April 22, 2010

USA: The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom and Paradox

. NEW YORK, NY / TIME Magazine / Health & Science / April 22, 2010 By Nancy Gibbs There's no such thing as the Car or the Shoe or the Laundry Soap. But everyone knows the Pill, whose FDA approval 50 years ago rearranged the furniture of human relations in ways that we've argued about ever since. Combined monophasic early contraception pill, 1960. Pink contraceptive pills marked 'PD' in a circular blue plastic dispenser. SSPL/ The Image Works Consider the contradictions: It was the first medicine ever designed to be taken regularly by people who were not sick. Its main inventor was a conservative Catholic who was looking for a treatment for infertility and instead found a guarantee of it. It was blamed for unleashing the sexual revolution among suddenly swinging singles, despite the fact that throughout the 1960s, women usually had to be married to get it. Its supporters hoped it would strengthen marriage by easing the strain of unwanted children; its critics still charge that the Pill gave rise to promiscuity, adultery and the breakdown of the family. In 1999 the Economist named it the most important scientific advance of the 20th century, but Gloria Steinem, one of the era's most influential feminists, calls its impact "overrated." One of the world's largest studies of the Pill — 46,000 women followed for nearly 40 years — was released this March. It found that women who take the Pill are less likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer and heart disease, yet many women still question whether the health risks outweigh the benefits. [rc] (See "The Year in Health 2009.") Read more: Click here © 2010 Time Inc.