STD Awareness: Prevention vs. Punishment

Before antibiotics, syphilis could kill and gonorrhea was responsible for most cases of infertility. Both diseases could spread from husband to wife to baby, potentially destroying families. So you’d think medical breakthroughs in prevention and cures would be welcomed with open arms.

The actual history, like the humans who create it, is much more complicated.


Compassion, rather than fear and guilt, should guide medical practice.


During World War I, sexually transmitted diseases were a huge problem — second only to the 1918 flu pandemic in the number of sick days they caused (7 million, if you’re counting). The Roaring Twenties saw a sexual revolution, and by World War II, the military was once more fretting about losing manpower to debilitating infections that drew men away from the front lines and into the sick bays.

The armed forces did what it could to suppress prostitution and distract soldiers with recreational activities. But the human sex drive could not be contained: The vast majority of U.S. soldiers were having sex — even an estimated half of married soldiers were not faithful to their wives during WWII. Victory depended on soldiers’ health, so during both WWI and WWII, the military provided its sexually active soldiers with “prophylaxis,” medical treatments that could reduce risk for venereal disease — or VD, as sexually transmitted diseases were called back then.

Anyone who thinks condoms are a hassle or “don’t feel good” should read medical historian Allan M. Brandt’s description of a WWI-era prophylactic station, which soldiers were instructed to visit after sexual contact: Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • clintonHillary will not be backing down to anti-choice imbeciles. (Upworthy)
  • It’s not looking good for abortion clinics in Ohio. (USA Today)
  • And Michigan clinics are being affected as a result. (RH Reality Check)
  • Anti-choice ignoramus Lindsey Graham is absolutely positive that prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks is going to result in great things! (HuffPo)
  • Instead of taking their asses somewhere to help babies who’ve been born already, a bunch of #$%&^@# in New Mexico are tooling around in a van with graphic, gory (and probably fake) images of “late-term” fetuses who’ve supposedly been aborted. (Think Progress)
  • Just because you sign my paycheck doesn’t mean you get to dictate what I do with my uterus. When will that register with these people?!?!? (NYT)
  • OK, girls, let’s have a chat — if you don’t want to get pregnant, please use contraception. Don’t assume you have special uterine powers that will automatically repel an embryo from showing up at your uterus’ door. (Jezebel)
  • Politicos who try to interfere with women’s use of birth control are in for a rude awakening come election time. #StartPackingYourBags (PolicyMic)
  • Get a load of this tripe: The buffoon known as Rush Limbaugh thinks women have no agency in their reproductive choices and are being “turned into abortion machines” by Democrats. (MSNBC)
  • Interesting Slate piece on how the victims of the Hitler regime are affecting the abortion debate. (Slate)

“I Didn’t Want to Believe It”: Lessons from Tuskegee 40 Years Later

Located among longleaf pine and hardwood trees, low ridges, and broad floodplains, Tuskegee, Alabama, is a small town that’s been a big part of American history. Despite a modest population of less than 10,000 people, Tuskegee has been able to boast many notable residents who have made names for themselves in everything from sports to the arts. Among them have been the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American Air Force unit, which served during World War II, and Rosa Parks, the icon of the civil rights movement, who sparked the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.


The Tuskegee syphilis experiment, conducted from 1932 to 1972, examined the natural progression of untreated syphilis in poor, rural black men — without their informed consent.


Tuskegee, though, is also remembered for one of the worst chapters in the history of medical research. Forty years ago, in 1972, newspapers revealed the story of a syphilis study that was callous in its deception of research participants, and damaging, even today, in the distrust it sowed among black Americans. The study had started another 40 years prior, in 1932, when the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) needed to rescue a financially troubled syphilis intervention in Macon County, Alabama. The intervention was first established in partnership with a Chicago-based philanthropic organization, but its future was uncertain when the organization’s funds dried up during the Great Depression.

Syphilis, the sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, was the subject of conflicting scientific hypotheses at the time, including the hypothesis that the disease behaved differently in blacks and whites. Interested in testing those hypotheses and faced with disappearing funds for treatment, the USPHS turned its project into a study of untreated syphilis. Also influencing the decision was the fact that the USPHS was discouraged by the low cure rate of the treatments at the time, mercury and bismuth. But by the mid-1940s, penicillin was in use as a proven treatment for syphilis. In spite of that medical advance, the USPHS withheld treatment from a total of 399 infected patients by the time the study ended in 1972. Continue reading