Like many other aspects of public health under the Nazi regime, official attitudes toward sex in the Third Reich revolved around the growth and overall health of the so-called Volksgemeinschaft (German racial community). Aiming to increase Germany’s low birth rate, Nazi leaders believed that Germans should only have sex to produce children in order to grow the “Aryan” population of the Reich.1
Nazi leaders and public health officials were concerned with the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, which can cause complications that lead to infertility.2 Fearing that premarital sex would spread these diseases and cause a further decline in the German birth rate, Nazi public health officials urged young Germans to avoid it altogether.3 Nazi propaganda promoted the idea that marrying early and conceiving many children within a traditional family structure was the ideal way to satisfy one’s sexual desires.4 According to Nazi theories of eugenics, this was the duty of every healthy and “racially pure” German.5
Created in 1938, the featured chart illustrates the connections between the Nazi regime’s concerns about marriage, sex, disease, and the German birth rate. It claims that 40,000 more children would have been born in Germany had it not been for infertility caused by gonorrhea. Likely displayed in doctors' offices or youth group meetings, the chart urges Germans who had contracted sexually transmitted diseases to report the “source of infection” to authorities.
In addition to early marriage, this chart also suggests channeling sexual energy into healthy outdoor activities in groups segregated by gender.6 The Nazis believed that physical exercise and manual labor could mold people into strong and virtuous citizens, and Nazi propaganda promoted a return to nature. Nazi youth groups often engaged in outdoor physical activities like those shown in the chart as a way to limit sexual desire, build character, and promote a sense of camaraderie.7
In spite of these efforts, many young Germans rejected the regime’s advocacy for abstinence before marriage. Nazi youth group meetings were places where teenagers gathered without parental supervision, and some used these opportunities to explore their sexuality. Many young women in the League of German Girls became pregnant, while young men in the Hitler Youth who were accused of sexual activities with other young men received punishment or “re-education.”8