The contraceptive pill clocked 50 years old , recently; but it is as controversial as ever.
For some , the Pill has been described as " Women's Best Friend"; while others have blamed The Pill for unleashing a devastating impact on sex and family life and the social fabric of all nations.
However,even today, around three million women in Britain are thought to take the pill to prevent pregnancy, and 100 million worldwide use the pill regularly.
By far the most popular contraceptive worldwide, with 99 per cent reliability if used correctly, the Pill has been taken by 200 million women. It is currently prescribed to 3.5 million British women, one quarter of all 16- to 49-year-olds.
Although birth control has been practised since the days of Ancient Egypt, before the advent of the Pill contraceptives were either the responsibility of men, or messy, unwieldy devices.
Archaic methods of birth control were the Withdrawal Method ,or and Total Abstinence methods which were subject to human failings and therefore, completely unreliable.
( OMG! Are there married people on Planet Earth who , still, rely on birth control methods like these!?)
Research for a “magic pill” began in 1950, driven by Margaret Sanger, an American Catholic. Sanger founded America’s first birth control clinic in 1916, after seeing her own mother die, aged 50, exhausted by 18 pregnancies.
A trained nurse, Sanger had also witnessed the dire consequences of DIY abortions.
The first Pill was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in May, 1960.
A year later, it arrived in Britain to huge anticipation, although until 1964 it was available only to married women.
Jennifer Worth, a midwife in London’s East End between 1953 and 1973, and author of the bestselling "Midwife Trilogy of Memoirs ", recalls the Pill's impact as “drastic and almost immediate”.
“Families were huge, six children was average,” she says.
“Diaphragms didn’t really work and men poured scorn on contraception, calling them ‘sissy’.
Unmarried mothers were usually disowned by their families, backstreet abortionists were thriving, and orphanages were full of illegitimate children".
“But in younger women, resentment was building. They'd had experience of the workplace during the war and wanted more out of life than the endless childbearing that had been their mothers’ lot.
As soon as they could take contraception into their own hands, they did.
Within a few years of the Pill arriving, deliveries on our wards went down from about 100 a month to five!”
The Pill's heyday came in 1974, with the introduction of free contraception.
After that, Pill usage quadrupled within five years from 9 per cent of all women to 36 per cent.
The Pill has brought diverse social changes ,into the world .
The down side of these being that the Pill has been blamed, chiefly, for the erosion of moral values, the increase in sexual promiscuity and the decline of marriage.
Raquel Welch, the actress who played a bikini-clad cave woman and had three husbands, last week blamed the contraceptive pill for the decline of marriage.
On the Pill’s 50th birthday, Welch, 69, declared that the widespread use of oral contraception had led to epidemic promiscuity. “These days nobody seems able to keep it in their pants or honour a commitment,” she bemoaned.
Those who think "It is a man's world"; affirm that women should be locked away at home. Believing that women had no role nor business being in the work place; this group has blamed the Pill for giving women freedom to pursue their dream careers.
After the advent of the Pill , over the next couple of decades, the average age for a woman to marry started rising gradually from 22 to 29 today, while the number of women in the workforce began to multiply, with its consequent impact on family life.
“The Pill didn’t trigger social change, it merely accelerated it,” says Dominic Sandbrook, author of White Heat, a social history of Britain between 1964 and 1970.
“New white-collar jobs were emerging that suited women’s capabilities, education was expanding, and for the first time women were making inroads into professions like medicine and law".
"The word "Housewife" became dirty , to career-minded women!
They used the Pill to defer marriage and babies, to explore these new opportunities, but they would have entered the workforce, Pill or no Pill,” says Dominic.
Not only were the first generation of Pill-users oblivious to the social fallout, they ignored the physical consequences brought on by huge doses of oestrogen (today’s versions of the Pill contain around eight times fewer hormones than the prototypes).
As the first medicine to be taken regularly by people who were not sick, the Pill has been blamed – among others – for causing thrombosis, devastating fish fertility and lowering female libidos.
Not all women can tolerate the hormones, some become bloated on it, some say it turns them into loonies. Some, with underlying health conditions, are not suitable at all. You have to prescribe the right type of Pill for the right woman.
Yet statistics show taking the Pill is still far less risky then either pregnancy or childbirth. A recent 40-year study of 46,000 women showed Pill-users live longer and are less likely to die prematurely of all sorts of ailments, including various cancers and heart disease, than women who had never taken it.
Despite the increased prescription of hormonal “implants” such as uterine coils or skin patches, the Pill remains a doctors’ favourite.
Consultant gynaecologist Tina Cotzias calls it “absolutely great”.
“The Pill has real benefits, which all gynaecologists love, and most women will be very happy on it,” she says. “It regulates menstrual flow, makes periods less painful, minimises ovarian cysts and offers symptomatic relief from conditions like endometriosis".
But what of our moral fabric, as so bewailed by Ms Welch?
Jennifer Worth laughs. “That’s an outrageous statement. The Pill saved far more marriages, by reducing the pressure on women. It certainly saved millions’ mental and physical health.”
For the Pill,today, it remains a win-win situation because when viewed from either side of the debate for and against the Pill; there is the privilege of choice for all women.
Due to health and religious reasons for some women, the pill is not an option .
Thankfully for those who cannot use the Pill, alternative forms of reliable contraceptives are widely available in their myriad presentations and methods.
These are freely dispensed in the hundreds of thousands of Family Planning and Birth Control Clinics which dot the land.
Indeed, millions of women all through five decades , do have a lot of reasons to appreciate the advent of the Pill.