This piece is a blend of what I wrote during pair writing at the unconference and my proposal.
Sex is part of the human experience and so is as close to universal as possible, this means that anything connected to sex is by nature a transnational subject matter. An interesting example of this is condoms.
During the Second World War almost all states issued condoms to at least most of their troops in order to prevent devastating outbreaks of venereal disease among their fighting force and the potential infection of women at home and through them unborn citizens . In 1944 however antibiotic treatment for syphilis began to be used which meant that the prevention of VD was not seen as being as important since syphilis was no longer a death sentence in the manner it had been .
Many states in the post war era were impacted by transnational trends such as the rise of the welfare state and healthcare systems, the emergence of youth culture, Americanisation and the impact of the Cold War. The position on condoms arguably varied greatly both between and within states until sometime between the Sexual Revolution(s) of the 1960s and the discovery of the AIDs virus in the 1980s.
During this period of divergence, states could conceivably be grouped by their attitudes to condom use and their experience of the war and its aftermath. This project will focus on the roughly ten year period from the introduction of the new syphilis treatment in 1944 until the beginning of the ‘long 1960s’ by comparing, contrasting and examining the interaction between the official position and social attitude towards condoms in the USA, Britain, France and West Germany. Britain represents the middle ground of a state recovering from the war whilst experiencing major social change leading to a combination of liberalisation and a resurgence of traditional attitudes to issues like condom use. France represents a state devastated by war that was desperately trying to recover in all respects, which may have led to a resistance to change which coupled with a perceived need to raise the birth rate led to restrictions on condoms. West Germany was recovering from the war and there was a need to break from the past and the legacy of the Nazi regime. Its proximity to the USSR may also have interesting implications relating to attitudes towards condoms. The USA was the emerging hegemon who needed to distance itself ideologically from the USSR but still protect its population, especially its troops overseas and continue to strengthen its economy so it represents a country with a potential gulf between attitudes and practice as well as being of interest due to the phenomenon of Americanisation across Europe over the next several decades.
Sources such as advertisements, propaganda materials, government reports and legislation as well as the likes of popular songs, slang and individual testimonies will be used to uncover not just the official attitude but the popular perception of condoms during this period. These types of sources can tell us a lot more about attitudes towards condoms than usage statistics can ever hope to.
Given that Western European and American attitudes to sex became increasingly liberal as the century progressed it is not unreasonable to expect that social attitudes to condom use would become more tolerant during this period even with some attempts by governments to prevent this. However, that is not to say that condom use will necessarily have increased; other contraceptive methods had been growing in popularity and the perceived reduction in the threat of VD impacted condom use. It is the attitudes both social and official this project is focusing on with the intention of shedding light on different states perceptions of each other on a moral level and to fill a gap in the extensive literature regarding social change in this period. Whilst also providing information regarding social attitudes on an issue that can still be problematic in the present day, potentially yielding useful insight in how these attitudes can be influenced.
Mount, (Edward) Reginald, “Here comes the bride” poster created for the British Ministry of Health circa 1943-1944. Record held by the Victoria and Albert accessed on 6th March 2016 at: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O128415/here-comes-the-bride-poster-mount-reginald/
Fisher, Kate; ‘Birth Control, Sex, and Marriage in Briatin 1918-1960. (New York, 2006)
Heineman, Elizabeth, “Towards a History of Transnational Sex in World War II” in Journal of Women’s History, 26(3) 2014 pp.138-141
Klassen, David; Mulhern, Brian; and Swanson, R. Merwin; Revised by Anderson, Linnea M.; “American Social Health Association Records, 1905-2005: History” accessed on 6th March 2016 at: http://special.lib.umn.edu/findaid/xml/sw0045.xml
Papadogiannis, Nikolaos; ‘Introduction’ in ‘Militant around the Clock? Left-wing Youth Politics, Leisure, and Sexuality in Post-Dictatorship Greece 1974-1981’ (2015)
Weeks, Jeffrey; ‘Sex, Politics & Society: Second Edition’ (New York: 1989)