'Clean Living' is a Euphemism for... What?

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In 1946, there was a 29% increase in the cases of venereal diseases in New York City.  Interestingly, there was a correlative rise in flushed exclamations of catching VD from toilet seats, park benches, and bus seats.

WNYC was ahead of the curve, broadcasting public service announcements about how to avoid VD, or treat it if you caught it.  This recording is from the Stamp Out VD Campaign and features Joe Lewis punching a microphone as if it were syphilis, thus, “knocking it out.” (Punching is not an acceptable home treatment.)

Remarkably absent from these pronouncements is the Puritanical shame that marks so much of what we now associate with sexually transmitted diseases.  The all-male line-up of city officials and public figures offer information and statistics, only vaguely mentioning “clean living,” which is never defined, and may include anything from abstinence to safe sex to monogamy.

Compared to our modern-day hazy Valtrex commercials featuring an empty hammock, this recording of Mayor O’Dwyer literally shouting about eradicating VD for the good of the city is a welcome relief.  Although now -- 66 years later -- we have more information, prophylactics, and medication, this recording reminds us that contemporary approaches to STDs may not always be the most progressive.

Audio courtesy NYC Municipal Archives.