Girish Mahajan (Editor)

World War II U.S. Military Sex Education

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The outbreaks in World War II in 1939 brought interest in the sex education by the Public and the government. During this time period military maneuvers and activities, sexual hygiene and conduct had proven to be a major problem for the Worlds’ Armies, and World War II proved to be no different. Soldiers and Sailors on assignment overseas were often lonely, had time to spare, got homesick, or were just looking for female companionship. Due to this many men started to have multiple sex partners and as a result sexually transmitted diseases were again another major health concern. During the Great War, Venereal diseases had caused the Army to lose the services of 18,000 servicemen per day. Although by 1944 this number had been reduced 30-fold, there were still around 606 servicemen incapacitated by V.D. every day. This drop in numbers was partly because of the Army’s effort to raise awareness about the dangers faced by servicemen through poor sexual hygiene, but also because of the important developments in medicine in the area of treatment of the disease. In late 1943 a case of gonorrhea required a hospital treatment of 30 days, and curing Syphilis remained a 6-month ordeal – by mid-1944, the average case of gonorrhea was reduced to 5 days, and in many cases the patient remained on duty status while being treated.


Views on Wet Dreams

In the 1940s soldiers and sailors were taught that a wet dream is when the sex gland fills up with sperm that overflow while men sleep. This may happen several times a month or only once or twice in several months. Many medical officers taught their military personal that a wet dream is a normal thing for every man and for them to take extra precautions around misleading doctors that may try to scare them into buying their fake cures.


During World War II, masturbation was defined as having the same effect on the body as a wet dream. "Although a childish habit, it does no real harm and does not lead to insanity. If you have this unfortunate habit try to control is as a matter of pride."

Medical kit

During the war, medics were generally supplied with prophylactic kits in bulk, designed to allow a man to perform prophylactic treatment on himself if he feared he might have had sex with an infected woman. The individual packet contained a tube containing 5 grams of ointment (30% calomel + 15% sulfathiazole), a direction sheet explaining how to apply the ointment, a soap impregnated cloth and cleansing tissue. Sometimes the men were issued condoms (usually three to a pack) and sometimes they were given Sulfonamide (sulfa drugs) or other pills to carry “just in case.”


The U.S. Government produced a number of pamphlets which were issued to troops educating them about the importance of good sexual health. One of these pamphlets was "Sex Hygiene and Venereal Disease", printed August 1, 1940 by the U.S. Government Printing Office. There were also 1942 and 1943 editions. The pamphlet was to be furnished to each recruit upon enlistment. The booklet not only offered information to soldiers about avoiding V.D., but also what to do if they became infected. The pamphlet provided sufficient information about various diseases to allow troops to diagnose diseases and infections without visiting the Pro-Station. The following is the Summary which is offered by the pamphlet: 1.Manhood comes from healthy sex organs. 2. It is not necessary to have sexual intercourse in order to keep strong and well. 3.Disease may ruin the sex organs and deprive a man of his health and happiness. 4. You have a fine healthy body now. Keep it that way. 5. Venereal diseases come from sex relations or intimate contact with a diseased person. They are very serious. Gonorrhea and syphilis are two of the worst. 6. Most prostitutes have venereal disease. 7. Guard against venereal disease by staying away from “easy” women. Don’t gamble your health away. 8. If you do not have self-control then do not fail to take safety measures. 9. If you get diseased, report at once to your commanding officer. Time is most important. 10. Will power and self-control help to keep a man’s body and mind healthy. 11. A healthy body and a healthy mind lead to happiness.


By 1941 many of the sex education materials that the Public Health Service had begun. Hollywood produced motion picture films that showed men exactly how to play safe and what to do if they caught syphilis or gonorrhea. Later on these films were made available for wilder distribution by the nation's various state and local health departments.

Condom Use

In the 1940s the U.S. Military highly encouraged the men to use condoms during sexual intercourse, concerned that "our boys" would bring home diseases and infect their wives. Government training films urged soldiers, "Don't forget - put it on before you put it in." During amphibious operations condoms were issued to soldiers to cover and protect small muzzles from seawater and sand.

Abstinence only sex education

Many Commanding officers taught their military men that “Just because you have the desire is no reason why you must give in to it. Sex relations in the military should be kept for marriage. The Army and Navy wanted to make a dramatic statement to scare lower ranking personal by saying "Between people who aren't married they often lead to shame, sorrow and diseases. The public knows this so well that laws forbid sex relations between persons not married to each other. Good morals limit these sex relations to marriage".


