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Mestranol/norethynodrel was the first combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP), sold as Enovid in the United States and as Enavid in the United Kingdom.

Picture: Public Domain

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Since 1960, the contraceptive pill has revolutionized women's lives. One woman financed the research

Around the 1940s, scientists came to figure out the importance of hormones in the reproductive cycle, encouraging research into synthetic estrogen and progestin as necessary hormones for the ingredients of contraception.

Many scientists contributed to these efforts, which eventually led to the approval of the pill, with Gregory Pincus, Min Chueh Chang, Carl Djerassi and John Rock being the most prominent names.

In 1950s America, the topic was very controversial, as there were legal and religious obstacles – advertising and sale of any contraceptive was restricted in extensive parts of the US, and various religious groups found it to be ‘immoral’.

Margaret Sanger, however, the president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), devoted her life to women’s reproductive rights, legalizing contraception and making it available for women.

It was her who encouraged an unlikely benefactor – Katharine McCormick, a biology graduate, philanthropist (and the heiress to the International Harvester Company fortune), who single-handedly funded most of the research that led to the invention and approval of the pill.

The first oral contraceptive pill, called Enovid, was approved in 1960 by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and marketed by the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle.

After the pill was approved, it spread rapidly amongst married women but not yet young single women. In two years, 1.2 million American women were using birth control. In 1964 alone, Searle took in $24 million – equivalent to almost $240 million in today’s money – in net profits from Enovid sales.

According to the United Nations, in 2019, 151 million women around the world used contraceptive pills, making it the third most popular contraceptive around the world.

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  • Picture: CC BY-SA 2.0

  • The invention of the pill not only gave women the opportunity to plan parenthood, it revolutionized Western societies from fertility trends through laws and policies to religion, relationships, family roles, gender relations, but also sexual practices among both adults and adolescents.

    The pill allowed women to stay in education longer, and pursue professional careers instead of staying at home, and is often credited with sparking the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

    Will there be a pill for men?

    The idea of a reliable, hormonal contraception method for men has been in circulation for decades. Regarding gender equality, it could be just as revolutionary as the pill for women has proven itself to be, allowing partners to share the responsibility.

    Since 1957, research has been conducted, but the results have not yet been successful, especially in comparison to the pill offered to women.

    One inspiration was a man who visited a psychiatrist complaining about ‘dry orgasms’ while he had been taking thioridazine, a drug used to treat schizophrenia. It seemed that this drug had an ejaculation-suppressing effect. Nearly three decades later, after discovering phenoxybenzamine, a medication for blood pressure issues with the same effect,
    researchers were inspired to create a contraceptive for men based on this concept.

    Gels, pills and implants were used to stimulate male hormonal systems to induce the same effect hormonal contraceptives for women have – reduce the levels of testosterone to the point when the organism can no longer produce sperm.

    Learn more:

    The weird reasons there still isn't a male contraceptive pill

    Critics point out that male contraception is held to a higher set of standards, extending the research and progression on developing an effective method – clinical trials on humans have shown that even effective and safe methods have led to side effects very similar to those that women experience when taking birth control.

    There are other factors – unlike women, in the case of pregnancy and birth, men do not take the medical and financial risks, so their incentive to take contraceptives itself is questioned.

    It has also been argued that since men do not take on the same risks, the safety standards of medication are higher, making a male pill more difficult to approve.

    Another issue is that it was relieved in surveys how women expressed limited trust in a man’s claim that he is ‘on the pill’ – an issue researchers attempted to address by using implants palpable through clothing.

    Written by:


    Flora Lodd

    Environment correspondent

    Berlin, Germany

    Born in 2005, Flora is a high school student from Berlin. Interested in biology and planning to become a researcher in the field of maritime conservation, Flora intends to study abroad, aiming at achieving a master’s degree in marine biology in the United States.

    In her free time, Flora plays the piano, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, and drums. When possible, she can also be found surfing and windsurfing.

    Edited by:


    Sofia Radysh

    Science Section Editor

    Animal welfare correspondent

    Kyiv, Ukraine | London, United Kingdom


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