Sex

This Day in History: The Pill

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On May 9, 1960, the FDA announced its intention to approve the first pill for contraceptive use. After four years of clinical trials, a 10 milligram pill called Enovid received the OK (though it had already been approved for use as a treatment for "menstrual disorders" three years before.)

The 100 million women on the Pill today (and their menfolk, one assumes) agree: This is an anniversary worth celebrating. Others beg to differ.

Read a great big-picture article on the ways "prescription laws make us sicker and poorer"–with a focus on contraception–from Kerry Howley, here. More on the Pill here.

Hilarious image of woman fighting off the stork via Wired.

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  1. So… beating up the Stork with a parasol is like the Oldtyme-y version of a coat hanger in a backalley?

  2. In unrelated news, the illegitimacy rate is (to put it mildly) somewhat greater than in 1960.

    But we have a solution – put scare quotes around words like “illegitimate,” so as to define the problem out of existence.

    Problem solved!

  3. So…are women happier in 2007 than they were in 1959?

  4. In unrelated news, the illegitimacy rate is (to put it mildly) somewhat greater than in 1960.

    But we have a solution – put scare quotes around words like “illegitimate,” so as to define the problem out of existence.

    Problem solved!

    Given the relative probabilities of sex resulting in pregnancy with oral contraception vs with out it, the pill is likely contributiong to of the “solution” of that particular “problem” more than removing the scare quotes from “illegitimate” would.

  5. Dan T.,

    Without looking it up, I’ll wager that they are.
    Would you wager that they are not?

    or should I just ignore you because you are trying to troll?

  6. So…are women happier in 2007 than they were in 1959?

    I think it’s weird to talk about “women” as if they were a monolith.

  7. Yeah, in the presence of women men go back to being monkeys instead of the other way around.

  8. Regarding the prescription drug article, I’m an insured woman with plenty of sick time. I still have trouble getting the pill–probably because there are hundreds of thousands of women like me who have to visit the doctor every year to get a few words scrawled on a flimsy piece of paper. My own doctor is currently making appointments for this service well into August.

  9. In unrelated news, the illegitimacy rate is (to put it mildly) somewhat greater than in 1960.

    You’re right! Since contraceptives only work when you actually USE THEM, this is all the more reason to make sure that American’s have better access to effective birth control by removing the financial, religious, social, and educational hurdles that keep those most at risk from unwanted pregnancy from using them.

    But we have a solution – put scare quotes around words like “illegitimate,” so as to define the problem out of existence.

    In the “Good Old Days” of “Christian morality” that family-values-fascists love to point to,
    the solution is to call single-mothers “harlots,” “strumpets,” “sluts” and “whores” while simultaneously dubbing their offspring “bastards” and treating both like animals.

    Of course, in these enlightened times, no sane, rational human being has a problem with single-parent hood or being the offsrping thereof.

  10. It’s funny that the same libertarians who (rightly) mock those who think we can improve our public schools by just throwing money at them, think that the answer to the illegitimacy problem is to throw more contraception at it.

    It’s not that simple. Obviously, young people have always been horny, that’s not a new thing. What the easy availability of contraceptives does is make it seem as if the negative outcomes associated with premarital sex are a thing of the past, when in fact the Pill and other contraceptives are not 100% failsafe, and aren’t much better than nothing if you don’t use them correctly. (The lurking Idiocracy fans will back me up on this!)

  11. “family-values-fascists . . . treating both like animals. . . . no sane, rational human . . .”

    Good old Akira! Always reliable!

  12. It’s funny that the same libertarians who… think that the answer to the illegitimacy problem is to throw more contraception at it.

    First of all, the “illegitimacy problem” only exists for uptight anti-sex control freaks who are obsessed with mythological beasts like unicorns, dragons fairies, God, and the so-called “traditional family.”

    Second of all, “throwing contraceptives” or at least making them readily available along with a positive attitude toward sexuality ACTUALLY WORKS:
    http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/PUBLICATIONS/factsheet/fsest.htm

    Funny who those decadent, sec-u-lar, sexually pre-verted Europeans have lower rates of teen pregnancy and STDs than conservative, Christianity-steeped, America, isn’t it?

  13. Unless you think that non-procreative sex is an inherently bad thing, then contraceptives are a net boon for humankind.

