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The sexual revolution or liberation during the 1960s to 1980s has shaped the way we see sex today. It challenged traditional sexual behaviour in western society, which used to stipulate that sex should only happen within monogamous, heterosexual relationships. There has been many theories as to why there was such a drastic change in sexual behaviour. The most commonly accepted explanation was that this was the time during which oral contraceptive pill became widely available, however recent research would suggest that this increase in more ‘risky’ sexual behaviour was as a result of penicillin.
According to Dr Andrew Francis from Emory University in the United States, there is a clear correlation between medicines capability to cure conditions such as syphilis and the level of more risky sexual behaviour in society. Dr Francis explains that syphilis was like the HIV of the 1930s and 1940s in the United States. Meaning that there was no cure for it and it was spreading at an alarmingly fast rate, killing 20 000 people in 1939 in the US.
When penicillin was invented in 1928 and the became available for clinical use in 1941, mainly because the US military realised the importance of production of this vital medicine for their more promiscuous soldiers, there was finally a way to deal with this deadly STI. According to Dr Francis’ research, this lowered the cost of risky sex for many people. However, we have to bear in mind that the sexual revolution didn’t just start overnight, but gradually over the course of the 1940s and 1950s. The high rate of people infected with syphilis alone shows that there never existed a time when we were completely prudish.
It makes sense that the invention of penicillin, and no doubt other medications to treat sexually transmitted infections has an influence. I don’t think I am alone when I wonder if the sexual revolution would have had such a far-reaching effect if it were to take place now, in a time of anti-biotic resistant gonorrhoea and HIV? Would there have even been a revolution 20 years down the line?
The answer is: yes. These days most sexually transmitted infections are treatable with antibiotics or anti-viral medications, but the number of people being diagnosed are on the increase. Even Britain, who had a relatively stable number of people diagnosed with HIV, has seen a recent increase in cases. It’s 2013 and we are still essentially riding the same waves caused by our parents and their parents during the sexual revolution and we are still pushing the boundaries of sexual behaviour daily. Just look at the wide availability of pornography? Our strides may not seem so drastic in comparison with our forerunners, but they are still being made.
However, what if our generation and the next were to change current trends of unsafe sex? Forgetting old, out-dated theories of abstinence, but instead just simply embracing sexual expression in a safe and uplifting way. Let’s face it, sex is hear to stay, we may as well face it and move on to deal with the underlying issues of low self-esteem and misinformation with its toxic effects.