In World War II venereal disease was a serious problem for the US Army and Navy. In some hospitals one out of eight men had contracted some form of venereal disease. Two of the worst venereal diseases known to the Medical Department during the Second World War were gonorrhea and syphilis, consequently the majority of treatment and awareness programs had great emphasis on these two infections in particular.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can cause long-term complications and/or death if not treated correctly. Symptoms in adults are divided into stages. These stages are primary, secondary, latent, and late syphilis. Syphilis has been called ‘the great imitator’ because it has so many possible symptoms, many of which look like symptoms from other diseases. The painless syphilis sore that the soldier or sailor would get after they were first infected can be confused for an ingrown hair, zipper cut, or other seemingly harmless bump. The non-itchy body rash that develops during the second stage of syphilis can show up on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, all over the body, or in just a few places. The men could also be infected with syphilis and have very mild symptoms or none at all.


Also called the "clap" or "drip," gonorrhea is a contagious disease transmitted most often through sexual contact with an infected person. Gonorrhea may also be spread by contact with infected bodily fluids, so both men and women can get gonorrhea. The infection is easily spread and occurs most often in people who have many sex partners.

Joint Operation

The first American Forces stationed in Northern Ireland (USANIF) and in the British Isles (USAFBI) received special attention from the Medical Department. The units were directed, in cooperation with local authorities, to establish the first off-base Prophylactic Stations and trace the contacts of servicemen who became infected. American units were warned to keep everything as tactful as possible, and to use general terms such as U.S. Army Aid Station, instead of Pro(phylactic) Station. Despite the measures taken, V.D. spread among the troops, and even with rapid and effective treatment, including the use of sulfa drugs and penicillin, the cost to the Army was heavy in lost time from duty, and diversion of medical resources, as well as being a source of political and social tension between American Forces and their British hosts.

This also occurred in France, after the liberation of Paris, and to some extent in Germany, although this country was by then militarily defeated and occupied. V.D. Control Officers were appointed and special recreation programs were introduced in close cooperation with the Red Cross and Special Services. Sexual education was emphasized and line Officers, Surgeons, and Chaplains gave lectures. In order to improve the sexual hygiene of its troops, the U.S. Army produced a number of documents and equipment which carried messages about sex hygiene and venereal disease. For example; matches included in K Ration cartons were often printed with catchy slogans warning against the dangers of V.D.. Films, posters, graphically presented slogans, and warnings urged men on grounds of patriotism, unit pride, faithfulness to loved ones at home, and personal self-interest to avoid illicit sexual contact which was emphasized as almost invariably leading to infection. If soldiers were unable to comply, the education programs urged them to be careful by using the mechanical and chemical prophylactics provided by the Army correctly.

Syphilis and Gonorrhea prevention

Soldier and Sailors were taught to either abstain from sex or commit to a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who had been tested and had negative VD test results. Latex condoms used correctly were encouraged for every sexual encounter.

Government involvement

To raise awareness about practicing safe sex amongst its recruits, the U.S. Government produced a series of posters which were displayed in Army Barracks, Hospitals, and Railway Stations. Many of the posters and propaganda leaflets were hard-hitting and to the point, similar to the awareness posters of today. The Selective Service discovered that almost fifteen percent of those who were eligible for the draft were already infected with a venereal disease, sparking an intense anti-venereal disease campaign across America. Red-light districts were shut down, and American cities sought new laws which would criminalize prostitution to protect young men from contracting a venereal infection.

Gay Men in World War II

During World War II social bias on the increase authority of psychiatric and scientific logic, the military chose to exclude homosexuals from the military because it was considered a mental illness, and it was believed that they would hurt the productivity of the armed forces. The military used an unreliable screening process through military psychiatrists in determining if an individual was homosexual or not. Some psychiatrists did not enforce their screening, which let homosexuals into the military. Also, homosexuals simply lied to psychiatrists about their sexual orientation and were able to get into the armed forces. Anti-homosexual policies because homosexuals were very much part of the military. Homosexuality was a crime according to the military and punishable by prison. But because military prisons already held more than capacity, a new discharge system was used instead essentially kicking out homosexuals from the armed service. Using mental illness again as an excuse, the military was able to justify discharging homosexual GIs from the military.