    If you do think that non-procreative sex is a bad thing, then please stop having kids so that sort of nonsense will eventually die out.

  14. Edit: Funny how…

  15. Good old Akira! Always reliable

    Good old Mad Max! Always dodging the fucking point!

  16. BTW, nothink, what the hell does increasing the availability of contraceptives have ANYTHING to do with libertarianism?

  17. Akira, Mad Max, get a room.

  18. Akira,

    Read between the lines:

    What the easy availability of contraceptives does is make it seem as if the negative outcomes associated with premarital sex are a thing of the past, when in fact the Pill and other contraceptives are not 100% failsafe, and aren’t much better than nothing if you don’t use them correctly.

    crimethink is just on his anti-abortion hobby horse again. Since contraception is not perfect, it’s better for no one to have sex since it might lead to an abortion. It’s like Operation Rescue makes sure there is always some anti-abortion protestor on every posting board on the Internet.

  19. I don’t follow. If you don’t like abortion shouldn’t you like contraception?

    Oh, I get it now. It really isn’t about abortion or contraception at all is it? It may have something to do with people enjoying non-reproductive sex.

    Sometimes I’m slow like that. Also, sometimes, I pet bunny rabbits too hard and accidentally kill them them because I love them so much.

  20. Akira, Mad Max, get a room.

    Not unless it’s Thunderdome, T.

  21. I don’t follow. If you don’t like abortion shouldn’t you like contraception?

    There are Jews in the world, there are Buddists,
    There are Hindus and Mormons and then
    There are those that follow Mohammad, but
    I’ve never been one of them.

    I’m a Roman Catholic,
    And have been since before I was born,
    And the one thing they say about Catholics is
    They’ll take you as soon as you’re warm.

    You don’t have to be a six footer,
    You don’t have to have a great brain,
    You don’t have to have any clothes on,
    You’re a Catholic the moment Dad came, because

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

    Let the heathen spill theirs,
    On the dusty ground,
    God shall make them pay for
    Each sperm that can’t be found.

    Every sperm is wanted,
    Every sperm is good,
    Every sperm is needed,
    In your neighborhood.

    Hindu, Taoist, Morman,
    Spill theirs just anywhere,
    But God loves those who treat their
    Semen with more care.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is good,
    Every sperm is needed,
    In your neighborhood.

    Every sperm is useful,
    Every sperm is fine,
    God needs everybody’s,
    Mine, and mine, and mine.

    Let the pagans spill theirs,
    O’er mountain, hill and plain.
    God shall strike them down for
    Each sperm that’s spilt in vain.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is good,
    Every sperm is needed,
    In your neighborhood.

    Every sperm is sacred,
    Every sperm is great,
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.

  22. In general, human beings compensate for the introduction of risk-reduction technology by increasing risky behavior.

    This has been shown to be true with helmet laws, for instance. The introduction of helmet laws increases the percentage of bicyclists who wear helmets, but does not reduce the number who have head injuries, because the cyclists take more risks or ride more miles, etc.

    The same is obviously true with contraception: the rate of unintended pregnancy will not drop substantially because people will take advantage of the opportunity to have sex more often…

    Whether or not people having more sex, with a constant rate of STDs and pregnancies, is good or bad is seperate discussion.

  23. Akira, you’re very good at Catholic-baiting. One might almost say you’re a master baiter.

    If the machinations of the Puritans are the cause of unwanted births, then the Puritans must have gotten much more powerful since the benighted 1950s:

    “Whereas at mid-century such extramarital births were an insignificant phenomenon, accounting for only 4 percent of all births, by 2000 they accounted for a third of births, and that proportion is rising. . . .

    “In the 1970s, when the issue began to be perceived by the public as one of major concern, it was the teenagers who had the highest rates of births outside marriage, and those births seemed to be rising at the time. But by the end of the century older women’s rates of illegitimacy were highest and rising; those for teenage girls were falling in both relative and absolute numbers. That this increase of births outside marriage was not due to poverty per se can be seen in the fact that the United States was not unique in this new pattern of births and the declining importance of traditional marriage. Other wealthy countries, such as Sweden, have also experienced this trend. . . .”

    http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/3020821.html

  24. If you don’t like abortion shouldn’t you like contraception?

    There are anti-abortion folks who claim that the pill contributes to abortions because women tend to use it improperly – and get pregnant – and get abortions. The pill can be ineffective if a woman takes antibiotics, misses a dose, takes a dose late, has the flu, etc. And there’s no way to know that the pill stopped working until the stork shows up.

