Jagged Little Pill: The Birth Control Pill Turns 50!

Happy Birthday, Pill!  On this day in 1960, the FDA approved the birth control pill for public consumption, forever changing the way we view fertility.  After two years, 1.2 million women in America were using the contraception.  Today, approximately 12 million women in the U.S. and 100 million women worldwide use the pill.

President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) Cecile Richards said,

“The availability of the pill has literally reshaped the lives of women, men and families across the country and around the globe.  This highly effective oral contraceptive enables women to plan their own futures in ways they never could before by deciding the timing and spacing of their children, as well as by being able to decide to pursue more education and employment before they start their families. This is one pill that literally changed the world and the way we live.”

As I was flipping through the channels earlier this week, I heard an ad for a segment on the Today Show regarding the possibility of a birth control pill for men.  They questioned whether it would relieve the burden of contraception off of women.  I am completely for equality between the sexes.  I think it’s wonderful when both men and women partake in protecting themselves sexually.  Just as there are now female condoms, it would be great if there was a male oral contraceptive.  However, I don’t think this would alleviate any strain off of women as I don’t view the pill as a “burden,” but rather as a tool of empowerment.  It allows women to take charge of their bodies and sexuality; deciding if and when they want to have children.

The pill’s ubiquity can be attributed to heavy marketing, beginning with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger in the 1910s.  Dr. Christiane Northup, author and OB/GYN, wrote on Huffington Post,

“Because of its convenience, the pill remains the most popular method of birth control in the United States. It also fits well with society’s view of the female body as something that requires outside control.  Though there are other reliable methods of contraception, birth control pills have been “pushed” by the medical profession as the optimal method of contraception for the last half century.”

Historian Elaine Tyler May, in her new book America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation, chronicles the history of the pill, praising it as it “played a key role in the movement for reproductive rights…”  However, she also acknowledges that it’s not the ideal contraceptive, (the IUD, patch and implant are more effective) nor was it the panacea that some hoped.  Yet the impact the pill had on women and society remains undeniable, particularly in enabling women to plan their careers and opening up the dialogue for reproductive rights.  May writes,

“After fifty years on the market, has the pill fulfilled the utopian dreams it inspired in 1960?  The answer is yes and no.  The pill did not solve what many at the time saw as the most pressing problem facing the world: the population explosion.  Nor did it put an end to war or poverty…Although the pill was not responsible for the emancipation of women, it did provide an important tool for millions of women to effectively control their fertility, freeing them from fears of pregnancy and constant childbearing and enabling them to take advantage of expanding opportunities for education, employment, and participation in public life…In their personal lives, women found that the pill opened up conversations and contributed to increased intimacy not only with their male partners but with their female friends and relatives.”

It’s interesting that the day we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the pill coincides with the celebration of Mother’s Day.  It might appear that the two could be at odds.  But the pill allows for choice.  Whether women wish to have children or be child-free, they’re able to control their own fertility and determine what’s right for them.  As May wrote today in an article for the Washington Post,

“The pill was not anti-mother; it was for mothers. And it changed motherhood more than it changed anything else.  Its great accomplishment was not in preventing motherhood, but in making it better by allowing women to have children on their own terms.”

Women living on their own terms…that’s what true empowerment means to me.  So let’s all celebrate both the freedom of choice and moms everywhere!

5 thoughts on “Jagged Little Pill: The Birth Control Pill Turns 50!

  1. There are condoms for women?
    I had no idea…
    How does it work?

    Personally, i never liked condoms.
    The handful of times that i’ve actually HAD sex, only one girl insisted i wear one.
    I remember debating the issue like a stubborn child, in the heat of the moment, ultimately ruining the facade of romance that i had worked so dilligently to build up.
    If your drunk, it’s like playing “Beat the clock”, trying to unravel the thing with unsteady hands.

    I would have welcomed a birth control pill for men, and i would have had no problem taking it.
    “Hey man, i’m on the pill…”
    It has kind of a cool ring to it.

    Do women still use diaphrams (Spelling?)?
    I remember hearing about these devices, in hushed tones, in the early eighties.

  2. Yes, Virginia, there are condoms for women! They are made to fit the vagina, rather than the penis, so they look strange at first, but they are certainly a viable option, if you’re tired of the traditional kind. They’re not made of rubber, so they don’t have that gross smell.
    I used a diaphragm for a while, and that worked for me too. What I liked best about it were:
    1) the woman can insert it hours ahead of time, so there’s no interruption during the act (if you know about it ahead of time, that is)
    2) let’s hear it for skin-to-skin contact!!! and
    3) much more earth friendly than having to throw away a condom every time, and doesn’t have the side effects of hormones.
    I tried using the sponge, and I liked it for reasons 1 & 2 above, but I felt like it was more wasteful than a condom.
    Another option that worked for me was using contraceptive film. It’s like a Listerine strip–you know, kind of the texture of a thin fruit rollup, but melts quickly with heat and moisture. Well, the lady puts it you-know-where, and there’s no messing around with spermicidal creams or jellies. Again, works ahead of time, skin-to-skin, and very little to throw away. Unfortunately, when used alone, it’s the least effective of the above methods, so I usually used it along with some other backup.
    I took various brands & strengths of the Pill for years, but always had side effects of one kind or another. I prefer non-hormonal contraception for myself, but it’s a wonderful thing for people who don’t have any problems with it. Go Pill!
    Side note: in my Swedish phrasebook, one of the standard, pre-translated phrases is “I’m on the Pill”. Yay for travelling in Europe!

  3. Hey, my name’s not Virginia!

    Well, it sounds like someone is getting more than their fair share of the action…
    While i’m seeking out Katy Perry “fakes” on the internet, Sarah is demoing an array of contraceptive devices.
    Rock on, Girl!

    It’s amazing anyone gets pregnant, with such a wide assortment of choices: Condoms, sponges, Diaphrams, pills…
    There’s even strips.

    Thanks for the info!

  4. Yeah for the pill! Not only did it change women’s lives for the better through birth control, but it is a lifesaver (literally in my case) for women with reproductive health disorders. Nowadays endometriosis is easily, and inexpensively, treated with the pill, whereas before the pill women with the disorder often suffered untreated lifelong chronic pain, sterility and had life threatening internal bleeding. Granted, the pill can’t cure or prevent all of those issues, but the treatment of endometriosis improved vastly after the pill was introduced.

    On a side note: I’m so proud that our Julian is learning so much here!

    • I’m going to have to google, “Endometriosis.”
      It sounds sinister, like some sort of prehistoric beast, that once walked the earth.

      But, Deirdre, i honestly had no idea “the pill” had life-saving benefits, and i’m glad you mentioned this.
      There’s a lot of information exchanged on this blog!

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