Ever since it was invented by Carl Djerassi in 1950, the oral contraception pill (known as the birth control pill, or just ‘the pill’) has revolutionised the world of sex. Before its introduction, every time a woman and a man had intercourse, they were at risk of creating a pregnancy.
The pill changed all that in a number of different ways:
It gave women options
In the strict social mores of the pre-1950s UK, an ‘illegitimate pregnancy’ would have far greater consequences for women than men. They could seek an illegal abortion, try dodgy home remedies (that could leave them very ill, or worse), or beg the father to ‘do right by her’ and marry her. If not, she would often be branded as a ‘fallen woman’ and could be rejected by her community and family alike.
It enabled casual sex
By making it possible for women to control their fertility, Djerassi helped change the world. Women were no longer saddled to the home, having child after child. Instead, they could choose when to have a baby, allowing them to engage in casual sex, have rich and rewarding careers, and put off marriage and family until they were ready.
It allowed women to focus on their careers
The pill enabled women to have sex without getting pregnant. This gave career-focused women the opportunity to thrive in the workplace and have casual sex.
Of course, today, many women are waiting longer than ever to start their families, which has again led to the need for science to intervene. In vitro treatments, egg freezing, and surrogacy options have all advanced to allow women to extend their fertility well into their 40s.
As Djerassi says, “So, I am a young woman, I collect my eggs – I haven’t the foggiest idea yet whether I want children, I have not yet met the man with whom I would like to have children, I do not know yet whether I want to be a single mother, I have not made up my mind yet but I have it in the bank.”
It empowered women and fuelled women’s rights
Without the birth control pill, our sexual landscape would certainly be very different, and the women’s liberation movement would have likely never happened. We have Carl Djerassi and the tireless advocates for women’s rights to thank.