The Big Questions: Jonathan Eig on sex and The Birth of the Pill

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Jonathan Eig is best-known as the biographer of Al Capone, Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, but his latest book breaks new ground.

In The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, Eig chronicles the history of birth control pill in a book the L.A. Times calls a deft study of revolution.

In this edition of The Big Questions podcast, Eig talks about the development of the pill, Hugh Hefner and how birth control fundamentally changed sex.

Below is an excerpt of our conversation, but you can listen to the full episode oniTunes,SoundCloudand YouTube.

On how the pill changed sex: Sex before the pill was very different. You might become a mother and your life is going to change dramatically. Sex after the pill becomes something that you can really do for fun. It completely changes the nature of the act, it completely changes the relationship dynamics. It changes dating. It changes what it means to be a man and a woman and a couple and in love. What can you think of that is bigger than that? What invention can you think of that changed what it means to be in love? Thats the pill. The pill did that.

On the development of the birth control pill: The Republicans should love this, because it is all like bootstrap stuff with no government funding. These are entrepreneurs, basically. And because birth control was illegal in much of the country, so you couldnt say, Hey, were going to run a test on this new birth control drug and were going to give it to women in Massachusettsbecause you would have been breaking the law. So the fact that they were operating like this, is like these guerrilla warriors. Really was the only way they could have gotten it done.

On why there isnt a pill for men: It was a lot easier for these male scientists to tolerate the side effects as long as they were happening to women. There was really little tolerance for male side effects.

But I should also say in their defense Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick the women who were really behind this effort to invent the birth control pill, the people who had the idea and were funding this, they said this had to be something for women, because women needed to be able to take control of their bodies.

And if it was something that they had to count on men for, it wasnt going to work. Because men would decide when women would get pregnant, and that was not something they were willing to put up with. They absolutely insisted that this should be a pill for women; that women could take secretly if necessary, that they could stop taking when they wanted to have children again. For Margaret Sanger, the key word was control, when she talked about birth control.

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The Big Questions: Jonathan Eig on sex and The Birth of the Pill

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