Birth control, way back when: the 1970s
Modern life isn’t perfect, but there are definitely some perks—like a whole lot more options when it comes to birth control. But what methods were couples using in the days of yore, while dialing land lines and watching Bewitched? Let’s get in the WABAC machine and find out!
The first birth control pills had way higher doses of hormones than today’s pills and the Senate held hearings in 1970 about their safety. Lower-dose birth control pills were manufactured after the risks of high doses of estrogen to women’s health were brought to light.
The Supreme Court’s 1972 Baird v. Eisenstadt ruling established that all women had a right to access birth control. The struggles for access of the 1960s were over—but new problems were on the horizon.
IUDs were trendy in the 70s, and one popular brand, the Dalkon Shield, turned out to have a flawed design that caused serious health problems and damaged the IUD’s reputation for many years. What could have been the heyday of one of the most effective methods instead turned a generation of women away from IUDs for good.
The silver lining? After Dalkon, the FDA began thoroughly vetting all medical devices, making future birth control innovations safer for everyone. Today, IUDs are one of the safest, most effective methods around, and have finally earned their spot in the limelight.
Birth control, way back when
"Peabody’s Wayback Machine" image by Twechie.
Modern life isn’t perfect, but there are definitely some perks. Where previous generations had to carry paper maps around while traveling and make do with Eggos, we’ve got smart phones and gluten-free waffles. There are also a lot more options when it comes to birth control.
So what birth control methods were they using in the U.S. while dialing land-lines and watching Bewitched? Let’s get in the WABAC machine and find out! In our new series, “Birth Control, Way Back When,” we’ll be exploring birth control methods from the days of yore, when dropping by Walgreens for Plan B on your way to brunch was as far in the future as a self-driving car.We’ve scoured sources both popular and scholarly to bring you the highlights of birth control from a variety of decades. If you can’t wait for the first post, some of our favorite resources on the topic are Linda Gordon’s The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, Elain Tyler May’s America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation, and Planned Parenthood’s 3 minute video history of oral contraceptives.
Got a story about birth control methods past or a juicy bit of birth control trivia? Drop us a line in the comments; we’d love to hear from you!
Love your LARC? Tell us about it…
Whether you’re an IUD evangelist, an implant enthusiast, or just curious about long-acting birth control, now is your chance to talk about it! It’s LARC Awareness Week (LARC stands for long acting reversible contraceptive) and we’re teaming up with California Family Health Council tomorrow to co-host a tweetchat about low-maintenance LARC methods like the IUD and the implant. Spread the word and join us on Twitter (4pm EST) with your stories and questions. We’re tweeting at #LoveMyLARC!
Once a Copper T is in place, copper ions separate from the coiled copper wire and begin to alter the biochemistry around the uterus. ‘Alter’ sounds like a strong and permanent word, but it really isn’t. The copper ions leach into uterine fluids and the cervical mucus — when these fluids come in contact with sperm, the copper ions sound the death knell for the squiggly beasts.
The Guy’s Guide to Birth Control: Because we want to learn about IUDs (and whatever else he wants to tell us about) from this guy.
Does the copper IUD make periods more painful? (Maybe…but it’s worth it.)
1. The insertion
I’m lying on my back, there’s a speculum shoved inside me, and I’m staring at a ridiculous poster of a palm tree that’s tacked to the ceiling. I grip my best friend’s hand tightly—I’m about to get my first IUD inserted. (Side note—my boyfriend was supposed to go with me, but instead he dumped me the previous day. Fortunately, my best friend is way better company anyway—and highly effective birth control is pretty much always a good idea, even when you don’t have a boyfriend.)
I’ve always had painful menstrual cramps and I knew the copper IUD would make them worse—but at age 19, I had already been around the block with birth control. The hormones in the ring and the pill made me depressed (research shows hormonal methods don’t cause depression on a broad scale—but everyone is different and they sure caused it in me). I tried the good old-fashioned diaphragm, but that was really uncomfortable as well as decidedly unsexy (I spent 20 minutes in the bathroom trying to get the slippery thing in while my partner called out “do you need any help?”) And I had a whopping total of six condoms break or fall off (and yes, I know how to put on a condom correctly), so I knew I couldn’t count on condoms alone.
By process of elimination, I found myself looking at the palm tree poster while my doctor said “There’s a tiny chance that this might perforate your uterus and we’ll have to take you to the ER.” (Side note—IUD perforations are super rare, and when they do happen a skilled doctor should be able to stop the insertion and the uterus will heal within a week.)
I’m not gonna lie, the insertion hurt like a bitch. It was probably the most painful thing that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Then again, I’ve never broken a bone, had surgery, given birth, or generally experienced anything all that painful.
The intense pain faded after about 5 seconds and was promptly replaced with cramps. For two days I felt waves of sharp pain attacking my uterus. The constant pain faded after that, but I experienced some cramping on and off for the next month.
2. The periods
I’m gonna be super honest here. For the first year with the ParaGard, my periods were really painful. I basically made best friends with ibuprofen—if I took the medical dose, I could function as a normal human, but if I didn’t I felt like someone was repeatedly stabbing my abdomen.
I was also bleeding a lot—like a lot. I use the DivaCup, which holds an ounce of blood. Divacup.com says that “the average woman only flows approximately 1 to 1.4 ounces per cycle” but I was filling it up about two times a day for the first three days of my period.
3. The take-away
But don’t let the blood and pain deter you. My case is far from universal—many of my copper-IUD-toting friends have much easier periods than I do (and the hormonal IUDs actually make your periods lighter). And even with my side effects, it’s still completely worth it to me. My painful periods faded after about a year (I only took four ibuprofen for my whole cycle last month!), and although they’re still heavy, I’m taking an iron supplement and giving thanks for my DivaCup.
I would get the IUD again in a heartbeat, and I’m currently in the process of convincing four of my friends to try it—because a little bit of blood and pain is a small price to pay for over 99% certainty that I won’t have a baby. Every time I get my period and feel those cramps coming, I remind myself that getting an abortion or giving birth would be a whole lot more painful.
Most of all, I loved the moment when I checked out of the doctors office and they gave me an appointment card reminder—for 2020. I laughed because 1. There was no way I was going to keep that card for ten years (how many wallets and purses will I go through in that time?) and 2. I don’t have to worry about birth control until 2020. And who knows—maybe there will be male birth control by then.
Image via Great Beyond.
Hannah Strom is an intern at Bedsider. She enjoys writing about sex ed, pop culture, and feminism.
I pretended I gave a shit about competitive cycling for like two hours once (waste of time, he sucked in bed)
IUDs in general have been shown to be a very effective contraceptive, but have been too expensive for most women. My motivation is to provide access to effective birth control options regardless of a person’s income. Actavis shares our vision of a world in which a woman’s access to birth control is not compromised by lack of education, product availability or price. Having control over if and when she becomes pregnant empowers a woman to make choices that positively impact her life and the lives of others.
Victoria Hale, PhD, Medicines360 Founder & CEO
Remember that lower-cost hormonal IUD we wrote about in our “IUDs on the Horizon" feature a while back? Well, it’s one step closer to being a reality now that the maker, Medicines360, has found a partner in Actavis, a global pharmaceutical company. Read all about it in the press release announcing the partnership.