    Now, condoms, on the other hand, are a different story. I’ve never understood why people would be opposed to condoms from an abortion standpoint.

  25. Now, condoms, on the other hand, are a different story. I’ve never understood why people would be opposed to condoms from an abortion standpoint.

    goober,

    It all comes down to fear of sex. Specifically, people enjoying sex that does not yield a baby. Especially if the people who enjoy non-reproductive sex are not married. Unmarried people having non-reproductive sex should result in an immediate punishment by God and Man of terrible and irredemable consequences.

    Same-sex sex? Worst of the worst – I’ve rarely witnessed anything spookier than Falwell et al declaiming about AIDS in the early ’80s.

    All the gnashing of teeth over abortion, contraception, sex education, purity balls, re-virginalization, gay marriage, whatever – it all boils down to fear and shame and resentment. The arguments and justifications about all of this stuff is just a cover. Not for other people, mind you, but for yourself.

    About libido.

    The most basic of the basic urges. Truly bizarre.

    (Well, maybe actually second most behind immediate survival or maybe food and water). Let me start over – Amongst our most basic urges are: immediate survival, food and water, reproduction.

  26. Akira, you’re very good at Catholic-baiter.

    Having been a 25-year member of a putrid organization that is currently lead by a geriatric member of the Hitler Youth and staffed by child molesters, gives one a bit of an insight.

    [Snip bad masturbation joke, and The Right Wing “Think” Tank Bullshit]

    What’s your point? Sexual mores HAVE changed (for the better in my opninion), I don’t despute that. However, the same trend has occurred in Europe, if not more so. After all, prostitution is legal is areas of the Netherlands and Germany. There is nudity on broadcast television and the press along with public nudity on public beaches. Erotica is no big deal. If we listen to your side of the spectrum, Europe should be rife with unwanted pregnancy, abortion, and venereal disease. Yet, in Europe where condoms are readily available to teens and they are given accurate information on sex, teen pregnancy rates, abortion, and STD rates are lower there than in this country were “abstinence only” sex ed is federally funded.

    Oh, you and your Victorian-wannabe buddies are still yet to show me why illegitimacy is a “bad” thing.

  27. Akira,

    Does the Brookings Institution count as a right-wing think tank?

    From the Congressional testimony of Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, April 26, 2007:

    “. . . although there are many things that might be done to reduce poverty in the U.S., I want to argue for a focus on three priorities: getting a good education, not having children before you marry, and working full-time. . . .

    “one of the best ways to reduce poverty is to decrease the number of single-parent families. If we could return the share of children raised in married-couple families to the level that prevailed in the 1970s, we could reduce the poverty rate by between 20 and 30 percent. . . .

    “The reasons for the declines [in illegitimate births] are not well understood, but appear to be related to more conservative attitudes among the young, heightened concern about sexually transmitted diseases, and greater efforts to prevent teen pregnancy, including both new messages about abstinence and the availability of more effective forms of contraception. . . . [yes, the c-word – Brookings *is* liberal, you know]

    “Part of the decline in marriage and the rise in non-marital births can be attributed to a culture that has reduced the social stigma of single motherhood. Thus, any strategy to reduce the number of single parent families should include a component aimed at changing broad cultural attitudes.”

    http://www3.brookings.edu/views/testimony/sawhill/20070426.pdf

  28. What makes you think I’d agree with liberal prudes anymore than I would conservative ones.

    You still haven’t answered my point about how it’s possible how sexually liberated Europe has lower instances of everything you conservatives blame sexual liberation for (teen pregnancy, abortions, STDs) while America’s conservative attitudes have yielded the exact opposite effect.

  29. Illetigimacy and divorce increase the number of single-parent households, which tend to be poorer than dual-parent households. Or do you think it’s mere liberal prudery which leads the Brookings people to such a conclusion?

    Explain why America had fewer out-of-wedlock births fifty years ago than today.

    Possible answers:

    (a) America is more prudish today than fifty years ago, and this unenlightened attitude leads to more illegitimacy.

    (b) Americans know less about birth control today than they did fifty years ago, hence more unwanted pregnancies.

    (c) There is less access to abortion today than fifty years ago, hence more unwanted babies.

