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"Sexually Transmitted Disease Is an Obstacle to Marriage"

Created in 1938, the featured chart illustrates the connections between the Nazi regime’s concerns about marriage, sex, disease, and the German birth rate.
Staatsarchiv Bamberg

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 "German racial community" (Volksgemeinschaft). 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

Several other European countries experienced declines in their birth rates following World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic, and other governments also considered ways to increase the birth rate. For example, see Nikolas Dörr, "'As Far as Numbers Are Concerned, We Are Beaten': Finis Galliae and the Nexus between Fears of Depopulation, Welfare Reform, and the Military in France during the Third Republic, 1870-1940," Historical Social Research 45, no. 2 (2020): 68–113. 

Public health officials in Weimar Germany had also worried about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among the German population in the 1920s as "racial hygiene" theories developed and spread.

Nazi authorities became concerned about rising rates of gonorrhea as early as 1935. For more on sexually transmitted diseases in Nazi Germany, see Geoffrey Cocks, "Sick Heil: Self and Illness in Nazi Germany," Osiris 22: The Self as Project: Politics and the Human Sciences (2007): 93–115. 

Although the Nazi regime officially discouraged premarital sex, the SS created the Lebensborn program in late 1935 to increase the German birth rate by providing unwed "Aryan" mothers with discreet places to give birth away from the judgmental gaze of family and neighbors. For more primary sources on the Lebensborn program, see the Experiencing History items, "Brochure for the Lebensborn Program" and "Request to Replace Nurse Anna Hölzer."

To learn more about marriage and "racial purity" in Nazi Germany, see the Experiencing History item, "But Who Are You?"

To learn more about the Nazi regime’s efforts to mold family roles and repress unwed young Germans' sexuality, see Lisa Pine, Nazi Family Life, 1933–1945 (Oxford: Berg, 1997).

For more on these activities and the gendered nature of Nazi youth group exercises, see the Experiencing History items, "Healthy Woman - Healthy Nation" and Hitler Youth Training Film.

For example, roughly nine hundred members of the League of German Girls returned from the 1936 Nuremberg Party Rally pregnant. To learn more about sexuality and the persecution of gay men in Nazi Germany, see Elizabeth D. Heineman, "Sexuality and Nazism: The Doubly Unspeakable," Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11, No. ½: Sexuality and German Fascism (January–April 2002): 22–66; Günter Grau, Hidden Holocaust? Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany, 1933–1945 (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1995); and Dagmar Herzog, ed., Sexuality and German Fascism (New York: Berghahn Books, 2005).

 

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Contagious Venereal Disease Is an Impediment to Marriage

[map at left]

Declining birth rate due to gonorrhea in the Old Reich [1937 borders] 
40,000 children
the equivalent of the number of births
in Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg
go unborn each year as a result of
infertility caused by gonorrhea

[center]

Providing information about the source of infection is the duty of every sufferer from the disease

[below silhouette]

If this man had reported the source of infection, all 17 other infections would have been avoided

[arrow]

First infection 

[far right]

Additional infections

[center]

source of infection

[text in box above photos]

Every venereal disease is curable, with prompt and adequate treatment

[below photos]

Living in close touch with nature and marrying early keep the perils of infection at bay

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Staatsarchiv Bamberg
Accession Number Staatsarchiv Bamberg, A 241, T 14001
Date Created
1938
Language(s)
German
Document Type Poster
How to Cite Museum Materials

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