Mt. Vernon Register-News

CNHI Special Projects

February 5, 2013

Did penicillin cause the sexual revolution?

Ask most people to account for the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and they will likely say something about improved access to birth control (as well as improved access to Jefferson Airplane and shrooms). But Andrew Francis, an economist at Emory University, wants to give a little credit to penicillin, too.

 What does the antibiotic have to do with free love? In 1943, scientists discovered that it could treat the STD syphilis, which had been spreading steadily across the United States - and especially through the army. As penicillin shots became more available in the '50s, syphilis deaths declined and risky sexual behavior - as measured in gonorrhea rates, teen pregnancies and illegitimate births - increased. These indices of erotic adventurousness, in other words, were rising way before abortion and the pill became an accepted part of women's reproductive lives during the '60s and early '70s.

Of course, penicillin didn't cause the swinging '60s full stop. Many historians credit progressive social forces that were already germinating in the straight-jacketed '50s. The legalization of the pill and the growing acceptance of abortion couldn't have hurt either. But Francis does make a suggestive case for penicillin's contribution to the decade's freewheeling ways, linking the rise in sexual risk-taking after the syphilis epidemic deflated to the rise in same after a new AIDS treatment came out in 2000.

 The study proposes another weird/ironic chain of cause and effect too. Because "the advent of penicillin may have produced analogous effects on sexual behavior as the advent of HAART [an anti-retroviral drug]," Francis argues, it's possible that the "spread of HIV may have been facilitated by the collapse of syphilis." In other words, people were less worried about doing it once syphilis left the picture, so they didn't take the precautions that might have safeguarded them against AIDS. Francis, the economist, thus offers a few words of caution to health policy makers: "To focus exclusively on the defeat of one disease can set the stage for the onset of another if preemptive measures are not taken."

But that shouldn't stop us liberated women from silently offering penicillin a prayer of thanks next time we embrace the legacy of free love.

 

 

1
Text Only
CNHI Special Projects
  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Google acquires drone maker Titan Aerospace to spread Internet

    Google is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.
    The Internet search company said it acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides customer access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    April 14, 2014

  • E-Cigarettes target youth with festivals, lawmakers say

    The findings, in a survey released Monday by members of Congress, should prod U.S. regulators to curb the industry, the lawmakers said. While e-cigarettes currently are unregulated, the Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan that would extend its tobacco oversight to the products.

    April 14, 2014

  • Why Facebook is getting into the banking game

    Who would want to use Facebook as a bank? That's the question that immediately arises from news that the social network intends to get into the electronic money business.

    April 14, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks