At any given time, approximately 17 percent of women of childbearing age are taking oral contraceptives, according to the Guttmacher Institute, making it the most popular baby-proofing method in the nation. But the drug so groundbreaking it literally became known as the Pill wasn’t just a revolutionary birth control method—it was also the first medicine intended not for sick patients but for healthy women who simply wanted to control if and when they became pregnant. Amazing, right?
A new book, The Birth of the Pill, lays out the incredible backstory of oral contraceptives. We asked author Jonathan Eig to pick out some of the most crazy-unbelievable facts he uncovered during his research. Check them out for totally usable info every woman should know about the Pill.
1. Pre-Pill Birth Control Options Were Terrifying
Before the pill came along with its 99 percent effectiveness, reliable birth control options for women were few and far between—leading women through most of history to rely on folklore-inspired, potentially dangerous methods such as inserting lemon rinds and crocodile dung in their vaginas.
2. It Was Originally Suggested as a Fertility Drug
When the Pill was in beta stage in the 1950s, researchers originally described it as a fertility drug. The reason? At the time, it was still illegal in the United States to give out information on birth control, so they had to fib to avoid getting into trouble with the law.
3. Then It Was Marketed as a PMS Drug
Before the FDA approved it as a birth control method in 1960, the Pill became available via prescription for women with irregular menstrual cycles. Though some women who did have wacky cycles got an Rx, many people getting the Pill likely did not—they went to their doctor secretly looking for birth control, and sympathetic physicians wrote out a script, no questions asked.
4. It Led to Bigger Breasts Across the Board
A few years after the Pill’s debut, bra manufacturers noticed something weird: Women’s bust sizes were going up. It was no coincidence. One of the side effects of oral contraceptives—especially the higher hormone concentrations in the older pills—was an increase in breast size. From 1960 to 1969, sales of C-cup bras rose 50 percent, and the surge is attributed to the Pill.
5. The Placebo Week is Totally Unnecessary
The researchers only built it into the monthly pill pack because they thought that women would think the Pill was “unnatural” if they stopped getting their periods altogether. Fact is, since the Pill prevents ovulation, it also keeps the uterine lining from building up, so you really don’t need to menstruate each month when you’re taking it.
6. The Tried It Out On Men, Too
Thinking the mix of hormones may work as effective male birth control, researchers rounded up some guy study subjects and tested it out. Unfortunately, they developed shrunken testicles and crazy mood swings. Needless to say, that experiment was quickly discontinued.
7. It Changed What Our Families Look Like
As soon as the Pill was introduced, family size immediately dropped. Before the Pill hit the scene, the typical American woman had 3.7 children. The number began to fall as soon as the Pill was released, and now, the average woman in the U.S. has 1.9 children.
Fore more information on all things birth control, check out our comprehensive guide to contraception.