Opinion

The pill that changed the world | Rich Elfers

The birth control pill, first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960, has changed the world.

By 1962, 1.2 million U.S. women were using it. By 1963, the numbers almost doubled (www.pbs.org). Between 2006 and 2008, 82.3 percent of American women aged 15 to 44 were using an oral contraceptive pill (Centers for Disease Control). Today, between 80 million and 100 million women worldwide are using The Pill.

Its effects are far ranging: sexual attitudes and gender roles have shifted. Couples are delaying marriage. Premarital sex has increased. In addition, The Pill has led to a sharp increase in college attendance and college degrees for women. This technological advance has far-reaching social and moral effects.

Before we examine these modern attitudes brought on by the development of The Pill, let’s journey back to a time where there was no birth control pill. Couples tended to marry earlier and, as a result, have more children. If a young woman got pregnant, there was a strong social stigma for her and shame for her family. Her life could be ruined. It wasn’t uncommon for women to leave town and go to another area where she would wait in privacy to have her child.  It could drastically change a woman’s education and career plans, as well as her husband’s if they got married.

Most who are in their 60s and older remember the drastic change in thinking that has evolved in their lifetimes because of The Pill.

I remember my mother’s aphorism growing up in the 1950s. “The first child can come at any time, the second takes nine months.” How attitudes have changed since my childhood!

According to a Harvard study by Harding and Jencks on premarital sex, more than 75 percent of American adults surveyed in 1979 said premarital sex was wrong. By the 1980s, only 33 to 37 percent thought it was “always” or “almost always wrong.”

With the rising U.S. divorce rate in the 1960s and 1970s and the development of The Pill, attitudes about premarital sex changed. Today, premarital sex has become the norm for the majority of the unmarried in America. Additionally, women now earn 60 percent of the college degrees. One of the factors for this shift change is the development and use of the birth control pill.

According to Margaret Wendt in her book, “An Accidental Canadian,” “The pill decoupled sex and marriage, and it also decoupled marriage and procreation. The purpose of marriage was mutual satisfaction, not children, and once that happened, gay marriage probably became inevitable.”  In other words, with the development of The Pill in 1960, attitudes about homosexuality changed as well.

No wonder approval of the birth control pill in 1960 has become known as “the most significant medical advance of the 20th century” (BBC News). Clearly, the development of The Pill, now 53 years old, has changed attitudes and actions of both women and men. It has changed our culture dramatically. The Pill’s development has fostered a phenomenon that few of us have stopped to consider.

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