Economist: The other pill that started the sexual revolution

Jan. 7, 2014

Andrew FrancisAndrew Francis, an associate professor of economics, recently won one of five Senior Superlative prizes handed out by the National Public Radio Show The Academic Minute. Francis topped the “Most Likely to Blow Your Mind” category for his evaluation of exactly which pill started the sexual revolution.

“Traditional explanations for this sexual revolution have focused on the spread of the birth control pill, increasingly permissive attitudes toward sex, and shifting moral values during the 1960s and 1970s,” Francis said in an interview broadcast on NPR. “Many interrelated factors undoubtedly played a role in shaping modern sexuality. Nevertheless, in a recently published study, I explored a rather surprising explanation: the discovery of penicillin.”

Penicillin led to a drastic reduction in the number of syphilis cases and deaths from 1947-1957, and Francis found that risky sexual behavior began to rise during the mid to late 1950s, a period coinciding with the drop in syphilis cases. He continued: “I also discovered that risky sexual behavior was inversely associated with syphilis deaths…. these results had fascinating implications. For one, they cast the sexual revolution in a new light. Also, they implied that the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s was facilitated by the collapse of syphilis in the 1950s.”

Francis published his findings in a 2013 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior

To hear the entire interview, click here.


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