The conventional story is the 1950s were happy but dull, whereas everything changed in the 1960s. We have constructed this elaborate cultural myth about youth rebellion, war protests and The Pill. The Sixties, we are told, is when young America rose up in a mighty roar of fast cars, furious rock and free sex. Economic researchers at Emory University beg to differ.
While the idea of free love is supposed to have started with the birth-control pill, Professor Andrew Francis says, no. "It was not The Pill beginning in the 1960s but the use of Penicillin beginning in the 1950s." The new age of promiscuity got under way once Penicillin arrived to control sexually transmitted disease like syphilis and gonorrhea. "Teen pregnancies and extra-marital births spiked in direct proportion to the success of Penicillin."
The new research tells us the fear of STD back then was comparable to today's fear of AIDS, because these sexually transmitted diseases were often fatal. Penicillin cut infection rates by a whopping 95%.
I remember all those grainy B&W movies in the Air Force warning us of STD. But as this danger receded in the 1950s, there was a lot of extra-marital sex going on the backseats of a lot of finned cars. "The 1950s are associated with prudish, more traditional sexual behaviors. And yet, while that may have been true for many adults, it was not necessarily so for young adults."
Looking back at my own young adulthood in the 1950s, I'm starting to reassess all that bragging we had to endure in the locker room. I, appropriately prudish and traditional, used to dismiss my buddies' tales of sexual conquests as mostly male ego....
....but now I'm wondering. What were they really doing? And what was I really missing?
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