The Surprising History of the Birth Control Pill

The Surprising History of the Birth Control Pill


The Surprising History of the Birth Control Pill

You might be surprised to learn that birth control isn't a new issue; women have been dealing with birth control methods for millennia. The birth control pill, however, is a relatively new invention.

Before the invention of the daily birth control pill women of the past dealt with their periods in surprising ways. In Ancient Mesopotamia, for instance, women used what resembles our current day diaphragms. Ancient Egyptians also used a similar device to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The Ancient Greeks utilized different plants that had contraceptive qualities as a form of birth control. It wasn't until the 1960s that the once-daily contraceptive pill arrived on the scene and it was actually a team of doctors who made it all possible.

The Team Who Invented the Contraceptive Pill

Cue biologist Gregory Goodwin Pincus. Pincus was an expert in mammalian reproduction. So it was natural that he would contribute to the formulation of the modern day pill. Pincus had studied the effects of the hormone progesterone in rats and rabbits and realized that it would be the key to a birth control pill; the hormone effectively stopped ovulation in his test subjects. A synthetic form of progesterone, called progestins, had also been developed and showed promise in stopping the ovary from releasing an ovum in animals as well. Now, he just had to prove that progestins could also stop ovulation in human women as well.

To start the trial he would bring on John Rock, a well respected gynecologist who had a reputation for handling human reproductive issues differently. For instance, for couples who experienced infertility or difficulty conceiving, Rock was one of the very first fertility specialists who also had the semen of their male partners tested--a practice that is far from unusual by today's standards. Rock was essentially an unsung pioneer in fertility practices.

Rock too had experimented with progesterone but in a different way than Pincus had. Rock experimented with progesterone and estrogen to help infertile women become pregnant. During his trial he gave women a mix of the two hormones to create a "pseudo-pregnancy". The mix tricked the women's bodies into thinking that it was in fact pregnant. Subjects reported tender breasts, nausea--and their periods stopped! Further, within months of stopping their treatments the women were finally able to conceive.

Rock's experiments proved that progesterone was effective at stopping periods in human test subjects. When Pincus learned of this it was a match made in heaven. Pincus would convince Rock to have his patients take Pincus's pill instead of Rock's in an effort to prove that not only would the pill help with infertility but also help with women who wanted to keep from getting pregnant.

Woefully, the pair did create a trial but their subjects were patients in insane asylums and vulnerable women who lived in the slums of Haiti and Puerto Rico. They also gave the pill to men as well.

As a result of their research two forms of birth control were released to the market in the early 1960s; the combined oral contraceptive pills, also known as "the pill", and the emergency contraceptive pill. The latter didn't come into wide use until the 1990s however.

Thanks to these men women of today now have access to more reliable forms of birth control rather than say the "pull-out" method or the rhythm method that women used in the early part of the 20th century.

Even though for most women, the pill effectively stops menstruation but some women occasionally experience spotting during their monthly cycles. If you fall in the latter category, it may be of shock for you to find that you no long have to rely on bulky pads to catch unexpected leaks, you now have the option of period panties. Period panties are specially designed panties that absorb stains and keep your clothes dry and protected. Click here to learn more about period panties.

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