Venereal Disease, Prostitution, and the Control of Sexuality in World War II Vienna

in East Central Europe
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Abstract

The Nazi drive for racial order led to the implementation of an authoritarian public health system which systematically subordinated the rights of the individual to the preventive protection of the Volksgemeinschaft. This article focuses on the example of Vienna in order to address the history of venereal disease control, public health politics towards prostitution and medical persecution of socially undesirable behavior under the influence of the biopolitical agenda of the Nazi regime. Combining sexual and racist motives, VD provided the regime with powerful images evoking a threat to the “purity” of the community. On one hand, forced laborers were subjected to a strict segregation from the local population because they personified the threat of infectious transgression. On the other hand, the concern with VD infections led to the stigmatization of women as sexually promiscuous and “antisocial.” At the same time, the authorities undertook the systematic reorganization of extramarital sex in the city. The network of brothels set up for this purpose not only served to minimize the dangers of VD; they channelled uncontrolled sexual activities by providing men with outlets for their sexual needs and by subjugating prostitution to the control of the authorities. This indicates that the whole realm of illicit sex was subjected to the principles of economic rationality, hygiene, discipline and visibility, thereby adding the brothel to the classic set of disciplinary institutions.

Venereal Disease, Prostitution, and the Control of Sexuality in World War II Vienna

in East Central Europe

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