The importance of sexuality during World War II

Professor Sabine Fruhstuck presents on the historical and cultural aspects of sex and sexuality through the two main aggressors Japan and Germany. (Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus)

The Department of History presented its 54th Gender and History Visiting Scholar Series Public Lecture in the Homer Babbidge Library on Thursday evening. The speaker was Sabine Frühstück, a professor of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Being the first scholar to do basic training with the Japanese Self-Defense Force, Frühstück researches modern Japanese culture and investigates its relationship to other areas of the world.

The lecture was centered around the history of sexuality and sexual violence during the second World War. Frühstück opened with explaining the importance of studying masculinity and male sexuality in the context of war, since many military leaders believed sexual activity was healthy for battle. One quote she emphasized was by General George S. Patton of the United States Army: “A soldier who won’t f*ck, won’t fight.”

“There’s a lot of little things we don’t consider,” Riley Quigg, a seventh-semester history major, said. “When we talk about World War II, we always think about battles and numbers of people who died but there’s so many things to consider...sex is a core part of the human experience and it’s something we don’t really talk about at all.”

Frühstück mentioned that sexuality was considered taboo during wartime but was not enforced. The Japanese military targeted the health and hygiene of male subjects and the sexuality of soldiers. To do this, the military tried to manage the control of prostitution which led to organized prostitution in the form of “military comfort stations,” despite it being illegal. These comfort stations were created for the sole purpose of managing the sexual desires of the men.

The young women who wound up in these comfort stations were often there against their will. They were undereducated and poor or were sold by their families or misinformed about what they were being recruited for. Chinese, Korean and Dutch women who were under Japanese colonial rule were also forced into this kind of sexual slavery. During the day, they would work as nurses, seamstresses and cooks but were regularly raped at night.

The subject of the soldier’s sexuality was also of importance to the Wehrmacht Command. The Nazi regime wanted to suppress sexuality in order to prevent soldiers from potentially engaging in homosexual activity. The Nazis also employed sexual politics, such as honoring mothers with medals for the number of children they had birthed. Aryan men were not to desire women who were considered “racially inferior.” If they did, they would be thought of as not being loyal to the regime and were thus expelled from the party or even executed.

According to German law, rape was illegal and it suggested that soldiers who committed such acts would be severely punished or executed. This train of thought was common among the Japanese but never enforced. That is, unless the rape was so horrific that it would disturb the cohesion of the unit and would have a negative impact on performance of soldiers.

“Learning about how [sexuality] relates to a soldier’s morale...in different countries on both sides of the war is very interesting,” Quigg said.

Frühstück continued by saying that similar ideology was used in the United States. Propaganda would often insinuate that men who were not faithful to their wives would have their consciousness be ridden with guilt. As a result, this would impact the soldier’s ability to fight and was strongly discouraged. Once again, sexuality only became an issue if it directly affected a soldier’s fighting spirit.

Not only does Frühstück’s presentation teach students about the importance of studying that which often goes unnoticed in history, but it also sparks the idea that there is more to be examined in order to fully understand some of the atrocities committed during one of history’s biggest wars.


Brandon Barzola is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at brandon.barzola@uconn.edu. He tweets @brandonbarzola.