History of Oral Contraception and the Sexual Revolution
Table of Contents
The development of the contraceptive pill was to a large extent influenced by the contraception advocate Margaret Sanger. Sanger was the first to coin the term ‘birth control’ in the late nineteenth century. In 1921, she established the American Birth Control League, the antecedent of the Planned Parent Federation of America, and two years later opens the first legal birth control clinic in the U.S. with the stated intent of only using contraceptives for medical purposes, controversial for the time.
After meeting the scientist, George Pincus, in the late 1940s, she asks him to help develop a contraceptive pill that would radically change the lives of millions of women, dependent on traditional methods of contraception.
Development of the Pill
Pincus, working with the Harbard obstetrician, Dr John Rock, and significantly helped by the work of Carl Djerassi, was able to deliver the first contraceptive pill in 1955 (after testing on humans and animals). Carl Djerassi, a chemist, and his team at the company Syntex, had worked on a synthesis of cortisone based on diosgenin between 1949-1951. His team later synthesized norethindrone, a progestin-analogue that was effective when taken by mouth. This became part of the first successful oral contraceptive.
The first pill, Enovid, received FDA approval in 1957 after extensive clinical trials in Puerto Rico due to anti-birth control legislation in Massachusetts. In 1962, Syntex receives FDA approval to sell the drug Carl Djerassi developed in the 1950s under the trade name Ortho Novum.
Availability of the Pill today
- First introduced in the UK in 1961 for married women only, it is now used by 3.5 million women between the ages of 16 and 49, (approximately 25% of women in this age group).
- The pill was available in Australia and Canada in 1961.
- The pill was available in France in 1967. It accounts for 80% of birth control today in France.
- In 1999, the pill was approved for sale in Japan by the Japanese Medical Association, a decision that was rejected for 4 decades due to concern over long-term effects and the possible rise of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs).