50 Years on the Pill: Our Bodies, Our Choices, Our Lives

More than 100 million women around the world begin their day by taking a birth control pill.

I was born in 1959, the same year that G.D. Searle & Co. applied for approval of “the pill.” The FDA gave that approval in May of 1960. Little did this tail-end baby boomer know that she was born into times of such historical significance for women’s reproductive health.

By the time birth control became an important issue in my life, the Pill was readily available by prescription; all it took was a visit to the doctor. That little Pill gave me, and millions of women the world over, the freedom to choose when and how many children we might like to have. Nature is a fickle thing and there are no guarantees, but we had more control over our reproductive lives than any generation that came before us — enabling us to take advantage of unprecedented freedoms.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. The latest issue of Time takes a fascinating and in depth look at the history and the controversies that began well before 1959 and continue to the present day.

Did the Pill cause the cause the sweeping sexual, gender, and societal shifts of the 60’s and 70’s… or was it simply one wave in a sea of revolutionary changes? One could ask the same question about The Beatles. War; civil rights; the women’s liberation movement, as it was called then; the smashing of gender and sexual stereotypes; rock ’n roll… oh, the times they were a-changin’.

The Pill was — and is — often used as a political pawn. The Pill, it was argued, might cut down on abortion rates and control population, thereby lowering risks of famine, war, and political instability. Opponents, on the other hand, issued grave warnings of sexual promiscuity, adultery, and the breakdown of the family. In fact, in its early years, some states declared it illegal to prescribe the Pill to women who were not married. It was not something “good girls” should want.

Like it or loathe it, the Pill profoundly changed women’s reproductive lives, giving them a larger measure of control; but it also changed how women thought in terms of their own futures. Women began waiting longer to marry and family size started to shrink. Women were able to put off having families in order to establish careers, and employers became a bit less reluctant to hire them. It is difficult to point to those changes as a direct result of the Pill rather than part of an overall movement. It is more likely a combination of many things.

Opposition from religious groups was present from the beginning and continues today, from the continuing argument over abortion rights and seeping into contraception issues. Fifty years later, we still have pharmacists and other health care workers who refuse to dispense contraception on moral grounds. The call for a return to more traditional values and less control over reproductive health translates into fewer freedoms for women on every level of their lives. The link between the two cannot be denied.

In a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teens are clearly confused about the Pill. Sixty-three percent of young men and women admit that they know little or nothing about birth control pills, and a lot of what they think they know is incorrect. And that’s 50 years after the Pill made its debut.

I went through my entire reproductive life in a way that my female ancestors, indeed my own mother, could scarcely have imagined. The Pill and other contraceptive choices were always available to me. I have never had to face the dreaded abortion decision, but throughout my reproductive years, I had the peace of mind of knowing that such a decision, difficult though it would be, was mine to make. I, and millions of women of my age group and younger have been most fortunate. We’ve lived a different kind of life than would have been possible in another time and another place.

So the Pill is 50 years old and reproductive rights have come a long way, baby, but nothing is etched in stone. Women of every age need to stay on top of the issues and vigilantly advocate for the freedom of choice. Our bodies. Our choices. Our lives.

Photo: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/349767


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Mekdes W.
Mekdes Workneh6 years ago

Dear Nena, I agree with you, that is the most healthy way, but does that work to all young women in our days? Consider:- 1. Today’s young woman is rushing in hurry, has lots of responsibilities which forcefully pilot her to be out for the count of those days.
2. Those days in question mark happen to be the days a woman feels the desire to contact, naturally nature’s scope to that desire of contact is conception and I think nothing is as difficult as trying to overcome nature.

Dear Nena, I am glad to be your friend too, if you copy Mekdes Workneh at facebook find friends search machine, you will find a mountain climbing profile, send me a friend request and you are welcomed.
Sorry for being late to reply.

Tim B.
Tim B.6 years ago

George Orwell wrote: "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Reproductive Rights is Euphemism for render yourself infertile at will. And if that fails, render the child in your womb lifeless. Is that freedom or tyranny?

Nena R.
Nena R.6 years ago

@ Mekdes

I am for the natural method, so called fertility awareness methods (FAMS).. that is my choice.

For me, love and supernatural grace, they go together. After all, God is love … and He it is who designs the nature of a man and a woman.. the “thinking” man and the “feeling” woman, they come from God ...

So Mekdes, I thank you for your friendship. Maybe you can post your e-mail or your network of friends? I would be glad to be your friend….

Jewels S.
Jewels S.6 years ago

I could not take the pill because it messed up my system when I took it. I am glad for those that find it useful but in the back of my mind it makes me feel like it was another way for the males of our species to get what they need easier. That may sound jaded but there are a lot of things we find normal in our society that if you stepped back and looked at it from a different view it would seem outrageous. They say it is safe but any prescription drug to me is not natural for our bodies. I am all for going back to the natural ways of using herbs and such. I think we as women need to redefine what we consider equality and analyze every aspect of daily life before we do any celebrating.

Sue Anne

I really like this article. It pointed out a lot of indirect effects of the pill, things that I had never even thought of before. I was born in the 80's, so I think it's really good to know more about reproductive history before my own conception. Another thing that I feel is important for people to know is that birth control pills are not just solely for contraception. The pill also has many benefits for anyone who has severe PMS symptoms, or other extreme fluctuations in hormones. I believe that a lot of people who do not agree with birth control are blinded by ignorance and a closed-mind. I think that if someone is going to oppose ANYTHING, they should at least do the research to understand what it really is and why they are really against it. I also think that if someone decides that birth control is immoral for whatever reason, that is fine, but they should not keep other people from making their own decisions. I think that each woman should be able to make her own decisions without Pharmacists, etc interfering. It is their job to dispense such items, just as a cashier cannot refuse someone tobacco based purely on their personal beliefs....and no, I do not smoke.

Mekdes W.
Mekdes Workneh6 years ago

Dear Nena, I understand what you mean, wish we can find an orderly way to go friendly with the law of nature, but is that possible in our days? Unfortunately no.
Please try to understand me, I didn’t mean trying to be smart and advocate in here, I meant to give time to be friendly with you and share what I thought I know and exactly as it’s taught to me. And if one day I plan to advocate something that will not be a drug, I am against the culture of drugs. I never use even Aspirin dose, the pill is the only tablet I swallow. It’s like I am forced to take it, and every time I pick up a pill, I feel some pain, don’t forget that the original definition of the noun “Pill” is = something unpleasant and painful that must be endured, I never forget that and I suffer, that is why I am concerned to learn more about it, and feel as if it’s my responsibility to share what I know with you and all my friends.
I am not conservative on any belief, if someone knows a better way of controlling birth, let us share that method too, that is why we are here, but please don’t tell me abortion, that is the worst of the entire evil choices.
Dear Nena, it’s like we are forced to chose from a set of devils unfortunately, what more one can do except being smart on choosing the most friendly and the least dangerous devil, considering the rest of devils are life-threatening.

with love!!!

Nena R.
Nena R.6 years ago

It is a “culture” of drugs, you are advocating in here, coz the pill is but one of them..

But I have confidence that today’s woman would also be that smart to know her nature well, her need and that of the need of her man. And address this need, again, in a smart and generous manner as befits her humanity..

Roisin S.
Roisin S.6 years ago

not what I expected from the title