Penicillin initiated the sexual revolution

The Wages of Sin: How the Discovery of Penicillin Reshaped Modern Sexuality.

Abstract
It was not until 1943, amid world war, that penicillin was found to be an effective treatment for syphilis. This study investigated the hypothesis that a decrease in the cost of syphilis due to penicillin spurred an increase in risky non-traditional sex. Using nationally comprehensive vital statistics, this study found evidence that the era of modern sexuality originated in the mid to late 1950s. Measures of risky non-traditional sexual behavior began to rise during this period. These trends appeared to coincide with the collapse of the syphilis epidemic. Syphilis incidence reached an all-time low in 1957 and syphilis deaths fell rapidly during the 1940s and early 1950s. Regression analysis demonstrated that most measures of sexual behavior significantly increased immediately following the collapse of syphilis and most measures were significantly associated with the syphilis death rate. Together, the findings supported the notion that the discovery of penicillin decreased the cost of syphilis and thereby played an important role in shaping modern sexuality.

While the birth control pill delivered the coup de grace to old-time sexuality, if this article’s line of research is correct, it was penicillin that started the sexual revolution.

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5 comments
Hail says October 16, 2012

the era of modern sexuality originated in the mid to late 1950s. Measures of risky non-traditional sexual behavior began to rise during this period

What does this mean?

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J says October 16, 2012

How disappointing! I was almost convinced that the Frankfurt School made them do it.

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Mangan says October 16, 2012

“What does this mean?”

STDs other than syphilis and illegitimate births, one imagines.

“I was almost convinced that the Frankfurt School made them do it.”

The Frankfurt School was very cunning; they waited until the penicillin wind was at their back!

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J says October 17, 2012

🙂

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Anonymous says October 17, 2012

There are of course confounding variables, such as the one “J” mentions above. To tease apart correlation from causation you need experimental controls and you need to isolate the various variables. But the problem is that there are taboos against experimentation and closely examining certain variables.

It’s unlikely that prophylactics and penicillin were causal. There are religiously conservative cultures that have access to them and simultaneously maintain old-time sexuality. It’s more likely that they made certain societies more vulnerable to exploitation by certain cultures.

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