Did Improved Contraceptives Lead to More Sex?

What was feared: The introduction of the pill and IUD in the 1960s triggered speculation that one feature that made these methods appealing to women—their convenience—would reduce women’s concerns about unintended pregnancy and lead to a higher frequency of sexual activity.

What the research showed: In a 1974 article, Charles F. Westoff explored this question using data collected in the 1965 and 1970 National Fertility Studies, which asked married women aged 44 and younger how many times they’d had intercourse in the previous four weeks. The mean, Westoff found, increased by 21% between surveys. However, increases occurred “in different degrees…for women who did not use contraception and for those who did and, among contraceptors, for virtually every type of contraceptive use.” Westoff could only speculate as to the reasons for the heightened levels of sexual activity; he suggested that they may have included an increased use of highly effective methods, attitudinal changes and a greater willingness of survey respondents to discuss their sexual behavior in 1970 than in 1965.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine