Having the freedom to make your own choices is key to personal development. Though disparities still exist in the form of pay gaps and representation in government and certain industries, women have come a long way over the last century. Perhaps most significantly, modern women have more autonomy than ever before, especially when it comes to healthcare.
Contraception plays a major role not only in female health, but also in the advancement of women in the workplace. Research suggests the early availability of birth control is responsible for about one-third of women’s wage gains since the 1960s.
Birth control and women’s health are inextricably linked which is why it’s important to understand the options. Here’s what you need to know about the history of birth control over the years and the options currently available to modern women.
The History of Birth Control
The first condoms were made from animal and fish bladders or intestines, used by ancient societies as early as 3000 BCE. Around 1850 BCE, the Egyptians developed the first spermicides by harnessing the low pH of crocodile dung in combination with fermented dough. When used correctly, male condoms are 98% effective and they are an easily accessible form of birth control available without a prescription.
Until the 1900s, the most widely used methods of birth control were condoms, abstinence, or the withdrawal method. These methods offer varying degrees of protection, but they all have one thing in common: the level of control they offer is either shared or placed entirely in the hands of the man.
Birth control specifically for women was actually banned until 1938, arriving about a year after researchers discovered the effects of progesterone on ovulation. In 1941, the National Council of Negro Women became the first national women’s organization to officially endorse the use of contraception. Russell Marker is credited with isolating synthetic progesterone from Mexican yams in the 1940s and Luis Miramontes synthesized the first progestin, a form of progesterone, in 1951.
An early predecessor of the first birth control pill, Enovid, was released in 1957 and dispensed in bottles of twenty. Originally marketed as a treatment for gynecological disorders, it was a combination of progesterone and estrogen that was also used as off-label birth control. On May 9th, 1960, the FDA approved Enovid as the first oral contraceptive and it quickly came to be known simply as “the pill.”
The common dispensing method still used today for oral contraceptives was patented by David Wagner in 1964. Designed to provide a visual indication as to whether the user has taken their daily dose, this method also addressed concerns about discretion and reusability for the original packaging of the pill.
By the 1980s, birth control methods had progressed by leaps and bounds. The FDA approved new low-dose hormonal contraceptives and the first copper IUD. Awareness and use of emergency contraception increased along with the development of new progestins and multiphasic pills. The turn of the century ushered in a rapid expansion in the availability, safety, and efficacy of modern birth control methods.
Birth Control Today
The modern woman has access to a wider variety of birth control options than ever before. While short-acting hormone methods like the pill remain popular, long-term methods are available as well. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) like Mirena and Paragard offer up to 5 years of protection while contraceptive implants like Nexplanon help prevent pregnancy for up to 3 years. Permanent sterilization methods like tubal ligation is another method that some women consider.
While contraceptives still require a physician’s authorization, it’s easy to get online prescriptions for the pill at an affordable price. In fact, as of 2015, health insurance plans are required to cover at least one birth control option from each of the 18 FDA-approved categories at no out-of-pocket cost. Many local clinics and healthcare centers offer free or low-cost birth control options as well.
As a woman, you are the biggest advocate for your own health, and you have the right to decide what happens to your body. Using birth control is a personal choice that may give you the freedom to choose if or when you want to have a child. Take the time to explore the different options before deciding which birth control method is the right one for you.