18,000 men a day were sidelined by sexually transmitted diseases during World War I
Graphic posters were commissioned to keep WWII enlisted men from the same mistake
You’ve heard of Rosie the Riveter, the poster gal of World War II, right? She wasn’t the only feminine character to make a huge impression on the men in the 1940s military. Meet the shady ladies of venereal disease: the “Bag of Trouble” poster girl and her friends. They were created courtesy of the U.S. surgeon general, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Federal Security Agency in the early 1940s and given a modern audience by Ryan Mungia’s book “Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II.”
Dubbed “penis propaganda,” these attractive women were deliberately drawn with deeply etched red lips designed to entice a man into paying attention to something that wasn’t talked about openly: sexually transmitted diseases.
Why was the government entering such covert territory? Because it didn’t want history to repeat itself: On any given day during World War I, about 18,000 men were taken out of battle by venereal disease, and it could take a month of treatment before each man was ready to return to the front.