You’ve probably never heard of this man. But he’s arguably done more for women’s liberation than any other figure.
And we feel we owe him a vote of thanks. Because this scientist didn’t just give women control of their fertility, he radically altered society.
These days we hardly think about the pill. 50-80% of women will use it at some stage of their life, and it’s become par-for-the-course. We’re prescribed it willingly by GPs, able to fill a prescription at a chemist without too much trouble, able to research it and change it and talk about it relatively openly.
Want to know what birth control was like before the pill?
Yep. Our fannies were treated like a flesh wound to be dealt with. In the 1920’s and ’30’s, advertisers advised its use after intercourse to prevent pregnancy. They also insinuated that poor female hygiene was causing marital disharmony and that we could all benefit from a good dousing of chemicals, expressly made for women’s “intimate need”.
Some women would use oils – Olive oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, believing them to be a spermicidal ointment. Or there’s the rhythm method, requiring women to have a forensic knowledge of their cycle and avoid sex when ovulating.
1930 onwards saw condoms increase in popularity, but for a long time women weren’t educated on their benefits. Sex was so taboo that sales relied on secret purchases, and whispers of where they were sold.
And a lot of women simply gave up having sex at all because they didn’t want another child, and particularly if they’d had a baby late in their 30’s, or they’d had an abortion, they would simply turn off. Roll over. Suffer an endless headache.
There’s other crazy things we hardly think about now. Like, before the pill, 40% of women had NINE or more pregnancies. Maternal mortality rates were much, much higher, because women that got up the duff were forced to turn to illegal abortions and other drastic moves such as throwing themselves of tables and gin-baths. Unmarried mothers were usually disowned by their families, backstreet abortionists were thriving, and orphanages were full of illegitimate children.