Surprising Facts About The Pill: Background information when reading The Birth of the Pill

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The Birth of the Pill

How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

by Jonathan Eig

The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig X
The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Surprising Facts About The Pill

This article relates to The Birth of the Pill

Print Review

The Pill The pill wasn't an accident, but it was a surprise.
The birth-control pill has been labeled the most important invention of the twentieth century, but no drug company, no university, and no government agency wanted anything to do with it in the beginning. The pill never would have been developed if not for a small group of radicals hell-bent on changing the world.

In the 1950s, it was illegal in most of the United States to disseminate information about birth control.
To get around the law, the inventors of the pill had to be sneaky. They tested the pill at first as a fertility drug. After that they tested it on women in mental institutions - without asking permission - and on women in the slums of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

They tried it on men, too.
The inventor of the pill, Gregory Pincus, thought it might work on men as well as women. When he tried it, the men experienced shrunken testicles and wild mood swings. The experiment was quickly dropped.

A Catholic doctor led the initial tests.
John Rock, a devout Roman Catholic, ran the clinical trials. He believed he could convince the pope to reverse his position on birth control by arguing that the pill was really no different from the rhythm method. He nearly succeeded.

Dosages of the pill were initially much too high.
Women suffered terrible bouts of nausea, among other side effects. But the men running the experiments didn't care. They kept the dosages high because they knew that government approval of the drug depended on proving it was 100 percent effective.

The pill completely changed childbearing in the United States.
In 1957, American women had an average of 3.7 children. Catholic women had an average of 4.5 children. Those numbers began to fall immediately after the introduction of the pill. Today, American women have an average of only 1.9 children, an all-time low. The pill became a must for millions of young women.

Bra sizes expanded.
The pill even affected bra sizes. Between 1960 and 1969, sales of C-cup bras increased 50 percent, a result of swelling caused by the side effects of progesterone.

The pill did not launch the sexual revolution.
The pill effected many changes. It allowed women to go to college and start careers. It reduced disease and poverty. It may have even prevented wars. But it did not cause the sexual revolution. All kinds of cultural and demographic changes occurred in the late 1950s and early 1960s to change the way Americans thought about sex. Alfred Kinsey's report said that Americans were kinkier than they liked to admit. Hugh Hefner launched Playboy with nude photos of Marilyn Monroe. Housewives tucked copies of the steamy novel Peyton Place under their mattresses. The pill came along just when it was needed most.

Some things haven't changed.
Birth control has been proven safe and effective but it remains controversial. Drug companies and government agencies are still reluctant to spend money on birth-control research. As a result, birth-control methods have not dramatically improved since 1960.

Oral contraceptives from the 1970s, courtesy of Bluerasberry

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Poornima Apte

This article relates to The Birth of the Pill. It first ran in the October 15, 2014 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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