Happy Golden Anniversary, Birth Control Pill!

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!”

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38 thoughts on “Happy Golden Anniversary, Birth Control Pill!

  1. It bears repeating that oral contraceptives were not legal for anyone until 1965 – and it took a Supreme Court ruling to make them legal for MARRIED women only.

    It wasn’t until 1972 that they were available for all women.

  2. I’ve never used the pill and probably never will. I don’t want anything messing with my hormones. Condoms are just fine for me.

    • And you’re sufficiently comfortable with only the condom? I don’t love the idea of hormone-messing either, but I would need at least two forms to feel safe. But then, perhaps you’re just less opposed to the possibility of an accident.

      • We usually just stick to oral sex when I’m ovulating, and use condoms the rest of the time. I’m not saying an accident *couldn’t* happen, but I’ve never been particularly worried about it.

        • pill=$100 a year
          condoms=around $400.

          as long as the pill doesn’t impact my life in a negative way, i think i’ll be sticking with it for a while.

    • I’m totally ok with my hormones being forced into order. They’re horribly bitchy without the pill making them be civil.

  3. While I agree that the pill helped jump start the sexual revolution, defining the revolution as a time when women “gained” control of their bodies is plain inaccurate. From all of the research I have done in the past year on gender studies at Penn State and Wesley College, is that the sexual revolution took away a woman’s ability to say “no” to sexually free and aggressive men. read Bennett’s The Feminine Mistake and 1969:When Everything Changed. good books that cover a lot of material on domesticity and femininity.

    • No, it took away one big excuse to say ‘no’. Women HAVE the power to say no for any reason or no reason at all. Any woman who doesn’t exercise that is at her own mercy.

      It obviously does not change anything, but it did give control to separate sex from reproduction. To have sex without pregnancy. That’s a big part of control over your own body.

    • Hmm.

      Well, yes. I did, in fact live it. And I’m afraid that your information is horribly flawed.

      It is a fact that people of little to no self esteem can be talked into doing things that they don’t want to.

      This was true in 1702.
      And 1850.
      And 1950.
      Guess what? It is still true today.

      The Pill did free women. My mother and aunts actually held a huge party in celebration. You see, men were even less happy with condoms then than they are now. Whether or not they had a child was now in their power. All they had to do was remember to take a pill.

      I think that trying to explain this to you would be similar to trying to describe yellow to a blind man. You would have to live with the fear of pregnancy always over your head to understand how freeing being in charge of your own body is.

      You have always had that, so the very idea is a foreign one to you.

  4. A week ago I switched birth control pills as my last one stopped working, well this new one is going to be the death of me I’m sleeping 12+ hours a day and even after that I’m two days insomnia tired so forgive me if I don’t celebrate until I can switch from this damnable pill of doom. Normally I absolutely love bc though I still insist upon condoms.

  5. Kai, that may be true today, but the aforementioned “sexual revolution” begun in the 60′s and i have yet to meet someone who partook in that period of our history that had the guts or the gumption to say no. I don’t pretend to argue against its validity or necessity, but it really did open up a new can or proverbial worms. free sex for everyone because of the decreased chance of pregnancy ushered in a whole new era of “issues”our country had/has to deal with. the pill should be celebrated as the cultural device it is, something to prevent pregnancy, nothing more

    • That is what I am celebrating it for.
      It’s just that the ability to prevent pregnancy really means a lot for a lot of women. Married or not.

      As for the other point, Blurry says above everything I could have said.

  6. I am a raging monstrosity of a bitch when on any hormonal birth control. If someone would piss me off I would have vivid images in my head of choking them out and peeing down their throat. Not. Good. Thank you to whoever invented the paragard though I’m sure the pill was a way-paver for most modern bc forms.


    • I guess I am just pretty much impossible to please regarding birth control.

      I refuse to take anything that will mess with my hormones (or make me gain weight, for that matter). IUDs freak me out–I do not want a piece of man-made medical debris in my uterus, thank you very much. Surgery would just be silly since I do intend to have kids in the reasonably near future.

      Guess condoms are really the only way to go for me.