Lesbians in World War II

The formation of the Women’s Army Corps provided a place for lesbian women within an otherwise wholly male institution. Rumors 1942-enlistees.jpgof difficult enrollment screenings for gay men deterred very few lesbians. Because of women’s marginal status in the military before World War II, neither the Army nor the Navy had developed policies or procedures concerning lesbian enrollment in the armed services (p. 28). Even on the home front, criminal law generally ignored lesbians and women were rarely prosecuted in court for engaging in sex acts with other women. At the onset of the war, psychiatrists and military officers reflected this history of invisibility and issued no policies or procedures for screening out lesbians (p. 28). The pressure to meet unfilled personnel quotas was also a significant force in keeping recruiting officers and examiners from prying into the sexual lives of women volunteers (p. 29). During entrance exams female masculinity, unlike male effeminacy, was not considered to be a disqualifying defect, reflecting the military’s need for women who could perform traditionally male jobs. The Women’s Army Corps represented a pivotal turn in cultural understandings around gender and sexuality. As the culture of the 1940s grew increasingly anxious about women’s sexuality as a result of the shift in public or private spheres, and homosexuality in particular, the formation of the WAC sparked a storm of public speculation and concern as to the potential breakdown of heterosexual norms and sexuality morality which might resultp. 68 historically, women had been most visibility associated with the military as prostitutes. The general public expressed fear that, in forming the WAC, the military was trying to create an organized coalition of prostitutes to service male GIsp. 66. Print media of the World War II era supported a dual effort to maintain a sense of “normalcy” through prescriptions of control and containment of women’s sexuality, within and outside of the military, while simultaneously “normalizing” the drafting of women’s sexuality into the armed services. The media both responded to and reinforced emergent cultural and political perceptions of a threat to the existing gender social structure. The response of Women’s Army Corps Director Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby was to challenge this by characterizing female soldiers as chaste and asexual (p. 66). Like advertising and other media elements, military propaganda emphasized traditional female qualities and roles. For example, a magazine article featuring the WAC declared, “You’ll like this girl. She does a man’s work…servicing airplanes, but she hasn’t lost any of her feminine sweetness or charm” (p. 17).


In 1940 the Military, the Public Health Service, and the American Social Hygiene Association, a private organization, agreed to cooperate in creating a plan “to defend the armed and industrial forces from venereal disease.” The May Act, which was passed in 1941, enable the Justice department to override local authorities and directly police areas that presented a threat to the safety of either military or industrial workers. The Lanham Act, which was passed in 1941, specifically provided the funds for hospitals where carriers of venereal disease could be quarantine until they had been cured. The Comstock Act effectively made any form of contraception illegal in the United States, punishable as a misdemeanor with a six-month minimum prison sentence. Titled the Eight – Point Agreement, this plan called for an expansion of the services existing campaign to control venereal diseases. This gave the Army, Navy, Public Health Service, and ASHA developed and implemented aggressive measure to track the spread of venereal disease to encourage the infected to seek medical care, to provide treatment to those who were infected; to repress prostitution and finally, to promote sex education to arrest the further spread of the diseases.

Women took the blame

In the United States, World War II-era venereal disease posters depicting women were created for an overwhelmingly male, military audience. These posters warned men in the Armed Forces away from civilian women, depicting women as the primary carriers and spreaders of venereal diseases. These sentiments were mirrored in the civilian populations as young civilian women were criminalized for engaging in sexual activities. Worse yet this view did little to protect women who engage in extramarital intercourse. But because many of these women worked in essential military industries, this approach also threatened the morale of the war effort.

Women Health concern

World War II also saw the creation of women’s military corps. For the first time, women were able to serve their country, though not in a combat capacity, without serving as a nurse or laundress. In the Women's Army Corps, the female military corps upon which this paper will focus, women were enlisted and commissioned as soldiers and officers in much the same way that the Army enlisted and commissioned men. Women serving in the Armed Forces, however, were absent from venereal disease poster artwork during the World War II era. Their absence from such a basic form of health education provided by the military suggests that women’s reproductive health was not of the same importance as men’s during this period.

Race discrimination

In segregated American, African Americans disproportionately lived in poverty. Compared with whites; the majority of African Americans military personal limited or no real access to education opportunities, good wages, or health care, all factors that were crucial in protecting Americans from venereal disease and ensuring that those who were infected received treatment. By 1940’s these problems had created a situation in which “sexually transmitted disease were nationally known as special problems of the black people. As America continued to be segregated even as African, Asian, and Native American soldier fought for democracy abroad federal funds were desperately needed simply to ensure that sex programs could reach those who needed them. Both immediately before and during the war, these federal funds transformed the battle against sexual ignorance and the problems caused by this ignorance throughout the United States but especially in the South by ensuring that all races and classes received some form of sex education.


The all-out nature of World War II required, more than ever, close cooperation and collaboration among the Army, civilian agencies and organizations, and the community in order to effect complete control. Finally, of utmost importance in bringing about changes in policies and Practices were the discovery of new drugs and the innovation of new methods of treatment. After the War the United States decided to focus more directly on the social aspects of sexuality and married life. Known by a variety of names, the new "family life education" represented an expansion of the educators' mission. Instead of teaching mostly about sexual prohibitions, family life educators attempted to instruct students in the positive satisfactions to be gained from a properly ordered family life.


World War II U.S. Military Sex Education Wikipedia