How Feminist Freedom Fighters Changed the Face of Sexual Health

5 min read

For a pill the size of a pinhead, hormonal birth control has moved some serious mountains. A historical pillar of women’s sexual freedom and health rights, “the pill” helped shape the face of modern medicine, gender roles, and attitudes toward sex.

As easy, affordable access to birth control comes under fire in political circles, we’re constantly reminded of the struggles faced by the women and men who fought for our collective reproductive rights. The invention of the birth control pill was an unparalleled gathering of the best, brightest, and most open-minded rights advocates coming together in the name of equality.

The pill wasn’t just a triumph for women – it was a triumph for humanity.

Not So Humble Beginnings

Since its controversial release in the early 1960’s, the pill has remained one of the most popular forms of birth control. By 1962, 1.2 million women were already taking the first oral contraceptive, and that figure doubled in a mere 3 years to 6.5 million by 1965.

Although the original formula was eventually pulled and sent through several formula changes by the 1980s, one thing was clear: the people wanted pleasure – without a pregnancy scare – and they weren’t afraid to ask for it.

The research and development of the pill in the 1950’s was the result of several great minds thinking alike, though the oral birth control movement was spearheaded by one of history’s most fierce feminists. Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in the women’s health movement and founder of one of the first reproductive health clinics, underwrote the research that brought the pill from the laboratory into the hands of women.

Born in 1879, Sanger grew up in a generation that placed little to no value on the contributions of women beyond giving birth and keeping house, which fueled her passion to fight for equal rights. While working as a nurse, Sanger yearned to help the myriad women she assisted in birth, most of whom were crying out to cease their seemingly endless string of pregnancies, which left them impoverished and in poor health.

Before birth control information was even legal to distribute, Sanger published pamphlets and opened clinics that taught women about condoms and female anatomy – acts that eventually led to several arrests. Like most freedom fighters, Sanger wasn’t deterred by her jail time, and fought even harder as she reached her senior years.

Sanger was in her 70s when the birth control pill was about to make its’ debut.

Sanger secured the majority of the funding that pushed the pill through the development process with the help of Katherine McCormick, the second woman in history to graduate from MIT University and an outspoken women’s rights activist, who pledged $2 million of her inheritance to the cause.

The two women met with research scientist Gregory Pincus, a trailblazer in the field of reproductive biology, and inspired Pincus to forge ahead with his ground-breaking progesterone research, which ultimately ended in Pincus developing Enovid, the first birth control pill and most controversial medicine of the decade.

Pincus chose gynecologist John Rock, a medical practitioner and fertility expert, as his right hand man in Enovid’s trial period, and the puzzle pieces were in place to forever change the way the world looks at sex and reproduction.

The Struggle Was Real

When the pill was finally approved for medical distribution in 1957, it was only available as a remedy for menstrual disorders. However, women quickly picked up on the science behind synthetic hormones – this pill prevented ovulation, and thus pregnancy.

Just in time for the Summer of Love, the pill was finally approved for use as a contraceptive in 1960, but the United States government wasn’t ready for free love just yet. Some states still outlawed the sale of the pill, threatening fines and imprisonment for doctors working in public practices.

Estelle Griswold, executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, took on her state’s particularly stringent laws by opening her own branch of the famous clinic.

After her arrest and conviction for distributing such “immoral” information, her case won in the famous Griswold v. Connecticut decision of 1965.The Supreme Court deemed the pill and information on birth control fully legal across all 50 states for married couples, and affirmed “marital privacy” as a Constitutional right.

Even with such an immeasurably large stride forward, it was still almost a decade before oral contraceptives were finally available to all women regardless of marital status in 1972.

After several changes in chemical composition throughout the 1980s to prevent side effects like nausea and break-through bleeding, the pill finally earned its’ place as a staple of women’s health care. In 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed oral birth control under the list of medicines covered by employer-sanctioned health benefits.

Modern Medicine

Access to family planning still empowers modern women to take complete control of their lives. Since the invention of the pill, more women are entering and graduating college, earning higher wages and working to close the male-to-female wage gap, and becoming the primary breadwinners in over 40% of homes with children.

Fewer teens are getting pregnant, and fewer children are forced to live in poverty. Thanks to community clinics like Planned Parenthood, women and men across the country can obtain the pill and other contraceptives at little to no cost.

At some point in their lives, 99% of women have used birth control. In a political climate that threatens to destroy decades of progress for human rights, women are standing strong and fighting for our right to pleasure.

Please note that advice offered by Intimina may not be relevant to your individual case. For specific concerns regarding your health, always consult your physician or other licensed medical practitioners.

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