Yesterday I spent some time watching a few older documentaries about the pill (yes, that pill). From the modern point of view most thoughts about the pill (from scientists as well as from others) are rather quaint.
There has always been a discussion about the pill. Religious and conservative people have damned it (the Roman Catholic church still does) while feminists and liberals have seen it as a way into freedom (and not just for women). The first official reason for describing the pill was not birth control, but problems with the menstrual circle (a reason why I, too, took the pill for a few years). Later on, here in Germany, it was only described to married women, to lower the number of children per family and give the women some release (as every pregnancy, no matter how well monitored by a doctor, take a certain toll on a woman’s body). By the end of the sixties, unmarried women, too, could get a description. It was a horror for the conservatives and the church in Germany. Women were running around and having sex because they liked it!
Arguments against the pill reached from ‘it’s against nature’ right up to ‘it will create crippled children in two generations’. Against nature the pill might be, but humans aren’t exactly close to nature at all in the industrialized world, are they? It still is not proven, as far as I know, that modern pills (with much less hormones in them than the ones out in the fifties) have anything to do with getting cancer. But then, not much is really known about the reasons why some people develop some sorts of cancer… There are no crippled children around from the use of the pill (that pill, Contagan is a completely different thing).
The change in hormones might have changed the mood of some women in the beginning, but those side effects have been mostly removed by now. The gain of weight doesn’t happen very often, either (I even experienced a slight loss of weight while I last took the pill).
One thing I found rather strange, though, is that some scientists who were against the pill said it would keep a woman feeling like she felt a few days before menstruation (and, women or not, all of you probably know what PMS means, for a woman and all the people around her). I learned at school that the pill actually cheats the body into thinking it’s pregnant. And pregnant women usually feel rather good, apart from some throwing up during the first couple of weeks. (My mother always claimed she never got the morning sickness and the only thing strange happening throughout her pregnancy with me was my foot kicking her belly so hard it actually showed as a little bump sometimes. She then thought she would give birth to a future soccer star.)
Yet the pill is a two-edged sword. While it gives greater freedom to women (especially sexual freedom), it also puts a lot more pressure on young women. Before the pill, a woman always could say ‘I’m not having sex, because I don’t want to get pregnant’, but now there’s the pill and pretty much pressure to take it, so you can lose your virginity early. When I was a teen, the average age at which a girl lost her virginity was around 16, today it’s down to 14 (in Germany). When my mother was a teenager, the age was well above 18. And I’m not sure whether girls should have sex that early…
On the whole, the pill was a good thing for women, but it wasn’t (and still isn’t) without fail.