During World War II, a foe far more insidious than the aggressive Axis powers was felling our boys fighting overseas. Venereal disease had always been a huge problem for American troops, but in 1942 the government got serious about schooling soldiers to be more conscientious with their erections.
A poster division put together within the Works Progress Association's (WPA) Federal Art Project during the Great Depression was the first group to address syphilis—the fourth leading cause of death at the time—as a public health issue.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, agitprop efforts were pumped up under the Office of War Administration (OWA); this included increasing awareness about the dangers of venereal diseases to servicemen, seventy-per cent of whom were single and most of which were not fully educated about the hazards of unprotected sex.
Using straightforward graphics and to-the-point text, these diseases were depicted as the enemy—along with pretty much the entire female population. "She may look clean—BUT," "Booby Trap," and "The amateur is just as dangerous as the prostitute," were just a few of the cautionary slogans emblazoned across these prints. The messaging was moralistic—don't do it, basically—or preventative—do it but do it safely.
Regardless of the politics—sexual or otherwise—behind the hand-made, widely distributed efforts, the messaging worked. By the height of WWII, about 600 American military personnel were out of commission daily because of an STD. If that seems high, consider that number was down from a staggering 18,000—eighteen-thousand!!—sidelined thanks to STDs in WWI.
Protect Yourself is a new book that collects this peen propaganda in one place. If you'd like a definite conversation starter for your coffee table, you can purchase a copy here for $30 (about £18). Or: Enjoy this selection that we've chosen here for your (VD-free) pleasure. [Co.Design]