Conference Agenda

1C: Catholic Discourses on Reproductive Health in State-Socialist Poland, 1960s-1990s
Wednesday, 08/Sept/2021:
9:00am - 10:15am

Session Chair: Dr. Katerina Liskova, Masaryk University


Catholic discourses on reproductive health in state-socialist Poland, 1960s-1990s

Chair(s): Lišková, Kateřina (Masaryk University)

In state-socialist Poland, where the majority of population was baptised Catholic, the Catholic Church was an important actor in the reproductive health arena. Papers in this session underscore diversities in Polish Catholic discourses and practices linked to reproductive health between the 1950s and the 1990s. Through the case studies of the representations of infertility, premarital sex and broader ideas linked to reproductive health in Catholic magazines and popular literature, the authors analyse the relationships – and mutual exchanges - between medical and religion-based expertise around core areas of biopolitical intervention for the socialist state and the Catholic Church.


Presentations of the Symposium


Debating premarital sex in Catholic and state-socialist Poland

Ignaciuk, Agata1, Jarska, Natalia2
1University of Granada, 2Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences

This paper examines the discourses surrounding youth sexuality in state-socialist and Catholic Poland, particularly the ideas surrounding “virginity”. Secular advice literature and sexological writings published between the late 1950s and the end of Polish communism in 1989 presented ambiguous and non-homogeneous discourses on premarital sex. The “culture of sexuality” promoted by experts tended to be limited to marital relationships: explicit advice on sex was largely directed at married couples or in the framework of “preparation for marriage”. While secular experts did not brand premarital sex as immoral, throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, they provided a range of medical and social arguments against the practice, at times based on gender hierarchies. Analogically, throughout the state-socialist period, both popular books aimed at the Catholic public and available in libraries, and unpublished scripts for the clergy and lay Catholics delivering “preparation for marriage” training at various levels, welded sex with marriage and forbade premarital sexual activity. The anticipated negative consequences of premarital sex were, again, steadfastly gendered: girls and women would suffer most as they were not only deemed responsible for controlling male sexual urges and advances, but also sexual violence. We concluded that overlaps and mutual borrowings existed in Catholic and secular approaches to premarital sexuality. While secular experts were unlikely to conceptualize premarital sex as a sin, they often mirrored Catholic views by framing the discourse in love, sex, responsibility and social danger.


Faith and lack of offspring: infertility in the Catholic press in Poland (1956-1989)

Pomian, Natalia
University of Warsaw

With the end of the Stalinist era, the traditionally defined family and the Catholic vision of marriage regained prominence in Poland. Catholic premarital education, institutionalised in Poland from the late 1960s onward, prepared future spouses to parenthood. But what happened with the couples who had difficulties to conceive? In 1980s, a reported 10% of marriages were struggling with fertility problems, and in mid-1980s 3,4% of couples married for 10 or more years remained childless. Even though the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlights that childless couples can be fruitful through love, openness to others and sacrifice, the social and political pressure to have children in Poland remained enormous. This paper analyses the debates about infertility and childlessness in Poland through the pages of "Tygodnik Powszechny" - a Catholic weekly magazine focusing on social and cultural issues. I am particularly interested in underscoring the proposed solutions to the problem of infertility/childlessness, such as adoption and medical treatment of infertility (including insemination and in vitro fertilization), and the hierarchies established between these solutions. As sociological research showed, only 16% of infertile women were considering adoption, the rest chose long-term treatment or, as a last resort, 8% would choose artificial insemination. Looking at early discussion on infertility in a popular Catholic medium enables the understanding of the controversies attached to the contemporary Catholic approach to this problem and the social context of creating methods of therapy that suits Catholic ethics (e.g. naprotechnology).


Fair, natural, and reasonable. Sexuality and reproduction in the discourse of a religious organisation of Polish migrants in France

Kosiorowska, Agnieszka
University of Warsaw

“A child in a marriage is its most honourable goal, and the decisions regarding having offspring are up to the parents. The Church only wants these decisions to be fair, in accordance with the laws of Nature, and reasonable” (1980). These words come from a 1980 issue of a newspaper published under the patronage of the Polish Catholic Mission (PCM) in France. The PCMs exist in twenty-eight different countries of the world, and exercise pastoral care over Polish migrants living in those countries. They play an important role in the lives of migrant communities, helping migrants with practical problems of everyday life and serving to sustain community bonds and cultural identity. This paper focuses on ways in which the PCM in France attempted to shape gendered health practices of migrants, in particular those related to reproductive health. I focus on the 1980s and 1990s, a time when the PCM in France assisted a large inflow of Polish economic migrants who left Poland due to the economic crisis during the last decade of state socialism. I analyse the PCM’s newspaper “Głos Katolicki” (1980-1999) and focus on specific advice concerning reproductive health and sexuality, and behaviours and practices constructed as (un)healthy for men and for women. My hypothesis is that Polish Catholic Mission in France tried to manage and influence migrants’ sexual and reproductive practices, considering that Polish people’s practices in this matter should be different to those thought to be a norm in the French society.