People have been struggling through these last few months trying to figure out if it’s worth breaking quarantine to have sex or even just go on a date in-person. But it turns out, the 1918 Spanish flu can give us insight as to how “star-coughed lovers” played it safe when it came to passion. We can look back on the past pandemic thanks to newspaper clips and columns to see how they handled their love lives and getting frisky during the health crisis more than 100 years ago.
- One tactic believed to make hanky-panky safer was smooching through a handkerchief, or hanky. “If you must kiss, kiss via kerchief,” warned a handline in New York City newspaper “The Sun” on August 17th, 1919. “Otherwise you may get Spanish influenza, or it will get you.”
- Another old school idea for getting close to your sweetie was the “kissing screen.” A column in the journal “Popular Science Monthly” from 1918 called “The Pure and Germless Kiss” advertised a small racket that could be washed in antiseptic and then held between a couple’s lips to kiss. “Scientists warn us that kisses are unhygienic – transmitting all sorts of dangerous disease germs,” it reads, but the kissing screen assures it’s “guaranteed to kill all germs en route.”
- But an article in the Brooklyn newspaper “The Chat” from November 2, 1918 suggested that not kissing on the lips was the way to go. “Kissing should be stopped these days,” it explains. “If you must show your affection kiss on the cheek or forehead.”
- The article goes on to beg people to “Be Merciful” and to “Think before you telephone,” since thousands of phone company workers were out sick with the flu and hundreds had already died. People also shared public telephones in those days, so even calling your sweetheart was considered risky back then.