Those cheesy anti-STI slogans from your middle school health class actually have — surprise! — misguided historical roots.

Starting in the late nineteenth century, the US government and public-health agencies started churning out PSAs about the danger of STIs, or "venereal diseases," as they were called back then. Public-health reformers started the American Social Hygiene Association (now known as the American Sexual Health Association) in 1914.

They launched the first major anti-VD campaigns out of their New York City offices...


...but the anti-STI hysteria took on a new, woman-blaming tenor during World War I.

Military records show the army discharged more than 10,000 men due to STIs during the war. In fact, STIs accounted for more losses than any other wartime disease, except for the great flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919.


The army responded by crafting public health campaigns to curb the spread of disease.

STI poster
photo: Zazzle

Along with informational posters, the army distributed pamphlets, and even fictional movies about soldiers who contracted STIs while deployed.


Some PSAs encouraged men to practice restraint.


Others promoted safe-sex practices.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, public-health officials recognized the limits of the self-restraint approach after World War I. They began promoting condom usage and medical treatment as a way to deal with STIs.


But many of the posters just outright blamed women.

"While posters generally made prophylaxis the soldier's responsibility, women were invariably represented as the cause of the venereal disease problem," the National Library of Medicine found.


Most of these poster featured glamorous, alluring female figures…


...and warned against falling into their "trap."

(The slut-shaming though...)


They often referred to these women as "pick-ups..."


...and included some ~*extremely dubious*~ statistics about them.

In reality, the women likely should have been more wary of the men: It's estimated that 43 out of every 1,000 soldiers in WWI had an STI.


Some posters contrasted these foreign vixens with the well-behaved women back home.


But others cautioned that these "good girls" only ~looked~ clean.


These campaigns may be part of the reason that people with STIs are stigmatized today.

As recently as 2006, more than one-third of Americans said they would be uncomfortable even just living with someone with HIV.


And research shows that the stigma doesn't actually combat the spread of diseases anyway.

In fact, researchers found that stigmatization can encourage people with STIs to become more secretive about it, leading to even higher incidence rates overall.

But you stay slut-shaming, America.