What I Am Reading: OCP

Oct 21 2014 Published by under What I'm Reading

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Stop what you are doing. Right now. We all should read this book, The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution. Jonathan Eig tells us the story of the intersecting lives of Margaret Sanger, Katharine McCormick, Goody Pincus, and John Rock. Their individual motivations differed, but ultimately their efforts combined to bring about the oral contraceptive pill (OCP), Enovid.

Sanger wanted to make sex as free and pleasurable for women as for men; McCormick wanted women to have more opportunities without being a slave to their uterus. Goody Pincus wanted to be recognized as a great scientist; Rock wanted women to be able to space pregnancies. All were influenced by the health effects of uncontrolled fertility on women, particularly those who were poor.

Their discoveries collided with changing social attitudes around 1960, leading to a revolution in women's rights and attitudes toward sex. The book details the perfect storm that led to the current state of women and sex. When they first began testing the OCP, contraception was illegal in a majority of the United States. They worked around that little problem by testing an initial indication for menstrual disorders! Many previously infertile women in Rock's practice also became pregnant after a few months of regulation with Enovid, so even though it inhibited fertility, it had a possible infertility indication!

Perhaps most importantly, this work reminds us how important the OCP and control of fertility are for women. Women with fewer pregnancies experienced better health. In the years after the OCP became available, women's wages began to catch up to men's; a woman employee was not merely killing time till the stork came! Women also began entering higher education in greater numbers, including professional schools. Women continued their decades-long quest for real equality.

We have other contraceptive options today, but the OCP remains the gold standard. Read this book; you will learn something, and the stories are quite entertaining!

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