The Pill: Ironic Reliance on a Non-Feminist Drug

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The Pill: No other drug has the audacity to co-opt a generic word all for itself. Pfizer, the nation’s largest pharmaceutical company, lists over 215 products on its website. Yet the Pill’s notoriety as a female contraception drug is so ingrained in the American consciousness, no other descriptors are necessary. Too bad for that also-ran helper Viagra; the erectile dysfunction drug needs the modifiers “little” and “blue” to distinguish it from the Pill. Oh, the irony.

Approved by the FDA in 1960, the Pill was initially hailed as a revolutionary tool for the liberation of women. Supporter Clare Booth Luce said, “Modern woman is at last free, as a man is free, to dispose of her own body, to earn her living, to pursue the improvement of her mind, to try a successful career.”

To appreciate the power of the Pill, at least from the perspective of women 50 years ago, consider the 1965 Supreme Court case of Griswold versus Connecticut. The ruling held an 1879 Connecticut law, which made it unlawful to use“any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception,” as unconstitutional. In other words, when the Pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, it was illegal for partners in Connecticut to actually use it. Or anything else that enabled a woman to control her fertility. The Supreme Court had to be consulted about something that seems, today, to be a basic tenet of women’s rights.

With this as a backdrop, it’s no wonder a generation of women looked to the Pill as a form of liberation. Early feminism pegged liberation of women to the rights of men. Women wanted to vote, just like men. Women wanted to be educated, just like men. Women wanted to get paid, just like men. And it follows that women wanted to have sex, just like men. The Pill enabled women to do have sex anytime they wanted, without the worry of getting pregnant. Just like men.

With each passing decade, the feminist movement continues to evolve. Today’s feminism is not that of the 1960s, the 1860s (suffragettes) or even the 1770s (when Molly Pitcher became arguably the first female soldier during the Revolutionary War). One of the key learnings from the foremothers of the feminist movement is that perhaps women should not look to men to determine their objectives, but to themselves. A truly empowered woman embraces the things that make her a woman, not the things that make her more like a man.

Basic biology explains the difference about how women and men view sex. A woman’s libido rises and falls in relation to her ovulation cycle. She is more interested in having sex when she can get pregnant. Men don’t experience these spikes in sexual interest. It’s a conflict for the ages. But the Pill is not the answer.

There is no doubt that women may also enjoy sex outside of their ovulation cycles. But here’s the irony. The average woman can get pregnant about 10 days out of her 28 day menstrual cycle. Yet when a woman takes the Pill, she has to take medication every single day.

At its best, the Pill is a dependable form of contraception for women in monogamous, long term relationships, who desire to control their fertility. At its worst, it is a drug that manipulates female hormone levels, robbing women of the capability to understand the nuances of their own bodies. It doesn’t prevent sexually transmitted diseases. And, depending on whom you ask, it increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

According to a CDC study, the condom is by far the contraception of choice for a woman’s first sexual experience. Use of the condom in this circumstance has increased steadily over the years. Before 1985, 34% of women used it; from 2005-2008, almost 72% of women used it. Hopefully, there has been a growing appreciation for the condom’s use in preventing the spread of STDs. Partners can head to a convenience store to buy condoms more readily now than in former decades, so convenience and access are also key to its use.

Interestingly, the same study indicated that 40% of women stopped using the condom as their primary form of birth control because their partner didn’t like it. Over 63% of women stopped using the Pill because they had side effects. Ironically, using a contraceptive method that facilitates their partner’s sexual pleasure, but gives the women side effects, is just about the farthest thing from equality as today’s empowered women can get.

And then there are the issues related to the monthly expense for the Pill, as well as the annual medical examinations which are necessary to procure the prescription needed to buy it. In the majority of cases, women foot the bill for a benefit that extends to men.

Restrictions imposed by society make it more and more imperative for a woman to control her fertility. With cuts to Planned Parenthood and Medicaid, limitations to access to abortions as well as higher divorce rates, today’s women are practically forced into pharmaceutical reliance to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

Women have every right to control their fertility. Countless studies demonstrate the benefit to society of avoiding unwanted pregnancies. While women can understand the strategic benefit of proper family planning, they should also appreciate the many options available – besides the Pill- to control it. Combinations of non-ingested contraceptives, strategic abstinence (God forbid) and surgical options (of the vasectomy/tubal variety, for those individuals who no longer desire children) should all be considered.

Drugs are not the answer. Even one as celebrated as the Pill.


  1. Karen Ferguson says

    I agree with most of what you are saying. I think That it is time for women to think about what is right for them. Time to say “if you want to have sex with me you will have to wear a condom” instead of buckling to whata man wants.

    And you are right that women need to want what is best for them not what men have. however, many times what is best for them is what men have. pay equality is a perfect example of that. Many women are either the head of a household or single today. Those women need that equality. The reason given for decades as to why men get paid more for the same work and why they get promotions over women who are more qualified is because a man is supporting a family. That is not a legitimate excuse anymore. however, there are lots of areas where women need different things than men. Healthcare is a perfect example of that.

  2. gata negra says

    [why does your comment box appear in all caps?!]

    before i began taking the pill — not sure if it is one of the pills you’re writing about or a different one — I was in excruciating pain for at least three weeks out of four, every single month. It got so bad i fainted and threw up from pain, and because i am not monied i had to continue going to work and going to class.

    since i’ve started the pill, i have had four functional weeks. four. you have no idea how much this means to me.

    my parents have also always taught me — and one of them is a scientist — that the myths you have repeated about a woman’s fertility are, indeed, nothing but myths. a woman *can* get pregnant during her period, despite assurances to the contrary. they’ve taught me that no couple should use only one form of birth control, because it will fail. they’ve told me, in fact, that three forms are far better than one… and since they were hippies, I think they know what they’re talking about.

    and how does it make me more like a man, to want to control my own life? to have my own career? to be paid equally to any man for equal work?

    • says

      Thanks for your message and I will check the caps lock on the comment box:)
      I am glad you’ve been able to get some relief from taking the Pill. I am all for options. My concern is that our options get limited with more and more restrictions on the eduction available to women about controlling their fertility, the availability of contraceptives, funding and education about abortion, etc. So what we have left over that’s most prevalent is the Pill. And it is by no means perfect. But it works for you. I wish we had more options so the ones that are not available and may work for other women, could be available to them too.

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