The other day, I turned on my radio to a classic country station and it was playing Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill”, written and recorded in 1972 but not published until 1975 due to its controversial nature. The song is about a wife who is continuously pregnant and caring for her kids while her husband cats about. The theme of the song is control over her life and the changes that are coming now that she has access to the birth control pill. She is no longer willing to be barefoot and pregnant. Although the song was considered quite divisive in its day, it also did quite a bit a good. According to Wikipedia, Loretta was congratulated by a group of rural physicians claiming that her song did more to highlight the availability of birth control to low income rural women than all their literature and outreach combined.
For those of you who have never heard it and for those of you who haven’t heard it in years, I’m including it here for your listening pleasure.
Example of Some Lyrics
“All these years I’ve stayed at home
While you had all your fun
And every year that’s gone by
Another baby’s come
There’s gonna be some changes made
Right here on nursery hill
You’ve set this chicken your last time
Cause now I’ve got the pill”.
It’s hard for young people to imagine how revolutionary the pill was – with a claimed 99% success rate, for the first time women were in actual control of their bodies – with one small pill per day dispensed from a feminine circular purse size container.
The “Moral” Issue
Raised Catholic, I was acutely aware of the ”moral” issue that accompanied this medical break through. My father was a “detail man” (at the time there were no “detail women”) who educated physicians about the benefits of the pharmaceutical products sold by The Upjohn Company. One such product was the pill. I know he had a religious conflict promoting the pill – because we always had a substantial stockpile of physician samples in our basement. Somehow he was able to keep his job notwithstanding his reluctance to promote the pill.
The Times – They Were “a changin”
Thinking back to the early 70s, it was an amazing time for women in history. The pill had been on the market for a decade but was finally gaining traction. In 1973, Roe v. Wade made abortion legal. Burning bras (or abandoning them if burning is in fact an urban legend) to protest the confinement of preordained women’s roles, losing the moniker “Mrs.” for “Ms.”, and marching to enact the Equal Rights Amendments were the hallmarks of the early feminists. (Btw, the current controversy about what is and what is not a feminist is noteworthy – in my opinion, feminists do not hate men, they simply recognize the strengths and talents of women in addition to those attributable to motherhood).
From the early 70s to the early 80s sex for women became fun and free of worry over pregnancy and STDs (before AIDs/HIV came on the scene). Women’s reputations no longer rose and fell on their virginity. We could finally relax and enjoy the ride (so to speak).
The sexual revolution was about more than sex. It was about women beginning to take our place in society as equals – in bed as well as in other arenas– finally free of the unwanted consequences of enjoying our sexuality. And we sure did enjoy it. I know lots of grandmothers, who are retired professionals and upstanding contributing members of society who, in the day, made love outdoors, in the sky, on boats, in elevators and restaurants and had so many sex partners that they lost count! Think of this the next time you see a plump, grey-haired lady tending her grandchildren in the park!
What’s Happening Now
Fast forward 40 years and now we are talking about over the counter access with full insurance coverage of the pill. A recent University of California study concluded that unplanned pregnancies (which comprise 50% of ALL pregnancies) could be reduced by 25% with such access and coverage.
In addition to “The Pill,” there is now another pill – a little “pink pill” that supposedly enhances a woman’s waning libido. The FDA has yet to approve it causing some controversy about FDA’s gender fairness – having approved the little blue erection pill for men but not the little pink pill for us. Don’t know much about the little pink pill other than the middle-aged woman from a research study who sings its praises on a TV report while walking hand-in-hand with her formerly love-starved husband – but I am very pleased that society is beginning to realize that even post menopausal women have a right to enjoyable sex.
From a song about birth control that shocked the nation 40 years ago to over-the- counter access and a little pink pill to enhance libido . . .
We have come a long way…..BUT THE JOURNEY IS NOT OVER!