Sex & The ’60s: Why Did Condom Usage Decline During the Decade?

Vintage condoms (Collectors Weekly)

Vintage condoms (Collectors Weekly)

This week, we’re examining sexuality data from the 1960s, in celebration of the upcoming final half-season of “Mad Men” beginning Apr. 5th.

Everyone knows that the 1960s was a game-changer in terming of blowing sexuality wide open, and that we still feel the reverberations today. But one aspect of sexuality was negatively impacted during that timeframe: condom usage.

But why? It comes down to the economic principle of substitution, which holds that when the price of one good rises, demand for a similar good rises. (Picture coffee and tea in this scenario: If the price of coffee goes up, fewer people will want, or can afford, to buy it, so they’ll want tea.) In the 1960s, other methods appeared on the scene, and they became more popular to use, so the substitution effect took hold. Though price didn’t play into it, the effects were unchanged.

One method majorly stood out. Enovid, the first birth control pill, was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. (The contraceptive pioneered by Dr. Carl Djerassi, “the father of The Pill,” later got licensed under the trade name Ortho Novum.) Its popularity grew rapidly: 1.2M+ American women are on it in 1962, and then almost doubles to 2.3M+ the next year.

By the middle of the decade, 25% of couples used it, and 6.5M+ American women used it (but no data on the number of partnered versus single women who used it).

But that wasn’t the only birth control innovation. In 1968, the FDA also approved the first intrauterine devices (IUDs). Unlike today’s common T-shape, Dr. Hugh Davis’s Dalkon shield was egg-shaped with a number of dull spikes emanating from it. Within two years, the IUD had sold 600K+ in the U.S.

With these advances, it’s easy to see that the simple condom would’ve slipped out of public favor.



Dr. Carl Djerassi, Father of The Pill, Has Died

Dr. Carl Djerassi (Rutgers News)

Dr. Carl Djerassi (Rutgers News)

Modern contraception pioneer Dr. Carl Djerassi died last Friday in San Francisco. He was 91 years old, and had suffered from complications of liver and bone cancer.

Often called the father of The Pill, Djerassi found an essential component of the now-common family planning product. In 1951, while working as a researcher at Syntex in Mexico City, he and two others successfully synthesized norethindrone, a progestin that later provided the base of the modern birth control pill. Djerassi and his team received a patent for their discovery.

Initially, the scientists thought that norethindrone would help fertility, but they soon realized that it served another purpose. The team knew that progesterone inhibited ovulation during pregnancy. They modified the progestin’s basic structure and added ethisterone, a compound thought to be devoid of medical value. (Warning: science-speak ahead.)

Djerassi’s team found that they could change the structure of progesterone to increase its potency eightfold. This progesterone analogue was strong enough to work when injected, but lost its potency when administered orally…Djerassi’s group made the same chemical modification in ethisterone that they had earlier made in progesterone.

(Interesting side note: At the time, Djerassi wasn’t researching anything to do with conception when he and his team made his famous discovery. He was actually looking for a compound that could be used to treat cancer. Happy accident, as they say.)

After five years of clinical trials, the birth control pill began reached the mass market, and cracked 1960s sexual norms wide open. (And we’re still feeling the effects of it today.)

This wasn’t his only big discovery: Djerassi also patented the first antihistamine, the drug that prevents allergy symptoms.

During his lifetime, Djerassi received 34 honorary doctorates. He was also the recipient of the National Medal of Science for chemistry in 1973, and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1991. The two awards are the U.S.’s highest science and technology honors, respectively.

In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Djerassi also wrote plays (some performed off-Broadway) and science-fiction, founded a company to control insect growth, and started an artists’ colony in his property in California.

Dr. Djerassi’s contributions to family planning were, and continue to be, a boon to women the world over, and his work will continue to hold great value for the coming generations.

Thank you, Dr. Djerassi. Thank you.



Will In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Replace Sex?

Couple in bed

Couple in bed

Dr. Carl Djerassi recently predicted that sex would become purely recreational by 2050 since so many women are having children via in vitro fertilization (IVF). But do the numbers bear this out?

Earlier this year, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology released a report examining success rates from many IVF clinics. The report revealed that in 2012, IVF clinics performed 165K+ procedures, out of which 61K+ babies were born. Therefore the year had a 37%+ success rate. Two thousand more babies were born in 2012 than in the previous year, and 2012 also had the highest percentage of babies born through IVF thus far.

Dr. Djerassi also remarked that advances in IVF technology will allow parents without fertility problems to consider the procedure. This would, in turn, free up the potential parents (and everyone else) for consequence-free sex.

And Dr. Djerassi would know about recreational sex: In 1951, he helped invent The Pill.