Having skimmed one or two journal articles about the study of sex in transnational history I came across a mention of an epidemic of venereal disease in Germany right at the end of the Second World War, apparently thanks to new antibiotic treatments and victory allied troops had thrown caution to the wind to the point where the VD crisis was top of the agenda at several meetings of the Allied Control Council. So hovering around World War II might be an idea especially since it’s a period I have some prior knowledge of. Then I ended up reading through a quick overview of the history of the condom and an idea started to form. Governments often have to be pragmatic in practice but language in advertising and propaganda is often more telling of official and social attitudes. So I’m planning to look at condom and prophylactic (and maybe other contraceptives) propaganda and advertising at the front and on a domestic level before, during and after the Second World War and hopefully will be able to compare and contrast between different countries although I am sensing an American focus (largely due to previous scholarship and source availability.) It is documented that the USA was unusual in not issuing condoms to its troops during the First World War and consequentially having to deal with around 400,000 cases of VD (gonorrhea and syphilis mostly) but the US troops learned about condoms during their interactions with soldiers from other countries who had been issued with them and no doubt the subject came up during interaction with civilians while in Europe as well. So when the troops returned home the Comstock laws had to be relaxed little by little and condoms specifically could be sold, albeit with restrictions, as a way of preventing the spread of disease however their contraceptive use was not to be marketed.
During the Great Depression the condom industry boomed and by 1940 the FDA were beginning to regulate the quality of condoms on sale within the USA (rejects were still commonly exported.)
I’ve found a few posters aimed at the American and British military regarding VD and some images of condom packaging from this period. However, I am finding it difficult to determine if posters are genuine and their exact dates of issue and to find examples of domestic adverts in printed publications. My main concerns at the moment are: access to primary sources; ability to find sources from multiple countries; that the project may end up more about VD than the discourse surrounding condoms and lack of coherence.
I do think this project is worthwhile however as condoms were important enough to be standard issue to the majority of troops during  WWII and to not have production restricted like other rubber products during war time then the attitudes and discourse surrounding them is worthy of study. The taboo surrounding topics of this nature still exists in the modern day to the potential detriment of public health and so looking back at how attitudes were shaped and changed in the past may yield lessons for the present and future.

Well I have a project idea but lets see if it’s workable!
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One thought on “Well I have a project idea but lets see if it’s workable!

  • March 1, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    This seems like an interesting and important project. It will be important to think carefully how you will draw connections between the discursive realm (of posters) etc. to the social historical realm where you seem interested in making arguments!

    I was wondering about one of the casual arguments brought up: “apparently thanks to new antibiotic treatments and victory allied troops had thrown caution to the wind to the point where the VD crisis” – is there any evidence that one caused the other? Would there not have been a VD crisis without these treatments? Is there not always a VD crisis when there are large occupation forces? If not, then what was different? I confess I’m not very acquainted with this literature, but look forward to learning more.

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