    (d) The Catholic Church has more political and cultural power today than it did fifty years ago, and is able to force its anti-sex agenda on the public, thereby resulting in illegitimacy.

    I won’t list alternative, conservative explanations, because that would just annoy you.

  30. Okapi states more clearly what I was saying, though it’s amusing that everyone assumes that everything I say is due to my stance on abortion. Just like people feel safe driving 90 MPH on icy roads because they’ve got anti-lock brakes, and feel they can pull out in front of traffic when making a left turn off a side street because they’ve got side airbags, the same is true when you throw condoms at kids and tell them they won’t get pregnant or get STDs if they use them.

    If we were really concerned about auto safety, we’d mandate 9-inch long knives coming out of every steering wheel, pointed at the driver. Not saying we should do the analog with premarital sex, but to maintain that making contraceptives available to kids has no effect on their sexual behavior is quite ridiculous.

  31. Akira,

    Europe also has lower rates of gun crime. Does that mean we should ban handguns? (or more precisely, does that mean banning handguns reduces gun crime?)

  32. “If we were really concerned about auto safety, we’d mandate 9-inch long knives coming out of every steering wheel, pointed at the driver. Not saying we should do the analog with premarital sex,”

    Aw, come on Crimethink, that was my favorite part of Se7en!

  33. “So…are women happier in 2007 than they were in 1959?”

    So did anyone ever look this up?
    I’m kinda betting on 1959 as most women in the middle and working class didn’t have to….. work.

    I’d be suspicious of the “opinion measuring” either way but if 1959 “wins” I wouldn’t expect it to be very politically correct(or widely touted to put it mildly) from a variety of perspectives.

  34. “Explain why America had fewer out-of-wedlock births fifty years ago than today.”

    its probably because the issue of having a kid out of wedlock isnt as taboo as today. Most people do not think being a single parent is shameful. In the fifties getting a woman pregnant meant that you HAD to marry her, and even marrying a pregnant bride was shameful(although less shameful than not getting married).

  35. “…the financial, religious, social, and educational hurdles that keep those most at risk from unwanted pregnancy from using them.”- Akira Mackenzie

    There are greater hurdles to getting contraception in the ’00s than in the ’50’s and ’60’s? Riiight. I doubt the financial hurdles are any greater than they have ever been, though I don’t believe that the government should be subisidizing contraceptives (or much of anything else). What educational hurdles? Are you saying that there are people in this country who don’t know that contraceptives exist? Who are these benighted folk and what rocks do they live under? And why should religious people who aren’t folowing their faith’s proscriptions against fornication be following any against contraceptives?

    “…in these enlightened times, no sane, rational human being has a problem with single-parent hood or being the offsrping thereof.”

    That single parenthood is a sub-optimal arrangement for raising healthy, well adjusted children is well-documented. You are talking out of your nether regions if you actually think no one has any rational objections to someone becoming a single parent intentionally.

  36. You are talking out of your nether regions if you actually think no one has any rational objections to someone becoming a single parent intentionally.

    MJ, you fail to understand Akira’s perspective. In his world, if religious people advance an argument, it must be inherently irrational.

  37. I’m kinda betting on 1959 as most women in the middle and working class didn’t have to….. work.

    I hate to get all feministy, but cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids isn’t work?

  38. *Rolls 20-sided die*

    I cast SUMMON URKOBOLD?

  39. I hate to get all feministy, but cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids isn’t work?

    Like that doesn’t still have to be done, and isn’t still done mostly by the wimminfolk.

    As God intended.

  40. “Just like people feel safe driving 90 MPH on icy roads because they’ve got anti-lock brakes, and feel they can pull out in front of traffic when making a left turn off a side street because they’ve got side airbags, the same is true when you throw condoms at kids and tell them they won’t get pregnant or get STDs if they use them.”

    1) people drive badly for a number of reasons, but i don’t think safety features are high on that list (not paying attention, cell phones…especially cell phones).

    2) just throwing condoms at kids isn’t much of a program. i don’t know if that’s particularly a useful description of any sex ed program, actually. it certainly doesn’t describe any of the programs i’ve participated in. one of my fun college jobs was as the dude with the gross out slideshow of genital warts, et al.

