Little Pill, Big Changes


It can be found in nightstand drawers or stashed away in purses. Each day, women across the world wrestle the tiny pill, smaller than most candies, out of its packaging. It’s grown so ubiquitous (or perhaps just taboo) that it has taken on a generic name: “the Pill.”

On May 9, 1960—56 years ago today—birth control pills became a reality when the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive: Enovid. (For a deeper dive on Gregory Goodwin Pincus and his invention, check out “The Team That Invented the Birth-Control Pill,” by Jonathan Eig.) Back in 2013, when we asked readers what day “most changed the course of history,” one of you pointed to Enovid’s introduction.

Today, millions of women are on different variations of the Pill. It’s the leading form of contraceptive among American women between the ages of 15 and 29, according to the CDC. It’s hard to image what life would be like without the Pill. But last year, our video team put together this animation, detailing the long history of contraception:

Revolutionary though it was, the Pill certainly wasn’t, and still isn’t, perfect. Many women today maintain a “love-hate” relationship with the Pill, citing side effects or the inconvenience of having to take it daily. Meanwhile, intrauterine device (IUDs) remain a more effective, but less popular, form of birth control.

So where do we go from here? For last year’s March issue, Olga reported on “a number of contraceptive technologies in various stages of development—none of which involves women taking a daily pill.” A girl can dream.