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Birth Control? Not So Much . . .

July 30, 2015

It’s really hard being a historical writer. We work for hours, sometimes years, learning as much as we can about the period we are writing in – from speech, to food, to dress, to religion, and on and on. Even then, there is always someone who knows more than you and things trip you up. When they are pointed out you cringe and make a vow to not do THAT again.


One of the easier things to get, however, are the social mores and constraints. These, in my opinion, are biggies. If you get a word inserted that’s not of the time period, or you do not perhaps call an article of clothing by its right name, only a few people will notice.


Get a social more or code wrong, and you’ve upended the entire story. You no longer have historical fiction, but some sort of new hybrid of fiction that forgets the basic underpinnings of how society worked in that particular time period.


Or so  one would think. Apparently, a lot of people are not paying attention to social customs prior to the birth control pill. I am left shaking my head in wonderment at such a major faux pas.


First, a little history is in order. The birth control pill was first approved for contraceptive use in the United States in 1960 by the FDA, but the first pills were not available to married women in the US until 1965 after the case Griswold v. Connecticut. Interestingly, they were not available to unmarried women in all states until after Eisenstadt v Baird in 1972.  Now in widespread use, along with other methods that have come along, it is the norm for women (and men) to manage the size of their families and have sex whenever they like without the consequence of having children (for the most part.) 


This was NOT the case before 1972.


Now, invariably someone will point out that women had ways of controlling their families, and that is true. There have traditionally been herbs (Queen Anne’s Lace, pictured below, and yam’s root to name a few), as well as herbal concoctions that could bring on a woman’s courses. There were also other methods, but due to the graphic nature of their description, I will not mention those here. All I will say is  there is nothing new under the sun, and many of those methods are forerunners of birth control used today.