Skip to content

Birth Control Health Center

Font Size

A History of Birth Control

Clearing Up Misconceptions

Feminism and Contraception continued...


"Sanger and her patron Katharine McCormick felt that not only should women of all classes have quality birth control, but it should be a type of birth control that women have power over. They felt the only way women could be liberated was to have the unilateral power to control sexuality."


McCormick's husband, Cyrus McCormick -- heir to the International Harvester Company fortune -- was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Fearing that the disease was inherited, she resolved never to have children -- and dedicated huge sums to the search for woman-controlled contraception.


This research resulted in the development of the birth control pill. Early versions of the pill contained huge doses of estrogen -- and were approved after clinical tests that would be considered totally inadequate by today's standards for drug approval. The high rate of side effects from the pill -- and the later scandal involving the aggressive marketing and defense of the Dalkon Shield intrauterine device, despite the manufacturer's knowledge of safety problems -- led many women to question why birth control had to be aimed at women instead of men.

Full Circle to Today's World

Today it is well known that the condom is the only effective barrier to HIV and to many -- but not all -- other sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.


Despite this, neither condoms nor other forms of contraception are used consistently by those who most need them. Some numbers, released in July 2001 by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher:


  • Nearly half of all U.S. pregnancies are unintended.
  • Every year, 12-15 million Americans are infected with a new STD.
  • Nearly 1 million Americans are infected with the AIDS virus -- and a third of these people don't even know it.
  • According to the CDC, more than 65 million U.S. residents now are living with an incurable sexually transmitted disease.


"I would like to say today more men and women are turning to condoms as the answer to STDs, but the evidence shows that we are not seeing a dramatic increase in condom use equal to the dramatic increase in STDs," Tone says. "Before the pill, the condom was the most common method of birth control. Now people say men won't do this, but that hasn't always been the case. Today, two-thirds of condoms are purchased by women. Maybe men in the very recent past didn't enjoy taking charge of fertility, but they did it anyway. If we can change perceptions, maybe that time can come back again."


Today on WebMD

Here's what to expect.
man opening condom wrapper
Do you know the right way to use them?
birth control pills
Here's what to do next.
doctor and patient
His and her options.
Forgot To Take Your Birth Control Pills
pelivic pain slideshow
Birth Control Pills Weight Gain
Ortho Evra Birth Control Patch
Comparing Birth Control Pill
New Birth Control Pill
HPV Vaccine Future
Young couple holding hands