In this era, 50 has never seemed so young – so it’s not an insult to call the pill middle aged! That’s right, May 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of the birth control pill. It also provides us with the unique opportunity to review social expectations versus reality in terms of the pill’s influence on reproduction.
First, let’s review American society’s predictions about the impact of the pill. For better or worse, people believed that it would:
• Ensure that every pregnancy was a planned pregnancy
• Give women control over their bodies and sexual decisions
• Enable worry-free sex
• Promote promiscuity
• Curb worldwide population growth
• Reduce divorce rates
• Create happier sex lives for married couples
• Be completely safe
Whew! That’s a lot of pressure to put on a little package of hormones. Needless to say, not all of this panned out. The major disappointments were as follows:
• Not all women had equal access to the pill for economic or social reasons.
• The world’s population continued to climb.
• Married couples did not notice significant improvement in their sex lives.
• Divorce rates remained stable.
• High-hormone pills caused blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes, especially in smokers.
Despite these downers, there were several unforeseen positive effects of unleashing the pill on the world.
• The average age of a woman’s first marriage went up.
• The number of women attending professional schools went up.
• Women achieved greater financial success in their careers.
So it wasn’t all bad. Throughout the past 50 years, birth control options have continued to diversify and enable women greater agency in their reproductive health. Physicians are able to tailor a woman’s contraceptive method to her particular health history, sexual preferences, and lifestyle. From the shot to the IUD to the vaginal ring, women from all walks of life are exploring their options and taking control of their bodies.
The most noticeable difference between now and 1960 is that we are currently experiencing a health care crisis in this country, and legislation is shifting toward a new system. Whether this will be positive or negative for women’s sexual health remains to be seen, but one thing’s for certain: the pill and its accompanying contraceptive options facilitate greater freedom for women, and they are definitely here to stay.