The Changing Face of Pill Communication

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on March 12, 2018

“It may be hard to imagine, but when the Pill debuted in 1960, it was bigger than God,” a millennial writes in the April issue of Cosmopolitan, in a piece titled “Totally Over the Pill.”

“Lately, I’ve felt like I’m the last millennial still on the Pill,” the Julie Vadnal writes. “One of my pals blames it for her blood clots; another told me that taking it from age 12 to 34 was enough. One ditched it because she suspected the hormones were messing with her metabolism.”

When Cosmo did some fact-finding with Power to Decide, “a national campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancies,” their survey of more than 2,000 young women found “A whopping 70 percent of women who have used the Pill said they stopped taking it or thought about going off it in the past three years.”

In recapping the history for Cosmo, the author of the piece equates the Pill with “freedom” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” But the article left me wanting a deeper look at millennials struggling with whether to keep swallowing that received wisdom about the Pill.

The Cosmo piece makes an interesting juxtaposition with an article recently published in the religious and intellectual journal First Things. In that article, Mary Eberstadt, the author of the book Adam and Eve After the Pill, quotes from a 1996 Brookings Institution study.

Before the sexual revolution, women had less freedom, but men were expected to assume responsibility for their welfare. Today, women are more free to choose, but men have afforded themselves the comparable option. ‘If she is not willing to have an abortion or use contraception,’ the man can reason, ‘why should I sacrifice myself to get married?’ By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.

As Eberstadt writes: “In other words, contraception has led to more pregnancy and more abortion because it eroded the idea that men had equal responsibility in case of an unplanned pregnancy.” Not the best deal for women, all things considered. Or for men, for that matter, unless we’re assuming total sexual freedom is happiness. And it sounds like the millennials who have gotten beyond “sex on the reg,” as the Cosmo piece puts it, may believe there may be more to it than that.

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The First Things article recalls “Humanae Vitae,” the document by Pope Paul VI about the damage the Pill might wind up doing to men, women and families. The cause of much controversy and dissent when it was released 50 years ago, it has increasingly grown to seem prescient. Eberstadt also quotes all kinds of secular and non-Catholic sources that wind up at the same conclusion, based on the evidence of the experience of life after 1968. Among them, Francis Fukuyama:

(T)he sexual revolution served the interests of men, and in the end put sharp limits on the gains that women might otherwise have expected from their liberation from traditional roles.

The #MeToo reality we’re living in is just begging for a better approach. Both Cosmo and First Things are circling around the same idea. The First Things piece points to Pope Francis, who has been on the cover of Rolling Stone since being elected pope five years ago this month. He’s always mentioning the realities of people’s lives and impressing upon us the need to help tend to wounds and help heal miseries — the Church as a field hospital is the image he often projects — instead of merely talking about beautiful ideals. The convergence in these two April magazine articles suggests a bridge that could rebuild lives, relationships and even civilization.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at

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  • Stephen D

    Precisely because it was used to potentiate sexual promiscuity (aka “freedom”) the Pill was always a bad idea. Apart from anything else it ruins the experience of sex (warning: personal opinion).
    I was reading the other day that around the time of Independence, American women were having an average of seven children in their lifetime, and the vast majority of the population was under the age of 30.
    Nowadays my feminist sister-in-law assures me that those women did not really want those children. They were forced into it because they were reduced to being the sex slaves of men. There’s no evidence, however, that this was so. My feeling is that they were blessed by being able to live according to God’s plan, not according to the tyranny of the Pill.

    • James

      The women may have had an average of 7 children, but many did not survive. If a woman wanted 3-4 surviving children (not unusual, even today), then she might have had to have 7.

      What drives demand for contraception in a society is a drop in child and infant mortality.

      • Jeanene

        I don’t know if that’s really true. My grandmother came from a family with 7 children that survived. There were more that didn’t survive. There are still 2 of them living at about 100 years old. My other grandmother came from a family of 8, and almost all of them went on to have at least 5 of their own. If you look at people’s ancestry, I think there are many families just like that.

        I think it was more society telling people they shouldn’t have that many, it was too expensive, too much work.

        Everyone I know with large families are so much happier. It may seem stressful when the children are younger, but when you get older, there is no better blessing than to have your family with you.

        • James

          I don’t think it was society. I think it was people concluding for themselves that it was too much work.

          Some people are good at raising large families and enjoy it, but these are the exceptions. In my own ancestry, you have to go back to my great-grandparents (born late 1890s/early 1900s) to find a family larger than 3.

          Also, if you raised your 7 children today, like your great-grandparents did back then, CPS would probably call it neglect and take them away.

          • Bryan

            I think it’s both rather than one or the other. I also think it’s a bit more complicated.

            “Some people are good at raising large families and enjoy it, but these are the exceptions.” I don’t think these were exceptions in most of history. I think that your original comment about having fewer surviving children to further procreate is true and thus family size may have been smaller due to death of a child. But I don’t think that having small families was a culturally chosen norm.

            I do agree about CPS though, unfortunately. Actually if you only have two and raise them like our great-grandparents did, you could have CPS called on you. (Reference the family in Montgomery County Maryland who had children taken because they let them walk to school unattended about 3 years ago I think.)

          • James

            My point is that large families were not that common in colonial America, even though women were bearing an average of 7 children. Raising 7 children to adulthood has always been unusual.

            In such a world, there was no concept of cultural choice about family size.

          • Bryan

            I agree with your first and last points. Your middle sentence is an intriguing question: what was the average number of children that made it to adulthood through out recorded history and how has that number fluctuated.

  • tz1

    We had a better approach. Virginity and Marriage (without Frivorce).
    You and the rest rejected it in favor of “freedom”.
    Do read Humanae Vitae – it said Women would become sex objects.
    But if the choice is between being a sex object, and traditional families, the former is chosen.
    So I don’t understand your complaint. You want to square the circle. No, you have to choose and have chosen. Hell over Heaven. Live or Die with your choice.

  • Ben Willard

    I do not understand. With all this ‘prevention’ available, how do educated women continue to get pregnant and have abortions? Bragging about their abortions as if it was a so called ‘right’ of passage! The Pill was supposed to be about freedom. Now, there is more in bondage than ever before.

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