regulating the standards of their sexual behavior and interaction. Many of the consequences of the “sexual revolution” in the Soviet Union laid out the plan for a grander change in violent 1990s.
Russian adult movies are often seen as a more sensual, emotional and a natural, lifelike alternative to the mainstream American pornographic movies that are spread across all continents. Russian erotica has its own unique taste, scent, and culture, perhaps just like any high-quality erotica, whether you find it in Italy, France, or Russia. Russian adult cinema is deep-settled within the framework of century-old traditions and cultural heritage. It is for this reason that the uniqueness of Russian erotica is a genuine concept that can be witnessed and experienced. These movies are unique because originality is their essential nature, not because a marketer in a penthouse office claims them to be such.
Variety is another trait worth mentioning. In the short span of its life, Russian erotica has ascended to the point of including a diverse range of unique adult categories all with different features and themes. Some erotic attributes of this vivid imagery are inordinately beautiful and gracious, while others may seem wildly barbaric and presumptuous. That’s because there is no single standard of beauty as such, and studios try to respect and cater to all tastes and audiences.
Russian directors and the entire community of adult-movie fans, critiques, and others intrigued by the rare sexual appeal of the Russian movies, often shun away from using the term pornography. Rightfully so, they prefer a more accurate term of Erotica, which stands for a more creative and passionate dramatic performance. It's almost as if you open up a new world of virgin ideas that have never been tainted by the cookie-cutter approach that we see in the steady flow of identical clones that flooded the market in the past decade or so.
Another reason for the use of the term Erotica as opposed to Pornography has its roots in the etymology of words and their established use in Russian society. The word porn, while spelled the same around the globe, may mean one thing in New York and stand for an entirely different concept in Moscow. There is no legal definition of pornography in Russia, but the social and linguistic look at the word makes it disreputable and notorious. In the United States it is generally accepted that the word pornography refers to scenes that contain images of penetration and vivid sexual activity. In some of the Russian cities and localities, however, parameters such as penetration and sexual activity aren’t even attached to the term pornography. Instead, pornography refers to images of underage sex and bestiality. The differences in the use of words are obviously rather extreme. This is the one kind of word play you wouldn’t want to forget about.
Erotica in Russia, on the other hand, often refers to sophisticated and refined adult entertainment, with or without close-up shots and vivid exposure of penetration. Instead on commenting on so to speak, technical attributes, the term Erotica rather contracts an approach that describes the nature and spirit of the movie as such. Say, a classy movie emerged in the luxury of early 19th century Russian noble life and depicting sexual merriment in glorious historical palaces, would definitely be classified as high-class erotica, irrespectively of the technical details such as close-ups and penetration. To distinguish the latter, there are terms like softcore erotica and hardcore erotica, which you are most likely fully aware of.
Out of the great multitude of adult genres in the world, nearly all are represented in one way or another in Russia. Some studios, like Moscow’s Strawberry lead by ingenious Sergey Loginov, actually experiment with new styles and work in entirely new directions that stagger with their inventive skill and erotic imagination. The main thing to point out about the organization of Russian adult genres is that Russian studios tend to specialize in one or a few narrow categories. Some of the erotic classes present in Russia are amateur and homemade porn that highlights realistic unfeigned experience, mainstream hardcore erotica that converges on historical plots and is embedded in cultural contexts, softcore erotica that emphasizes natural female beauty, and an astonishing group of fetish trends that seek to satisfy a diverse range of peculiar erotic fantasies.
Until recently, there hasn't been a centralized online portal where enthusiasts could search through Russian adult movie collections. Now and then one could happen to spot a few different movies on the auction sites such as Ebay, and in the back corners of big-city specialty adult stores. Among the problems haunting these retail locations was constant lack of variety and a great percentage of low-quality counterfeits. In December 2007, HotSpecialty.com opened its doors to customers in the United States and abroad. The store made available movies and information from ten adult Russian studios specializing in over twenty totally different erotic genres. As of the summer 2008, the store reported two hundred plus genuine Russian erotic titles.
Pornography in Russia is a topic of baffling complexity. On the one hand, year 1996 was marked by a passing of section 242 in Russian Criminal Code, which became a federal legislation that prohibited sale and production of "illegal" pornographic materials. The section provides for a penalty of up to 2 years in prison. Authorities missed a critical definition—the one of actual pornography. While pornography is officially illegal to sell in Russia, the law doesn’t spell out in exact terms the subject of the ban. Russian erotica is sold openly in sex shops and DVD stores. Newspapers publish information about police raids on such places on a monthly basis. Owners would be detained and adult products confiscated, only to be released after a brief investigation that stalls at any attempt to press charges. Supporters of the adult industry have referred to this situation as offensive, but impervious to any immediate change. Advocates of a new law clamour for a clear distinction between pornography and erotica.