Rumor Doctor blog archive

Are new recruits secretly given saltpeter?

This week, The Rumor Doctor is going old school by looking into a military myth that goes back generations and suggests that new recruits are secretly fed saltpeter to repress their sexual desires.

The term saltpeter refers to potassium nitrate, a salt used in explosives, which is supposedly also an anti-aphrodisiac. Military experts were unable to say when or where this rumor started, but representatives from each of the services strongly denied it.

“First, that would be improper to do without telling our young recruits,” Army spokesman Col. Daniel T. Williams, said in an e-mail. “Two, the rigors of basic training alone are sufficient to keep the urges at abeyance.”

For most people, “sex takes a back seat” under the physical and mental stress of military training, but different people react in different ways, said Jennifer Bass, a spokeswoman for the Kinsey Institute, which does research into sex, gender and reproduction.

“Most people when they are under stress are not interested in sex,” Bass said. “There are other things going on that are more important that they have to take care of physically and emotionally, and usually those two have to be working together for sexual response to happen. But there are some people who do find that they feel more sexually excited when they are under stress.”

Meanwhile, the Marines require all food served to recruits be “wholesome, honestly presented and labeled per federal law,” said Corps spokesman 1st Lt. Brian “Scott” Villiard.

“Keep in mind that it’s not just recruits that dine in our recruit messing facilities but all authorized patrons (active duty & civilian guest.),” Villiard said in an e-mail.

The Navy also does not feed the substance to recruits, said service spokeswoman Sarah King.

And Air Force spokesman David E. Smith said in an e-mail: “Though the rumor persists in some imaginations, for the Air Force it has never been true.”

Unprepared to take four no’s for an answer, The Rumor Doctor then went to the Defense Logistics Agency to see if saltpeter was a secret ingredient in food for deployed troops.

“The short answer is ‘no, nada, no way!’” DLA spokesman Dennis Gauci said in an e-mail. “The longer answer is ‘no, nada, no way is something put in the food served to troops to suppress their sex drive.’”

On a personal note, Gauci said he heard this rumor 50 years ago when he went to summer camp.

“I had no idea what any of it meant,” he said. “But since a couple of the older 10-year-old boys swore it happened, then we all thought it was true.”

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: False. No funny business here.

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