When the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich arrived in New York in August 1939, only a few days before the outbreak of war, he was optimistic that his ideas fusing sex and politics would be better received there than they had been in fascist Europe. Despite its veneer of puritanism, America was a country already much preoccupied with sex – as Alfred Kinsey's renowned investigations, which he had begun the year before, were to show. However, it was only after the second world war that the idea of sexual liberation would permeate the culture at large. Reich could be said to have invented this "sexual revolution"; a Marxist analyst, he coined the phrase in the 1930s in order to illustrate his belief that a true political revolution would be possible only once sexual repression was overthrown. That was the one obstacle Reich felt had scuppered the efforts of the Bolsheviks. "A sexual revolution is in progress," he declared, "and no power on earth will stop it."
Reich was a sexual evangelist who held that satisfactory orgasm made the difference between sickness and health. It was the panacea for all ills, he thought, including the fascism that forced him from Europe. In his 1927 study The Function of the Orgasm, he concluded that "there is only one thing wrong with neurotic patients: the lack of full and repeated sexual satisfaction."
Photo: Women at Adolf Koch’s socialist body culture school, which drew on Reich’s ideas. Photograph: Mel Gordon Collection