‘He made clear his utter contempt of me and I can remember it still.’
The experiences of women accessing birth control in “post-sexual revolution” Scotland, c. 1968-1980
Kristin Hay will present research from her doctoral thesis on the history of birth control in Scotland. This paper will explore the experiences of women’s engagement with the medical profession following the introduction of the contraceptive pill.
In 1961, the first oral contraceptive pill, Enovid, arrived on the National Health Service in Britain. Heralded as ‘virtually 100% effective’, the pill was the first reliable, biomedical, female-controlled contraceptive available in the UK.
By 1964, 480 000 women were on the pill and oral contraceptives were reported to be a pivotal harbinger of the “Sexual Revolution”, where attitudes towards sex, sexuality, religion and morality were forever eroded. The emergence of the pill in Scotland also represented a distinctive example of patient-consumerism within the NHS. The pill was the first drug given to a healthy population; and instead of going to the doctor with a problem, thousands of women quickly turned to their GPs “demanding” a solution to their family planning problems (Cook, 2004). This altered the dynamic of the patient-practitioner relationship which, in turn, resulted in a significant number of medical professionals resisting their new role in family planning. This was particularly heightened in Scotland, where many social and institutional barriers remained in place to restrict access to prescription contraceptives. Healthy, contraceptive-seeking women thus entered into a negotiation with medical professionals, many of whom viewed themselves as judges of “deserving” and “undeserving” pill-takers.
This paper will explore the experiences of women’s engagement with the medical profession following the introduction of the contraceptive pill. Using oral testimony, coupled with archival research, the research will emphasise the power-imbalance between doctors and their “patients” and the impact of the pill on patient autonomy and medical professionalisation. This paper will explore how gender, class and region further impacted women’s engagement with the medical profession and will assess the extent to which birth control practices had become normalised in Scotland following the purported Sexual Revolution.
Kristin Hay is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Her research interests lie in the history of health and medicine, with a particular focus on women’s reproductive health and rights and oral history. Her Wellcome-funded PhD project focuses on birth control practices in Scotland between 1960 and 1990 – from the emergence of the oral contraceptive pill to the AIDS crisis. This project seeks to understand how everyday men and women learned about, accessed and accepted birth control following the so-called “sexual revolution” and the subsequent impact it had on their lives.
Please note that the time listed is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)