The Pill at 50 – a decidedly mixed legacy

The Pill is fifty years old. It was approved for use in the United States on May 9, 1960. It is arguably the most revolutionary invention ever in terms of its effect on human behaviour. Without it, the sex revolution would have been impossible.

Without it, it would have remained almost unthinkable to separate sex from marriage in the manner that is now absolutely commonplace. Without it, the separation of children from marriage would not be relatively commonplace.

Most people now regard the invention of effective contraception as an unalloyed good because it gives people the freedom to have sex without fear (or with very little fear) of pregnancy. It is seen, therefore, as supremely liberating.

But in helping to separate sex from marriage, sex from commitment, and marriage and commitment from the bearing and rearing of children its effect has been far less praiseworthy.

The flipside of the ‘liberation’ it has brought about is a world in which it has become much harder to persuade men to commit either to women or to children. Why should they, when they can have sex without marriage, let alone commitment?

The result, therefore, has been a vast increase in the number of women forced to raise children on their own and in the number of children growing up without a father in their lives. It has also meant a vast increase in the number of men who will not take on the responsibilities traditionally associated with adulthood, meaning many men remain forever in a sort of permanent adolescence.

The invention of the Pill, therefore, has been a qualified good for adults at best (leaving aside moral considerations), but an almost unqualified bad for children in that so many are now being raised without the benefit of a married mother and father.