In joshbirk's Answer to the question Hogwarts: So why aren't the kids doing it? he claims that wartime atmosphere would decrease sexual activity in the students:

Towards the end of the series / books, the overall tone and culture of the school is closer to that of one during wartime. The possibility of getting blown up can be a bit of a dampener on romantic outings.

In a comment on the same answer, Peteris makes the opposite claim:

Wartime' and the related fear, emotional stress & pressure would generally be an accelerating factor, making teenagers reach emotional adulthood (or the conviction that they have reached it) faster. In such a situation it would be far more likely for teenagers to experiment, and less likely to postpone or restrict things. "Going off to war" - in either literal or figurative sense - is a powerful instinctive reason to have sex now, while you still can. I won't dig for citations, but both biology and historical evidence (say, during WW2 right before war went over those places) supports this

Is there historical evidence to back either of these claims?

  • 2
    Also note that this question and the original thread are about teenagers, not necessarily unmarried or married adult soldiers.
    – joshbirk
    Jul 10, 2014 at 21:06
  • 2
    So broad as to be sociology. Dec 16, 2014 at 18:59
  • 1
    I don't object to a question like this on principle, but it needs scope conditions to be answerable. The answers below all focus on the US during WWII, and sure, I see how young men about to travel from the familiarity of home to a foreign war might be more open to the comforts of sex. But do we seriously think that this applies to countries being actively ravaged by war? I doubt Stalingrad or Leningrad were very sexy places to be.
    – two sheds
    Dec 16, 2014 at 19:12
  • Can this be narrowed down to a geography/state/culture? It is too broad in it's present form.
    – Rajib
    Dec 16, 2014 at 19:13
  • The fraction of guys in their hometown who visit prostitutes is pretty low. The fraction of soldiers who do the same is higher, as evidenced by the VD rates.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 16, 2014 at 19:41

4 Answers 4


The sources I've found to support Peteris' point is Joshua S. Goldstein's War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Here's a quote, taken from Google Books:

By some reports, "war aphrodisia" — common among soldiers in many wars — extended into many segments of society during "total war." Thus, among not only soldiers but civilians, "sexual restraint... [was] suspended for the duration." As one British housewife put it, "We were not really immoral, there was a war on".

I'm not personally familiar with Goldstein and his work, but it was published in the respectable Cambridge University Press and seems decently cited, according to Google Scholar.

Goldstein's chapter seems to have many citations back to a different book, John Costello's "Love, Sex and War - Changing Ways 1939-1945" which focuses mostly on WWII. Published by the University of Virginia and also cited by several dozens works (though much fewer than Goldstein's).

It seems to also use the "war aphrodisia" phrase, and ascribes this loosening of sexual taboos to the "total war" nature of modern 20th century warfare, where the fighting reaches every segment of the population:

'War aphrodisia', as it has been called, accentuates the disruptive physical impact of war on family life. The loosening of wartime moral restraints acts as an incentive to extramarital promiscuity and the unshackling of unsatisfactory marriage bonds. Historically it was a phenomenon confined to areas adjacent to the fighting, but the mobilization of entire populations necessary to fight a 'total war' spreads the hedonistic impulse throughout a society.

  • 1
    So I'll add my same note here as from the original thread. While I can certainly agree that war shifts values - that does not mean that it increased quantity - and I haven't been able to find any evidence of that. There is a difference between finding a prostitute an acceptable option and actually being able to perform the act. In other words, if there is no war and I am home - my wife and I might have sex X times a month. If at war, a prostitute might be an option, and we will have sex Y times a month. Which is greater, X or Y? Birth booms around seem to indicate X, not Y.
    – joshbirk
    Jul 10, 2014 at 20:41
  • @joshbirk, I don't think the question is really about overall quantity of X times per month, rather whether it changes an individuals threshold for participating at all.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Jul 10, 2014 at 22:07
  • 1
    @joshbirk Birth booms are also probably not a valid indicator. Have sex? and Have child? are two completely separate choices. Just because the moral thresholds have dropped on performing the act, it doesn't follow that people won't take steps to avoid or end unwanted pregnancy. And birth boom after the war would be because soldiers returned home and people wanted to raise families, and so worked toward pregnancies and babies.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Jul 10, 2014 at 22:12
  • The original question is whether students at a college which under threat are more or less likely to engage in sex. The "war aphrodisiac" isn't really an aphrodisiac, it is a loosening of certain morals which may or may not apply here. It does not show that someone under the threat of war is more likely to engage in sex, but rather that they are more likely to engage in unmarried sex. The subjects of the original question are unlikely to get married, so it is moot. Unless it can prove it raises the possibility of sex itself - which is my point, and I see no evidence that it does.
    – joshbirk
    Jul 10, 2014 at 22:30
  • 1
    And the inverse is essentially my argument. I can be OK with sleeping with every woman I meet - that does not insure an increase in actual activity (source: most teenage boys)
    – joshbirk
    Jul 10, 2014 at 22:34

War increases sexual activity. During WW2 the US (and othe countries) had to sponsor huge campaigns to fight venereal disease, particularly gonorrhea, which was a significant cause of casualties. In the US the notion arose that having unmarried sex with soldiers was acceptable. Large numbers of "dance halls" sprang up, where soldiers could purchase a "dance" for ten cents. This frequently equated to having sex with the woman. The women that frequented dance halls and bus stops were called "victory girls". There was no stigma attached to being one.

There are lots of books on the subject. One recent book is " Victory Girls, Khaki-Wackies, and Patriotutes" by Marilyn E. Hegarty (2007).

  • STDs can be a result of much more frequent and more careless use of prostitution during wartime. In peacetime it is much more easy to have more scuttled relationships, then if you are a soldier overseas in a war zone
    – Greg
    May 31, 2020 at 8:58

On example of this phenomenon, is this song, written in 1941, as America was "approaching" war.

It was actually written from the woman's point of view, for her man to give her "something to remember you by, when you are far away from me," and was an "invitation."

Prior to that, American women of the so-called World War II (and previous) generations had been restrained about sex, notably in the 1930s, when there was a "birth dearth," even among married women.

But the onset of the war led to the "liberation" of women, who started thinking and acting as if there were no tomorrow. It (slightly) pre-dated the "Rosie the Riveter" phenomenon that saw large numbers of women take factory jobs to support the war effort, and act more like men.


Andrew Roberts new biography Napoleon the Great contains the following relevant passage:

It is a well-known historical phenomenon for a sexually permissive period to follow one of prolonged bloodletting: the ‘Roaring Twenties’ after the Great War and the licentiousness of Ancient Roman society after the Civil Wars are but two examples.

Although the book includes very many references, this specific claim isn't backed up by a specific citation of primary literature or quantiative evidence. Nevertheless this may count as some support for the view that (preceding) wartime conditions increase (consensual) sexual activity in the young (and perhaps more). It appears where the author introduces Napoleon's first wife Josephine.

  • 1
    Cherry picking two convenient examples and ignoring all contrary evidence, is hardly sound analysis. Further, two examples total is merely anecdotal. May 30, 2020 at 19:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.