Johnny Carson Joked ‘The Tonight Show’ Was as Effective as Oral Contraceptives Amid Declining Birth Rate

Johnny Carson spent 30 years behind The Tonight Show desk and tucked millions of Americans in nightly during that time. Early in his run, he humorously commented that he liked to think the show played a big a part in the declining birth rate in the U.S. And after he retired, one famous sex therapist argued he indeed had a major influence over what couples did in their beds at night.

'The Tonight Show' Band leader Doc Severinsen, host Johnny Carson, co-host Ed McMahon in black and white tuxedoes
(l-r) Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson, and Ed McMahon | Alice S. Hall/NBCU Photo Bank

Johnny Carson joked he influenced the U.S. birth rate as effectively as Enovid, the first brand of oral contraceptive

During a night on stage with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack in 1965, Carson told a few jokes — end even sang with Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin — for a good cause. The event was held to raise funds for the first halfway house opened in the U.S. For those who’d like to see, a clip of Carson’s monologue from that night is available on YouTube.

“I read last year that the birth rate in this country has dropped appreciably … and I like to feel my show is partly responsible,” he explained to the audience after having taken over as host of The Tonight Show in 1962.

Then, he joked the show may have been more effective than Enovid, the first brand of oral contraceptive. While the audience awarded him with plenty of laughter, one superstar sex therapist later explained how the beloved host could have actually impacted the birth rate, all jokes aside.

Dr. Ruth: ‘Johnny Carson has done more to ruin America’s love life than anyone else in the country’

Carson seemed just as happy to host baby orangutans as he was interviewing celebrities and knew a trick to entertain just about anyone. Famous sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer — or just Dr. Ruth — explained how the entertainer could have contributed to the declining birth rate (per Entertainment Weekly.) She essentially boiled her theory down to the influential host being a more appealing option than sex for many couples.  

“Johnny Carson has done more to ruin America’s love life than anyone else in the country,” Westheimer explained. “On any given night that he’s hosting The Tonight Show, there are 10 times more couples watching his monologue than making love.”

Notably, HuffPost reports “women tend to be in the mood at night between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.” according to data from a 2015 survey. So, many were spending most of that time with Carson most nights while he was on.

Westheimer pointed out that loads of couples were draining the last of their day’s energy watching The Tonight Show. In other words, “By the time they’ve exhausted themselves laughing at his jokes, they don’t have the energy for sex and simply turn out the light and go to sleep.”

When explained like that, there’s a lot more sense in the idea that Carson affected the U.S. birth rate.

Looking at birth rate numbers during Johnny Carson’s ‘Tonight Show’ run

According to Macro Trends’ Birth Rate chart, when Carson took over The Tonight Show in 1962, there were about 21.5 births per 1000 people in the U.S. When he left in 1992, births per 1000 people were down to around 15.5.

However, it is important to note that the birth rate has continued to steadily decline since 1992. And there are many other influences to consider, such as the introduction and advancement of new forms of contraception.

But, as Westheimer pointed out, it is also worth noting how millions of Americans fell asleep with the original king of late-night television for three decades.

RELATED: Betty White and Johnny Carson Disagreed That This Honor Was ‘Really Kind of Dumb’