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When we hear the 1920s, one of the first things that probably comes to mind for almost everyone is the crazy decade of jazz, the prohibition of alcohol, and short dresses. The so-called “Roaring ’20s“ was a unique feature of the United States, whereas the rest of the world, mainly Eastern Europe and Hungary, of course, were much more reserved.

Although even today, we do not talk about this subject openly every day with anyone we meet, sexuality is practically everywhere around us. Just think about most of the advertisements for clothes, perfumes, or even make-up. With the help of the internet, we can find this kind of content and even stronger themes in a second, and sometimes, due to the accessibility of the internet, accidents happen. Like it did in a Hungarian museum, showing hardcore porn. 100 years ago, of course, all this was much different.

In the Christian culture of Europe, sexuality was something to hide, not to talk about, and even to persecute.

What happens when a religion or a government (a kingdom, in Hungary’s case, at the time) forbids something? It finds a secret or not-so-obvious way anyway. The turn of the century on its own brought a big change, especially in Budapest, with public spaces becoming more important for entertainment. The capital was called the ‘city of cafés while mass media was starting out, and the two got linked very quickly. Forget the picture of families with kids sipping a coffee or tea or people quietly reading newspapers at a café, as reality was much different from this. Cafés were much closer to today’s bars or clubs and were not only about culture but boosting the sex industry as well. Apart from newspapers and magazines, nude pictures of women coming all the way from France were sold, which were later on copied by Hungarian photographers.

Fortepan / Hetényi Zsuzsa
Erotic picture from the 1910s – Fortepan / Hetényi Zsuzsa

Regular customers of cafés included a big number of prostitutes, and often even the waitresses sold their bodies.

The new century brought women’s bodies to the streets, but not quite literally.

The advertising capacity of women was recognised and quickly taken advantage of. Huge posters of beautiful women appeared in big cities, never naked, of course, but with a carefully masked sexuality.

Fortepan / Jurányi Attila
Erotic picture from the 1920s – Fortepan / Jurányi Attila

The technological development of the mass production of photos made pictures easily producible and very cheap at the same time. Even though the subject of these pictures – and a little later, with the appearance of the first motion pictures, the subject of these videos – were women, their sexuality still had to be kept hidden. It was absolutely prohibited for noblewomen to even think about such things,

especially since a proper lady was not even allowed, up until the 1930s, to enter a public space all alone, only if accompanied.


Getting married as a virgin remained the norm for girls and women with a lack of sexual education. This meant that they lived their lives under constant control, they always had to be accompanied, and men were only able to see them from a distance. This, of course, meant that the aforementioned cafés were a popular place to go only for men.

Fortepan / Kurutz Máté
Men in a café in Budapest around 1915 – Fortepan / Kurutz Máté

Just like almost anywhere around the world at this time, brothels were a privilege of men. However, they were not publicly allowed either, so much so that in 1926, these places were prohibited and forced to close. Which did not mean the complete shutdown of brothels, of course; they just needed to be more careful. Not only men who were their customers but also women who were working there. They used a sort of code word or expression referring to their metier. A popular one was being a hairdresser or going to a house to comb a lady’s hair.

Have you seen any films or series depicting a sexual relationship between a nobleman and a young girl from the personnel? It was extremely common that the young boy of the family acquired his first sexual experience with the help of the handmaid, often with his mother knowing all about it. The body of the handmaid was not a taboo; it was an instrument for the head of the house and for all masculine members of the family. These handmaids were much more experienced than the young ladies living under the same roof, so very often, they passed on their knowledge.

Do you know anything about sexuality and the intimate life of your country from this decade or the first part of the last century? Was it much different from Hungary’s and Budapest’s? Let us know in the comments and compare different countries to get to know more about the world. 

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