Since the discovery of the sexual transmission of syphilis, the social history of what today are called ‘sexually transmitted diseases’ in Italy has been so closely related to attempts to regulate prostitution that it is almost impossible to distinguish them. In the public debate the transmission of syphilis through non-sexual forms of direct contact – most importantly between nurslings and wet nurses – received much less attention. Writing in the first decade of the twentieth century, Iwan Bloch stated that the solution of the so-called sexual question was in the equation ‘no more prostitution, no more venereal diseases’. 1 However, the importance of the debate about regulated prostitution goes beyond issues of health: it created opportunities for men and women to discuss sexual matters in public. Yet, at the same time, the overhanging threat of disease and death set the tone for a negative and pessimistic vision of sex. The notions of disease, contagion and infection made it virtually impossible to avoid the moralistic approach already so common in the earlier religious discourse about the sixth commandment. The new struggle against venereal diseases (VD) thus provided the conceptual framework for discussions of the role of sexuality in Italian society. In the debate, the incidence of VD was often used as a yardstick for the more general state of the nation, and warnings against the dangers of revolutionary movements and ideas were phrased in a terminology derived from medical discourse.