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  • Jon Knowles

Booby traps

Updated: Jun 23, 2019


A World War II U.S. government poster to get GIs to avoid sex infections (Brandt, 1987, fig. 19).

Fintan O’Toole needs to brush up on his American history. He uses his review of Noelle Gallager’s Itch, Clap, Pox: Venereal Disease in the Eighteenth-Century Imagination to scold our current president for his odious views of women. It appears in his “Vile Bodies,” in June’s The New York Review of Books.


He calls Trump to task for his hateful belief that only women cause sex infections. Fair enough. But he further claims that Donald’s view is unusual and ahistorical. He argues, weakly, that men gave up this belief as far back as the 19th century. But to do this he overlooks the real history. In fact, America indicted all women interested in sex as “booby traps” for infection for most of the 20th century. Men were only victims as they fell into those traps. Here are just a few brief examples:


During the First World War, the military warned GIs that all women, not only sex workers, carried sex infections. It had the government police “flappers” to keep them from spreading them. Women agents policed the streets across America on the look out for “wayward” girls. The Public Health and Research Act of 1918 allowed authorities to detain and examine any “person” they thought might carry a sex infection. They detained more than 15,000 women. They only charged one out of three as sex workers. And they only detained one guy.


By the time of World War Two, the military and government saw all women equally as “booby traps” for syphilis and gonorrhea. They arrested so many of them for being “too sexy” that there was no longer room for them in jails, and the government had to open 30 “civilian conservation camps”. It warned GIs this way:


Avoid prostitutes, Pick-Ups, Push-Overs and “Easy Women.” They are not and cannot be

made safe. Pick-Ups and other “easy women” are by all odds likely to be infected too.

Another thing to remember is that a girl, free of infection at one time, may now have VD

and can easily pass it on to you.


Men were not responsible.


Trump and a whole lot of other men still embrace this nearly universal 20th century point of view. It lasted until medicine and safer sex decreased the cases of gonorrhea and syphilis at the end of the century.


Our history is important, and we need to own it. We also need to stop seeing our president as an uncommon man. The fact is, he is a very common man —in most all meanings of the word. That’s what makes him so dangerous.


For citations, see How Sex Got Screwed Up, Book 2, pages 296–305.

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