Journal of the History of Sexuality 11.1 and 2 (2002) 223-255
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Sex with a Purpose:
Prostitution, Venereal Disease, and Militarized Masculinity in the Third Reich
Annette F. Timm
Trinity College, University of Toronto
Sex in the Third Reich was for too long a virtual terra incognita for historians of Germany. There was an understandable desire to avoid providing titillating details about so murderous a regime. Still, the paucity of research on the subject meant that a rather one-sided understanding of Nazi attempts to harness the sexual energies of German citizens emerged, and that initial interpretation has only recently begun to be replaced with more complex analyses. This essay contributes to the effort by exploring how Nazi attitudes toward sexuality and masculinity were expressed in policies on prostitution and the control of venereal disease. This specific vantage point requires us to go beyond a simple argument that Nazism was sexually repressive. The totalitarian impulse to make even the most private of human activities serve national goals meant that Nazi leaders sought not only to define acceptable sexual behavior but to redefine sexual acts as acts with public—not simply private—significance. Sex and reproduction were crucial elements of population policy, indispensable in the formation of a strong state. This followed from the fear that a declining birth rate and the spread of congenital and endemic disease would weaken the nation, a fear compounded by Nazi racial ideology and German expansionist dreams.
On the surface, most National Socialist propaganda that bore any relationship to sexuality concerned itself with issues of reproduction. The advertised goal of health and welfare policy was to promote large Aryan families to ensure the survival of the racial state that the Nazis wished to create. However, while extolling the virtues of the chaste Aryan family, Nazi leaders simultaneously provided support (both verbal and financial) for various kinds of extramarital sex. Three examples come immediately to mind. First, sexual crimes were committed under military authority and in [End Page 223] the concentration camps during the war. 1 Second, in his October 1939 order, Himmler argued that truly patriotic and racially valuable Germans should produce illegitimate children to strengthen and replenish the warring nation. These two examples lie mostly outside the scope of this essay, which will focus instead on the third form of nonmarital sex condoned by the Nazi regime: prostitution. Having branded prostitutes as asocial, sending tens of thousands of them to concentration camps in the early 1930s for "conspicuously . . . inciting immoral acts," 2 the regime eventually came to treat prostitution as a necessary sexual outlet for productive male citizens. Primarily under Himmler's influence, the regime came to accept prostitution as necessary for satisfying male sexual drives, which, if left unsatisfied, would lead men into homosexuality, dampen their fighting spirit, or diminish their labor productivity. This logic led to the construction of brothels for soldiers and "ordinary" Germans and, by 1942, for slave laborers and concentration camp inmates. The regime's sponsorship of prostitution greatly complicates the idealized imagery of Nazism's support for a nation of chaste families.
This essay will discuss the apparently contradictory stances toward sexuality in the Third Reich by examining the regime's policies on prostitution and venereal disease control and by presenting examples from a local case study of Berlin. A study of prostitution encourages a reconsideration of some common assumptions about National Socialist attitudes toward sexuality. On the surface, support for prostitution seems to conflict with the findings of voluminous historical research on Nazi propaganda about sanitizing family life and promoting policies designed to encourage German citizens to limit sexual activity to the production of as many "racially fit" children as possible. 3 The regime's public support for chastity, however, masked the intentions of several party leaders to put the sexual urges of the population to work for the national cause. One might argue that this contradiction simply reflects well-known tendencies within the Nazi Party of in-fighting and fiefdom building by well-placed individuals. Many...