Women from all different kinds of cultures have been searching for a reliable oral contraceptive for years. Some were fairly simple brewed teas, fruits, or herbal remedies; however, there were also some crazy remedies. Some suggested that you ingest mixtures containing spider’s eggs! And women even went as far as to swallow mercury fried in oil, in hopes that the mercury poisoning would be an effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies- that is if it didn’t take her life first.
Families before had multiple children to assure that a few would live, reach maturity, and then go on to start their own families. However, by the mid-twentieth century the use of antibiotics and antiseptics increased women and children’s chance at survival. This is why women were soon demanding a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies- there was no longer a need top raise numerous children.
These women’s prayers were answered in 1960 when the first oral contraceptive, norethindrone, made it’s debut.
Before the pill was created there was a less convenient form of birth control. It was progesterone, a pregnancy hormone that prevents women from conceiving again when they are already pregnant. However, for it to work effectively it had to be injected, and it was not practical to try and isolate these hormones from the scant amounts naturally occurring in animals.
It was Russell Marker who thought to look to plants, rather than animals, for steroid containing compounds. He soon found sarsasaponin from the sarsaparilla plant consisted of three sugar units attached to a steroid ring system. The removal of the 3 sugar unit was simple. However, the remaining molecule, referred to as sapogenin, had some elements bonded to the three six-carbon atoms and one five-carbon atom (steroid ring structure). Most chemists of the day knew it was too risky and by attempting to remove those elements you would destroy the steroid structure. Thankfully, Marker was not discouraged and was able to remove those elements in what is known today as “Marker degradation”. Without his contributions, the pill would have less common and quite expensive.
The pill has now been recognized for thing such as the 60s sexual revolution, women’s liberation movement, feminism, and the women in the workplace. Many people also blame it for gender role reversals within the family. The authors were exactly on point when they decided to include this molecule in the book. This molecule has affected our society enormously, arguably for good or for bad.
I personally am glad this sort of oral contraceptive came about. I believe women definitely have rights, just as any man does, and prior to the pill no woman acknowledged that they were capable of more than taking orders from a man. The pill empowered women to stand up for themselves and their rights. It is also a sign of our advancement because the pill only came about because mortality rates were lowering!
Contrarily, I also at times disapprove of the use of birth control. I feel many girls nowadays use it as an excuse to do whatever they want with their bodies and not have to worry about any consequences. So I feel the pill has in a way brought about ignorance among young girls about their bodies, and they don’t always have their mothers there to talk things through with them because they may be full-time working mothers.