Birth control pills became legal for unmarried women in 1972, the year I lost my virginity. I realized this last night as I was reading a new book called The Baby Matrix, written by Laura Carroll, who also wrote Families of Two. I’ll write more about this book when I finish reading it, but the section on birth control is the most complete I’ve ever seen. I was shocked when I suddenly understood the chronology. In the 1960s, birth control became legal for married couples, but it wasn’t until I was in college that women who were not married had an effective means, aside from abstinence, to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This blows my mind.
I was a late bloomer when it comes to dating and sex. My mother said “don’t” and I didn’t until I was 20. It was only when I met the man who became my first husband that I finally learned how much fun sex could be. The first few months that we dated, he kept pressuring me to “do it.” I knew that he’d dump me pretty soon if I kept saying no. After I finally gave in, he hustled me to the San Jose State University health center, where I got my first birth control prescription. The pills made me sick and fat, but they kept me from getting pregnant. After we got married, I switched to a diaphragm, a rubber disk full of spermicidal cream that I inserted just before intercourse. That’s what I used until several years after our divorce, when I met Fred, who had had a vasectomy. With him, I no longer needed birth control. Conception was impossible.
I got those first pills in 1972, hiding them so my parents would never know. A year earlier, the pills would not have been available. Nor would the diaphragm. We might have used condoms, but the chances were good that I would have joined the many women who are pregnant on their wedding day. In the old days, lots of women got married to men they might not otherwise have married simply because they were pregnant. To have a child outside of marriage was a scandal to be avoided. God help the unmarried pregnant woman and her illegitimate child.
Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 40.8 percent of babies born in the U.S. are born to unmarried women. Today they have a choice, and they choose to become single mothers while their sisters may decide not to become mothers at all. But before I was 20 years old, we didn’t have these choices. Even then, it took a while for attitudes to catch up with legalities.
Without birth control, it would be a lot harder to choose a life without children unless you also chose a life without intercourse. It would also be a considerably more difficult for a spouse who doesn’t want children to keep from having them anyway. Many of us who are childless by marriage would not be if this were 1963 instead of 2013.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?