Pill: women's long search for sure contraception

From sea sponges soaked in vinegar to pomegranate pulp and olive oil, couples over the centuries have used ingenious ways to avoid pregnancy with varying degrees of success.

It was only with the invention of the contraceptive pill in the mid-20th century that women finally gained a more reliable method of retaining control over their fertility - spurring the sexual revolution.

On May 9, 1960 the US Food and Drug Administration approved for sale the first contraceptive pill, which had been developed in 1955 by US doctor Gregory Pincus.

The pill first went on sale in West Germany in 1956. France had to wait until 1967 after a fierce polemic in the country with strong Catholic roots.

It was the discovery of female hormones at the beginning of the 20th century which opened the way towards manufacturing the pill. The first tests on using hormones to control reproduction were carried out in Germany in the 1920s

In 1922 scientist Ludwig Haberlandt created the first injectable hormonal contraceptive to prevent female ovulation, successfully testing it on rabbits.

Two US women provided the drive for a mass development of the pill: nurse Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), who set up the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and her friend, Katherine Dexster McCormick (1875-1967), the second woman to earn a degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

These two pioneers persuaded Pincus to develop the pill, with Dexter McCormick raising two million dollars from feminists groups to finance the research.

Their push was given extra impetus when Mexican chemist Luis Miramontes managed to replicate the hormone progestrone in 1951.

The same year Pincus opened up his own laboratory, and with the help of his collaborator John Rock built on the development to produce the first contraceptive pill.

In 1956, they carried out tests on 250 women in Puerto Rico, as such tests were then illegal in his state of Massachusetts.

Pincus then began tests with a pill also including estrogen, which showed the combination drug was more effective.

In 1957, the pill went on sale in the United States as a method to overcome hormonal problems in women. And even when it went on sale in the 1960s it was still only legally available to married women until 1972.

For decades the pill was seen to have spurred a sexual revolution, for the first time allowing women to ensure they could control their own fertility, leading to an explosion of casual sex.

But the outbreak of AIDS in the 1980s led to a sea change in attitudes, with many experts now advocating the use of condoms as both a means of contraception and protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

    £15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

    Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

    £11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

    £15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water