Fifty years after its inception, the birth control pill is having a moment in the media sun as Americans pause and reflect on the little disk that made big-time changes.
From USA Today :
The Food and Drug Administration approved the first pill in the first year of the Swinging Sixties, but the pill did not spark the sexual revolution. Nor did it cause a sudden drop in the U.S. fertility rate, which didn’t bottom out until the early 1970s.
“The charge in the 1960s was that the pill was responsible for the sexual revolution,” [McGill University’s Andrea)Tone says. “It was relaxing moral standards. … It was promoting promiscuity.” Yet, she notes, a 1953 Kinsey report on female sexual behavior — released years before the pill became available — found that half of all women had premarital sex.
What I find most noteworthy here has nothing to do with the pill, per se, but rather the idea that 50% of early ’50s women were sexually active before marriage. That’s just astounding! And in a situation where shotgun weddings, extended trips to a “sick aunt,” or illegal abortions were your choices, it’s little wonder that the pill came to be.
As for whether or not oral contraception played a key role in the sexual revolution, Fox News feels a bit differently.
The first form of the birth control pill, Enovid, revolutionized contraception and most argue it jump-started the sexual revolution.
Elissa Stein, co-author of “Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation,” told FoxNews.com that the pill started the beginning of a long-term cultural experiment.
“Birth control pills gave women control over their bodies in a way that was unimaginable before. Sexual freedom exploded as the fear of pregnancy was wiped away,” she said.
I’m, uh, going to have to go with Fox on this one (even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, right?). Okay, so half of all women had premarital sex according to a 1953 survey. Based on what I’ve read (and imagined conversations I’ve thankfully never had with my grandmothers), these experiences were either of the “one night stand” variety as a girl lost her virginity to a generally older and more experienced boy she was trying to impress or transpired between a couple formally engaged to each other.
Not gonna lie, being on the pill makes casual sex with numerous partners simple and painless (minus the STI factor, of course). When I was in high school, having one of those seashell cases was a freaking rite of passage. You got it at the Clinic so your parents didn’t know, you took it in the bathroom during lunchtime (or, if you were feeling very blatant, yelled out in the middle of class, “Oh, shit, I forgot to take my pill!” then snapped the thing opened and popped it while everyone—including the blushing teacher—watched), and you had sex with your boyfriend if that was your thing … or you took the smorgasbord approach. Some did … that’s okay. The pill made it all okay, even though some thought it made things worse.
So, uh, I got pregnant on the pill. When I was seventeen. Yeah, found out just weeks after I got my long-dreamed-of acceptance letter to Syracuse University (and five months before I graduated from high school) that there’s a reason they ask if you’re on any medications when you go to the doctor. I was at the pediatrician’s with a sinus infection; my mom was in the room, so I lied when they went to write a prescription for an antibiotic known to lower the effectiveness of the pill. Because I lied, because I never received that information, my life was changed forever. (Just want to add that my “pill baby” is now fifteen and absolutely fabulous.)
My own experiences notwithstanding, the pill made pregnancy a remote possibility. I think it’s short-sighted not to admit to a connection between this and the so-called sexual revolution. I don’t think there’s any other realistic way to look at it. As Fox News points out,
Before the Food and Drug Administration approved the first oral contraceptive on May 9, 1960, the only other birth control options were the diaphragm, condoms, the rhythm method, and in extreme cases, sterilization. Those were the more commonly used methods. More unorthodox solutions included vinegar sponges, olive oil, and even bleach.
Bleach? Dear God! Quick, let’s say it all together: “Happy Anniversary, BCP!”