The Birth of the Pill: How Four Pioneers Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig; In the Family Way: Illegitimacy Between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties by Jane Robinson - review by Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Pregnancy Pauses

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Pioneers Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

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Macmillan 388pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

In the Family Way: Illegitimacy Between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties

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Viking 317pp £18.99 order from our bookshop
 

When Carl Djerassi, one of the inventors of the contraceptive pill, died earlier this year, the columnist Libby Purves wrote a thoughtful commentary looking at two sides of his creation: yes, it had helped women take control of their fertility; but had it also helped to usher in an era where young girls are under immense pressure to have sex and are subjected to casual porn via ‘sexting’?

Most of us find out, sooner or later, that there’s no such thing as a free lunch and that all benefits have some costs: even one of the most ardent early champions of the Pill, the formidable Margaret Sanger, recognised at the end of her life that the perfect contraceptive she had dreamed of did not deliver all the benefits she had hoped for: it did not reduce the divorce rate (both Sanger and Marie Stopes believed that reliable contraception would ensure happy marriages), and neither did it limit the number of abortions – Sanger, though a bold sexual radical from her girlhood, was opposed to abortion. 

Sanger was also disappointed to learn that for some women, using the Pill reduced their libido. This was just one of the long-term effects of taking the Pill, some of which are overlooked in Jonathan Eig’s diligent book. There’s evidence to suggest that women on the Pill tend to choose

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