The Evolution of Birth Control and a Woman’s Right to Choice

We’ve come a long way, baby. In the last 50 years, the evolution of birth control has seen unprecedented change, from what was once a coveted right (if you had the credentials) to today’s availability and array of options for contraceptive health. A wide spectrum of options are now in the forefront, from the pill to the shot, and are designed for the numerous lifestyles women continue to choose for themselves. In 2018, women have not only demanded freedom over their own choices, but continue to have a voice in the type of contraceptives available to them. Unheard of back in 1959.

Back then, the nuclear family of two parents and 2.2 children was the ideal, and yet as we moved forward through time, generation after generation of women were beginning to make different choices about their careers, whether or not they wanted to marry, and where and how they manage their reproductive health. With more women in the workforce today as opposed to 30 years ago, our future visions are changing in favor of pursuits besides marriage and family. It is precisely because of these evolving lifestyles that women have asked for, and received, more options than diaphragms and condoms of the 1950s.

The Pill (But Not for Everyone)

Image via Flickr by ctrouper

When the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, was approved by the FDA in 1960, you’d think it would have signaled the onset of a sexual revolution. But only married or engaged women were allowed prescriptions for the pill. Single women were denied access, and often resorted to passing around prescriptions or surreptitiously borrowing wedding rings in order to enjoy the same rights as married women. 

The general consensus being, at the time, that married women were sexually active and more likely to start families, and so their right to birth control wasn’t questioned. A single woman, however, shouldn’t be sexually active if she isn’t married and certainly shouldn’t be planning to have a child alone. So why should she need a prescription for a convenient, safe, effective method of birth control? For single women, the IUD was a less than ideal choice, as copper IUD’s came under fire for their risks of blood loss and intense cramping.

In 1970, women using The Pill questioned it’s safety, resulting in changes to the formula. But it was still not until 1972 that single women, defined as having never been married, were afforded the same rights as their married counterparts. Being single and seeking birth control, however, was still frowned upon, complicating the process further. Often seen as promiscuous or reckless, single women might have had access to birth control, but getting it posed another group of hoops to jump through, primarily in the form of judgment about nonmarried sexual escapades. Not until the 1980s were single and married women treated equally in regard to contraceptives. 

Prior to the new millennia, a woman’s doctor, quite often a man, was the single source for prescribed birth control. Today’s women have many options for obtaining contraceptives of all types from the mini pill to the patch. As women’s rights have evolved, so has the need to hear them out on issues such as their reproductive health. It shouldn’t take 20 years following a drug’s approval for all women, married or otherwise, to have a right to access it. 

Women’s Liberation

Back in 1969, Frank Furstenberg Jr., Leon Gordis, and Milton Markowitz wrote a report published in the “Journal of Marriage and Family” titled “Birth Control Knowledge and Attitudes among Unmarried Pregnant Adolescents: A Preliminary Report.” In it, they posed solutions to unmarried teen pregnancy, such as educating young women to strengthen their family lives, raise their moral standards, and seek out wholesome recreation. Their study found these approaches to be unsuccessful, resulting in continued instances of unmarried pregnant teens. In the study, they also concluded that education about birth control, considerably lacking, would have to be a factor if the number of unintended pregnancies was to fall. But as we have learned, especially today, the decline in unintended pregnancies can be attributed to services such as ours, where a woman’s privacy is valued and education about birth control, STDs, safe sex practices, and the risks involved therein are readily available. 

In the late 1960s, women began entering the workforce in record numbers, and by 1976, women ages 16 and up accounted for 40.5 percent of the workforce, peaking at 60 percent in 1999. As women began earning their own paychecks, independence rose on all levels, including the choice to seek out and use birth control on a regular basis. 

By the 1990s, most women were opting for The Pill due to its cost and convenience. In that era, the job sector not only employed single women on a part-time basis, but women with children were now entering the job market. Two family incomes and working parents changed the structure of the so-called nuclear family. As women brought home the bacon, we were also were having our say about who fried it for breakfast. 

Women wanted safe, convenient, don’t-have-to-think-about-it birth control, and science was listening. With the improvement of IUDs from copper- to hormone-releasing (levonorgestrel) devices, the 1990s also welcomed the introduction of capsule implants, the birth control patch, injections (Depo-Provera), Nuvaring, and the female condom. Emergency contraception such as Plan B, approved by the FDA in 1999, finally became available over the counter and without a prescription in 2013.

It is because women continue to be vocal about what they want and need that birth control progresses, options widen, and safety improves. Through the decades, the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, Roe v. Wade in 1976, and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, prove that women’s campaign for change has not quieted. As evidenced by the Women’s March in 2017, the battle for our rights, reproductive included, is not going anywhere soon. Alongside the fight for an equal say, women’s choices regarding their sexual and reproductive health are still in the nation’s dialogue. Although the current climate suggests the journey isn’t over, we at Nurx are dedicated to providing a safe, confidential place for women to make the choices we have fought so hard to earn.

Nurx is a free platform offering easy online access to doctors and seamless delivery of medications. No more time-consuming trips to the clinic and no more frantic pharmacy runs. We put you in control of your own health, empowering you to get the care you need, when you need it. Starting with birth control and PrEP for HIV prevention, Nurx is available in 21 states and counting. From diagnosis to delivery of prescriptions, we make every part of getting healthy and staying healthy, better. 

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