Need help from an amateur or professional historian: Was there a particularly bad outbreak of gonorrhea about 1920? If so, I could imagine that it happened for the same reason that the 1918 Spanish Flu happened, that being World War I. For the first time, young American men were mass involved in military conflict outside the United States. They probably picked up a lot of diseases from European prostitutes, and spread it back and forth between themselves and other soldiers and other prostitutes, and even other European women who weren’t morally loose but were destitute because of war damage, so they had no choice but to trade sex to soldiers for money.
This article has the answer:
According to a history published in the journal Military Medicine, “In World War I, the Army lost nearly 7 million person-days and discharged more than 10,000 men because of STDs. Only the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 accounted for more loss of duty during that war.”
Of course, WWI also fueled the flu pandemic of the two immediate postwar years.
Also something else interesting:
Of course the big question is, did all of this “penis propaganda” keep the troops from getting STDs? Here’s the U.S. Army Medical Department’s Office of Medical History: “It can be stated very simply that the lowest venereal disease rates in the U.S. Army occurred during 1943 and that the rates began to rise in 1944, further increased in 1945, and showed marked increases after the cessation of hostilities.”
That’s not a big mystery. We were focused on bellicosity in ’43, but as we started turning the tide with win after win and after win in both theaters in ’44, and actually won in ’45, the men who helped bring about those wins and the ultimate victories turned their excitement and exuberance toward carnal pleasures, many times, to the point of criminality.