  41. RC,

    Well, if the mother has a full-time job, the kids are presumably being taken care of at day care when they’re young. And cooking and cleaning nowadays are nowhere near as difficult as they were in 1959, before the advent of microwave ovens and Scotchguard.

  42. though it had already been approved for use as a treatment for “menstrual disorders”

    Not sure why there’s scare-quotes, there. The pill is still used for that in some cases.

  43. The same is obviously true with contraception: the rate of unintended pregnancy will not drop substantially because people will take advantage of the opportunity to have sex more often…

    I think you’re concentrating on singles. The rate of “unintended pregnancy” and pregnancy in general has plummeted among married couples. Given advances in health, where we no longer have to have six or eight children per family to insure a next generation, this is a very good thing.

    Explain why America had fewer out-of-wedlock births fifty years ago than today.

    1. Bigger population.
    2. The War on Poverty rewards families without men.
    3. People are getting married much later, due to extended education and increased employment opportunities for women.
    4. Unwed pregnancy used to be socially proscribed, and thus much more likely to be hidden. The pregnant teens of today used to go off to visit “Aunt Fanny,” and thus weren’t counted.
    5. The 1950s in the U.S., right after the world trauma of WWII, were incredibly conservative in a Leave it to Beaver way. I’m not sure any era in history has been so effectively sexally repressed. We could also compare 2007 with 1807, where everyone expected many slave babies to strongly resemble Massa.

    I’m kinda betting on 1959 as most women in the middle and working class didn’t have to….. work.

    Hmmm. 1. Where’d all the teachers, nurses, nannies, maids, etc. come from? 2. Running a household without laborsaving appliances, prepared food, modern low-maintenance clothing, etc. was a lot more work.

    It all comes down to fear of sex.

    Bingo. This is most obvious when you quiz the folks against unmarried sex, same-gender sex, sex for fun, etc. about masturbation. Turns out they have strokes over that as well.

    So what’s the alternative, today, to contraception? Once children quit breast-feeding they should have no further contact with/images of/stories about/thoughts concerning anything sexual until they graduate college and get married? Then on their wedding night they should get pointers from a previously forbidden DVD and engage in a purely procreative sex life? After they bear the required 2.6 children, “just say no” for the remaining 90% of the marriage?

    I don’t think that’ll work.

  44. “The 1950s in the U.S., right after the world trauma of WWII, were incredibly conservative in a Leave it to Beaver way. I’m not sure any era in history has been so effectively sexally repressed.”

    Here are some examples of the “repressed” Fifties.

    The 1955 movie “The Seven Year Itch,” starring Marilyn Monroe:

    http://www.filmsite.org/seve.html

    “The first issue of Playboy was published in December 1953 . . . The first issue sold like hot cakes, and the whole lot disappeared within weeks. The cover price of the first issue was 50? and it sold 53,991 copies . . .”

    http://www.theoriginof.com/playboy.html

    First edition of *Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.* 1953:

    http://tinyurl.com/37eace

  45. “I hate to get all feministy, but cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids isn’t work?”

    Many find cooking a pleasurable hobby.Taking care of your own kids isn’t work.

    You are way to feministy but perhaps I should have said ” they had more satisfying work”

  46. Many find cooking a pleasurable hobby. Taking care of your own kids isn’t work.

    Many people find gardening a pleasurable hobby. That doesn’t mean farmers (and chefs) don’t work their ass off.

    Pursuing cooking as a hobby is far different from facing meal deadlines three times a day.

    Raising your own kids isn’t work? Give me a break. It may indeed be rewarding, but it’s definitely hard work. Not the least part of it is lack of adult stimulation. Why do you think all those 50s moms got out of the house for church, coffees, card games, and volunteer activities whenever they could.

    Here are some examples of the “repressed” Fifties.

    IMHO your examples exemplified the growing discontent with the 1950s sexual opression that led to the 1960s. Playboy was roundly condemned when it came out, including newspaper editorials, church sermons, and civic disapproval. It was “forbidden fruit” for years, engendering what is now the “I buy it for the articles” cliche.

    Note in the Seven Year Itch article, “Although the play was about an actual consummated affair, it (the movie) was modified due to the Hays Code in force at the time, and many of the best lines from the play were cut.”

    I think part of it was the spread of home air conditioning. This was the first time in history that Dad could take Mom into the bedroom and acutally close the door and windows without suffocating. 😉

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