A Newsstand Convergence on the Pill

(Photo: Melissa King/Dreamstime)
Could a new revolution unite diverse audiences?

‘It may be hard to imagine, but when the Pill debuted in 1960, it was bigger than God,” a Millennial explains in the April issue of Cosmopolitan, to a crowd that seems at times “Totally Over the Pill,” as the title of the piece puts it. “Lately, I’ve felt like I’m the last millennial still on the Pill,” the author writes.

For as long as I can remember, my girlfriends have set daily alarms to remind themselves to pop their tiny tablets. In high school, it seemed like everyone was taking it — for acne, bad cramps, and ya know, to avoid pregnancy. In college, when more of us were actually having sex on the reg, the trusty BC Pill achieved true BFF status. But these days, well, we’re kind of growing apart. 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. I’m still swallowing it for now. . . . But my Pill pack has started to seem kinda like a Discman in a Spotify world . . . and not in a hip, ironic way.

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 woman found that “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. Yup, almost three-fourths of young women are no longer feeling the med that led to their mothers’ and grandmother’s liberation.”

The list of reasons explaining why some of the writer’s friends have ditched the Pill ought to set off alarm bells with anyone who has ever held a placard claiming concern for women’s health.

That list of reasons explaining why some of the writer’s friends have ditched the Pill ought to set off alarm bells with anyone who has ever held a placard claiming concern for women’s health. Assuming that young women ever wanted to be on the Pill anyway, it has now become a bit of a scandalous placebo that’s standard in women’s health care — temporarily helping or masking problems while perhaps avoiding some others (if we’ve accepted that women’s fertility is a problem).

In recapping the history for Cosmo, our Millennial tour guide of the Pill scene equates the Pill with “freedom” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” But the piece in Cosmo left me wanting a conversation between Millennials who are struggling with whether or not to keep swallowing the Pill (and all it represents) and some of the people cited in a significant piece in the April issue of First Things magazine. First Things, an “intellectual journal of religion and public life,” is not usually right beside Cosmo on newsstands, but this month it should be.

In her First Things essay, Mary Eberstadt, the author of Adam and Eve After the Pill, quotes from a piece in The Quarterly Journal of Economics by, among other economists, Janet Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve. Among the observations the journal makes:

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 that total sexual freedom provides happiness. And it sounds as though the Millennials who have gotten beyond “sex on the reg” may believe there’s be more to it.

The title of Eberstadt’s essay, “The Prophetic Power of Humanae Vitae,” refers to a document by Pope Paul VI that caused all kind of controversy and dissent 50 years ago, for its discussion of the damage the Pill might wind up doing to men and women and families. Eberstadt quotes all kinds of secular and non-Catholic sources that arrive at the same conclusion, based on the evidence of the experience of life after 1968. Among her sources is Francis Fukuyama’s The Great Disruption, from 1999, in which he writes:

One of the greatest frauds perpetrated during the Great Disruption was the notion that the sexual revolution was gender-neutral, benefitting women and men equally.  . . . In fact the 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 now living in is just begging for a better approach. Eberstadt points to this and to what is increasingly understood as an epidemic of loneliness as sirens of misery calling us to reexamine assumptions. Both Cosmo and First Things are circling around the same page. 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 pointing to the realities of people’s lives and impressing upon us the need to tend to wounds and help heal miseries — the Church as a field hospital is the image he often projects — rather than merely talking among ourselves about beautiful ideals. Cosmo provides a service, and the convergence in these two April magazine articles suggests a bridge that could help rebuild lives and relationships and even civilization.

Sign up forKathryn Jean Lopez’s weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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