      • Ditto, Sydney. I’m not 100% comfortable with birth control screwing with my hormones. However, I damn sure was on it when I was humping my way across Texas! That point in my life was very different than the present for me! Now, my fiancee and I just use condoms, and the “No Sex During Ovulation” rule. We’re both a little skittish about getting pregnant before we get married (in November), so we’ve kind of slowed down on the sex a bit until then. But yeah, I was a hormonal raging psychotic bitch on birth control, and I really hated what it did to me.

        And yes, I tried different types: Ortho Tri Cyclen, Ortho Tri Cyclen Lo, Depo-Provera (which kept me from even having a period, which really bothered me), Nuva Ring, etc. None of them assisted with the raging bitch side effect. :( So, condoms it is! :)

        • What on earth bothers you about not having a period? As far as I’m concerned, that’s the next-best part!
          I hate the fact that my body keeps preparing for something I never want. If I could ditch that permanently, I’d be thrilled.

        • I’m terrified of the Depo shot, I’ve had pills that gave me solid migraines with no breaks until I got off them and I’m afraid if I got on Depo I might have a migraine for a year, and if the pill that gave me a solid migraine for the 18 days I was on that sucker is any indication I would fill a sack with puppies, kittens, babies and your grandmother to drown in the lake for no reason at all, I don’t even know your grandmother.

        • Eew. I had a pill that gave me migraines, although not as frequently as yours were I think. I’m still getting over that one.

        • The thought of not having a period really weird me out too. It may be annoying and inconvenient, but at least it’s a natural sign that everything is working the way it should.

  7. Hi there,

    I work for a radio discussion programme and we’re talking about how the pill has affected women’s lives on our show today in a few hours. We’re mainly interested in hearing from women and it would be great to speak to everyone who has posted a blog comment here. Please contact me at claudia.bradshaw@bbc.co.uk and I’ll explain more!

  8. just curious Blurry, how long did this “change” and revolution last. because from most accounts it only delayed the inevitable. and many including my own mother, aunts etc. became pregnant b4 marriage on the pill or otherwise. People will always complain about the condoms, but im sure they would complain about not getting any more. While the pill allowed more women to pursue careers etc, they gave it all back anyway. same goes today. how many women do you know that got degrees, started a career. and got pregnant either on or off the pill and gave up their “free-er” lives at the 1st sign of domesticity and stability..some revolution

    • Blurry has hit the nail on the head.

      “how many women do you know that got degrees, started a career. and got pregnant either on or off the pill and gave up their “free-er” lives at the 1st sign of domesticity and stability..some revolution.” With that statement you can define feminism today. The choice if that’s what we choose. Before the pill, the “choice” wasn’t there for the most part.

      I don’t know how you can say that the pill took away women’s freedom. If a women cannot say no to someone who want’s sex whether the birth control is there or not is a symptom of other problems. The argument you are reading about is saying that women now have to say yes to sex, since they cannot use birth control as an excuse?

    • Let’s not be ridiculous.

      Just because you may not want children at 18 does not mean that you won’t be ready and eager to have them at 30.

      The Pill gave us control of our reproduction, allowed us to delay or eliminate entirely childbearing. Women no longer were taking a chance every time they had sex that they could get pregnant. You weren’t more or less guaranteed that you would be a baby machine from your teen years (yes, teen – it was very common for women to marry at 15 or 16) til menopause.

      Imagine, if you will – how much you would enjoy sex if you feared pregnancy EVERY time.

      Hell. On. Earth.

      Now. Tell me if you understand females attitude towards sex in earlier times.

  9. 30 is exaggerated, more women are having children at a younger age than in decades. almost 1/3rd of teen girls will become become pregnant in the US. (pregnant teen help)so what controls have these “women” gained? once again the argument has come full circle to no one saying no. the pill has given false security.unmarried teens account for 1/4 of all unwed mothers.
    and for those who do wait until after college and a career, the numbers show that the avg age is more like 25 and it is actually dropping since 2005.
    as for understanding female attitudes, i only pretend to understand them now, from the women i talk with.

    • Are saying that 1/3 of all teens in America are pregnant? What?! How can that possibly be accurate? Where did you get this statistic?

      Or are you saying that 1/3 of teens WILL BECOME pregnant eventually? I am so confused.

      • I have to assume it’s a typo, Whit. It is actually more like 6 or 7 percent. The numbers have been pretty much steadily dropping over the years.

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