Sex and World War 1

Sex and World War 1

Sex, brothel and the first world war

Commercial, secret and sex prostitution during the First World War. The military forces of the warring countries defined very different strategies in the fight against the spread of venereal diseases. Not all of them were convinced of the desirability of morality education, which is why they propagated the regulation of prostitution as an alternative method.

During the First World War, the so-called “secret” or “wild” prostitution and sex increased. As “secret” prostitutes or “occasional women” in Austria and Germany, it was referred to those women who only occasionally prostituted themselves and therefore did not pursue any commercial purpose in the practice of sex. In France and Great Britain, too, “young girls” or “amateur girls” have become a much discussed phenomenon. The scope of the definition of prostitution meant that any form of sexual contact and extramarital sexual practice by a woman was soon denigrated as “prostitution”.

Brothel during the first world war

In Austria, the plolice was morally responsible for the regulation of prostitution and sex. It was responsible for the registration and medical care of prostitutes. In order to prevent the spread of sexual and, above all, venereal diseases, women who were registered by the customs police had to undergo regular compulsory examinations.
Unlike commercial prostitutes, the “secrets” were not recorded in the moral code and were therefore not subject to any medical control. The police did, however, make an effort to investigate and place women suspected of (commercial) sexual practices under their control.
Due to the increasing number of soldiers suffering from sexual diseases, the military authorities demanded stricter control of registered prostitutes and the so-called “sexual secrecy.”

Medical control of sexual diseases during the war

However, doctors and sexual health officials questioned the effectiveness of police surveillance and saw “secret” prostitution as a particular danger for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The Austrian army therefore tried to organize regular forced examinations for women in the hotel industry who, from a military point of view, represented a risk group for the spread of venereal diseases. However, massive civil protests prevented the processing of the application.

Commercial prostitution was widespread, popular and well known. It took place in separate brothels for soldiers and officers, which were controlled by military doctors and sometimes even operated by the soldiers themselves. In the brothels, control cards that contained regular records of health examinations were issued to the prostitutes. A prostitute identified as suffering from a sexual disease was immediately placed in a specially constructed hospital. Once she recovers, she can return to the brothel.

accountant soldier in a brothel

The German soldier “Erwin Blumenfeld”, who was appointed in 1917 accountant of a brothel in Valenciennes. He tells his story in a biography of which here is an extract.

“I had to fulfill my duty as an amateur accountant for the fatherland. Besides myself, eighteen ladies worked in the house, six of them exclusively for the officers. I had to record all the transactions in a bank account book. Each girl in the brothel had a number and behind this serial number I noted the room number, as well as the start and end time. In addition to that, in my diary I wrote down the distinguishing marks of identification. A mark for the girl, a mark for the owner of the house and two marks in red ink for the red cross. Let’s not forget that the red cross represented the moral responsibility of this military enterprise.