What Was the Impact of Increased Availability of Contraception on British Society? Essay

The swinging sixties was a time like no other, it created a new generation with a new take on life. When people think of the sixties they think of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Twiggy, mini-skirts and sex which is then often recalled as the period in time when Britain became a different place from the generations before, it was the “watershed era of freedom that changed society forever” says Dominic Sand brook. The age old myth says that the pill caused a sexual revolution in the 60s but is this really true?

Were all of the changes caused by the pill, or was the impact greatly exaggerated? The contraceptive pill at first didn’t have that large an effect on society. Many women and girls were frightened of taking any medication. Stories and rumours persisted for years after the pill’s introduction questioning whether it was safe to take this was because of the trials when the pill was first introduced it caused “numerous reactions, such as nausea, weight gain, depression, blood clots, and strokes due to the high dosage which was 10 milligrams” (source from university of LA). 18 percent of married couples under 45 used the pill. And it was not commonly used by the middle-class married and students”. (Sex and marriage in England Today) Secondly, up until the 60s, sex before marriage had been seen as a bad thing and unmarried girls were encouraged not to do it. This attitude persisted into the 60s and was taught to young girls, often forcibly, as they grew up.

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The attitude towards unmarried mothers was shameful. “Its interesting that in the sixties there is this mythology that everyone was at it, but actually shame was still a big factor. (Yvonne Roberts). Being an unmarried mother was humiliating and shameful experience even in the so-called sexual revolution. It took a long time to change the way people thought about sex before marriage. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the government of the day did not want to be seen to be encouraging promiscuity and so advised that the pill be available only to married women “access to the pill was restricted to married women until 1970. Thus, in the early 60s at least, it was not that simple for unmarried women to get hold of the pill.

Only 4% of nation’s women were taking it, and teenagers weren’t able to get hold of it, showing that since the sexual revolution was based around teenagers, and the pill wasn’t able to affect them then it can’t have caused a sexual revolution. In fact, the main form of contraception was still the condom, beating the 450,000 women who used the pill. And another thing to think about is if wild sexual encounters suddenly became the norm, then why did marriage reach such high levels of popularity? By the end of the sixties, 95 per cent of men and 96 per cent of women were married under the age of forty five; young couples were getting married younger than their parents. ” Dominic Sandbrook. Furthermore the pill did not change attitudes in isolation other factors also influenced the sexual revolution, for example law changes. All of these laws were introduced by the new labour government. Before 1964 the country’s government was a conservative body which had been in power for 13 years. The new government liberalised the country as they had a different much more liberal view than the previous government.

Firstly women had a lot more power than they ever did before. In the 70s most women got equal pay to men, which was a landmark event as for the first time women were not inferior to men, they were equal. Women then had more money to spend; they felt more confident and empowered. Women then became more educated and by the 70s it was not assumed that woman would give up their jobs when they got married. Where as in the 50s women were “neglecting their families if they were not looking after the children in the home” (textbook source).

Secondly women were not allowed to be fired if they were pregnant, as it was seen as discriminative, so now an employer could no longer sack their employees without a legitimate reason. Thirdly Homosexuality became legal for the first time in 1967. The Death penalty was abolished which gave people a larger sense of freedom and divorce became easier. Abortions were also legalised which gave women a reason to use contraception as since abortion was legal that meant that using contraception was a widely accepted idea, and it gave women a back up in case the pill didn’t work.

However studies show that during the 60’s abortion rose greatly, which suggests that the pill wasn’t being used by everyone as many people were unwillingly becoming pregnant. As a result of this the so called revolution could have taken place but not solely because of the pill. Although the sexual revolution didn’t take place in the 60s it can be applied to the 70’s. “70% of teenagers had lost their virginity by the time they were 17”(daily mail article). Dominic Sandbrook states that “in the 60’s one in ten people were vaguely promiscuous but in the 70’s things got out of control”.

By the time it reached the 70’s sex was seen as something that everyone just does, and this shows the contrast between people views in the orthodox 60’s and the liberal 70’s and how the change in society only made a large impact in the 70s. The pill did cause attitudes to change. “Remaining chaste until your wedding day seemed downright bizarre. ”(Dominic Sandbrook) And “In the late eighties, less than one in 100 women was a virgin on her wedding day – an extraordinary transformation from the two-thirds of the sixties. Dominic Sandbrook. Mark Donnelly stated in his book ‘Sixties in Britain’ that the pill gave people the freedom to have sex with little responsibility. Some believe that it was too enticing and as well as being surrounded by sex; therefore peer pressure led them on. Movies which had previously been banned due to content were released and a new era of film was born. Music and films were allowed to be more graphic; creating an image that sex was a joyous part of everyday life. During the 60’s the Beatles changed music everywhere.

Their songs were more explicit containing sex references and then magazines soon followed making the idea of sex even more fascinating. “By the mid seventies books and films showed men and women were having sex with anyone they fancied because of the availability of contraception abortion had the danger taken out of it. ” Without the pill it wasn’t feasible and Steve Humphries state that “The pace of change was astonishing- and the pill made it all possible”. To conclude I think that the impact of the pill was largely exaggerated till the mid 70s.

As it didn’t really hit off in the 60s. Mostly it was the other factors that caused this change because many were afraid of the pill and did not want to use it or that the pill wasn’t even available to the single women until the 70s so it could not have had the effect that everyone always claims to remember. “That it was not the Swinging Sixties but the decade after that witnessed the REAL sexual revolution” Women were more confident and society was much more liberal. Music, media and television all affected the population.

The pill was supposed to stop the amount of unwanted pregnancies but actually it did something far from it. “The number of children born out of wedlock in the 60s was 7% by the nineties it was 40%. ” Dominic Sandbrook. This proves that the pill wasn’t even doing it job that it claimed to do so well. Overall it is clearly demonstrated from the above argument that the sexual revolution and the liberalisation of society didn’t arise due to the pill, instead it was because of a combination of factors.


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