5 (more) Things You Might Not Know About The Pill

Here at Shine, we're still partying over The Pill's 50th birthday last week. So I thought I'd share a new jewel of a book on the drug du jour.

To be entirely honest, I know the author, Elaine Tyler May, PhD. Not only that, she's the sister of my best friend in life. But shameless promotion aside, I was curious to read the book, America and The Pill, because I'd always heard that their father, Dr. Edward Tyler (he died before I met him), had helped develop the famous contraceptive.

When I caught up with May-we call her Lany-a professor of American studies and history at the University of Minnesota, and asked if she'd been inspired by her dad (oh, and by the way, he also wrote for Groucho Marx), she laughed. "There were so many clinical researchers involved, I didn't even think my father would show up in the book," she told me. "But while I was working on it, I discovered that he played a pivotal role in the pill's approval. He delayed it. He had serious reservations about the pill's safety, and the FDA didn't approve it until he gave them the green light." Was she surprised? "I was amazed. No one in my family knew. Of course I sent out a sibling alert."

So, hey, if you've ever taken the pill-and according to our most recent poll, about a third of you use it-here are a few other historical tidbits you might find intriguing:

Originally it was not for single women. I've always imaged the pill skidding on the market in a cultural screech-panties being yanked, bras flying off slingshot in the backs of Chevys everywhere as young women suddenly went all the way. For the most part though, Lany says, the pill's developers did not approve of sex outside of marriage-including her parents. "It was a given that when I got married, I would use birth control. it was not a given that having sex before then was okay." Lany didn't go on the pill until after her first child, when she joined a clinical trial for a lower-dose formula. Her dad thought she'd get better care in a study.

Some called it a racist drug. In the late 1960s, male leaders of the Black Power movement charged that the Pill was a tool of African-American genocide, and they called for their women not to take it. Ultimately, however, black women wanted access to birth control just as much as other women did. When I ask Lany about this, she says, "What's really ironic is that today, anti-choice activists are using that same argument for their own purposes. They're mobilizing in black communities, claiming that pro-choice and birth control advocates aim to reduce their numbers. They now see the black community as a place to target their efforts to roll back reproductive rights. It's really quite sinister."

So many women still can't get it. Considering how well established the pill is, you'd think it would be easy enough to get. But "conscience clauses"-which let health care professionals and pharmacists refuse to provide birth control for personal reasons (read more here)-and insurance plans that don't pay for it, put the pill out of reach for a considerable number of women. "Viagra seems to be covered more than the pill, which is ridiculous," Lany says. "What will happen with the new health care program remains to be seen."

It can dull the libido. It's kind of funny: For many women, here's a drug that lets you have more sex, but makes you want it less. Soooo, why are we just noticing this now? "In the early years, not being afraid of pregnancy was such an aphrodisiac in itself," Lany says, "if there was a negative effect on libido, women may not have noticed it." But now, of course, the game has changed. We take sex without baby-making for granted, and fear of pregnancy has been replaced by fear of AIDS. Fortunately, for women who lose their desire on the pill, there are other good options like the IUD.

The birth control pill is the most studied drug on the market. No way? Way. For all the complaints and suspicions we still have about the pill's safety, Lany says, "it's been studied for more than half a century-with huge studies, longterm studies. This was really the first medication ever developed for healthy people, which means scientists really had to be careful about side effects. So from the beginning, the researchers have been extra rigorous."

How has the Pill been for you? Does it dim your sex drive, or boost it? Do you love it or hate it? Please share!

For more nitty-gritty on contraceptives, here are a few recent stories...

The 50th Anniversary and the controversy is still going strong

5 Things You Didn't Know about IUDs
Condoms, we have a problem

[photo credit: Getty Images/photodisc]