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The Pill: How it Liberated Women in the 60s

In recent years, we have witnessed a monumental cultural and social transformation of sexuality. One of the most important factors of sexual and social liberation for women is a tiny little tablet, simply called ‘The Pill’. Introduced in the 1950s, the pill is a form of oral contraception, a medical innovation that has dramatically changed women's lives by giving them effective control of their fertility.

The story of the pill

Margret Sanger was a birth control activist, sex educator and nurse who believed that women could not enjoy sex or freedom until they could decide for themselves if and when to bear children. Women's rights in the 50s were minimal, they were expected to identify as wives and mothers and were discouraged if they desired anything other than this. Gender roles were strong at the time and the men had all of the control. Selling contraception was illegal and before the pill, men had the responsibility of providing and wearing condoms, which were the most common form of birth control at the time.

After Margret had witnessed many desperate and dangerous abortion attempts in her time working as a nurse on the lower east side of new york, she set out to improve women's lives through safe birth control. With help from her friend Kathrine McCormick, a graduate in technology, and biologist, Gregory Pincus, they worked on creating this pill. They weren't very transparent about their research and the progression of their work due to the backlash they would have to deal with. Although this was very problematic and would face horrible criticism today, they eventually produced an end product that would change the lives of women forever. They put the pill up for approval from the FDA but rather than labelling it birth control, they asked them to approve it for menstrual disorders, to avoid the raise of any concerns related to birth control regulations. The pill had a label on it that stated “Warning: this pill will likely prevent pregnancy’, and this was exactly what women wanted.

What this meant for women

The risk of pregnancy and the stigma that went along with it prevented women from having sex, and married women from having affairs. The pill, therefore, introduced the idea that women could have sex anytime, anyplace and with anyone without the risk of pregnancy. It allowed them to separate sex from procreation. Although it was acceptable for single men to have sex, the idea of young women behaving in the same way, disturbed many. People were influenced by the common conservative belief that women and girls should avoid sex unless it were for reproductive purposes and that women's freedom went against the gender roles that society had established over the years. As the pill became more socially accepted in the late 50s/early 60s, the importance of virginity and marriage began to be replaced by a celebration of single life and sexual exploration.

Not only did the pill give women more sexual freedom, but it also meant that they could choose a life other than being a mother. This, therefore, opened up career opportunities and gave women a choice of what they wanted to do with their life since they could put off bearing children for as long as they wanted or even choose not to have any children at all. The young generation of the sixties rejected authority and rejected their parent's values. By this time, the second wave of feminism had struck and women began fighting for equal rights in all areas, pushing for a better quality of life. This new method of birth control inspired something great that would carry on throughout the 60s, and continue to the present day.


In recent years, we have seen the pill being viewed through a reverse lens. Women now view the pill as a way of actually controlling their bodies rather than contributing to their freedom. With the health implications and symptoms caused by the pill, we find ourselves asking ‘Why should women have to suffer when it's just as much the man's responsibility to ensure there are no unwanted pregnancies?’. The pill has become quite a controversial subject, and whether you love it or hate it, we shouldn't forget the impact that it’s had on women's freedom and the liberation it motivated in women's sexuality and gender equality.


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