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

Tuesday, September 04, 2012 - 01:00 PM


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.


William O'Dwyer


More in:

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About Annotations: The NEH Preservation Project

In September 2010, WNYC's Archives and Preservation Department initiated a two-year archival digitization project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its goal is to reformat 660 hours of choice recordings from the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC collection found on lacquer disc and open reel tape.

For more information, please visit the 2010-2013 NEH-Funded Preservation Project page.

Browse the collection

The 2010-2013 NEH-Funded Preservation Project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this web resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Supported by