Via NPR, fifty years ago today the FDA announced it would formally approve Enovid for contraceptive use:
As long as people have been making little people, they've wanted to know how not to. The ancient Egyptians mixed a paste out of crocodile dung and formed it into a pessary, or vaginal insert. Aristotle proposed cedar oil and frankincense oil as spermicides; Casanova wrote of using half a lemon as a cervical cap. The condom is often credited to one Dr. Condom in the mid-1700s, who was said to have invented a sheath made out of sheep intestines for England's King Charles II to help limit the number of bastards he sired, though such devices had actually been around for centuries.
"The Pill was not at all what separated reproduction and sex among married people," argues Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who calls that "among the biggest misconceptions" about sexual behavior and the Pill. Long before its introduction, women already knew how to avoid pregnancy, however imperfectly. The typical white American woman in 1800 gave birth seven times; by 1900 the average was down to 3.5.
... The genius came in the form of a brash researcher named Gregory Pincus, whom [Margaret] Sanger met at a dinner party in 1951.... Pincus had been a promising assistant professor of physiology at Harvard in the 1930s, when, at the age of 31, he succeeded in creating a rabbit embryo in a petri dish — the precursor to in vitro fertilization. It was lauded as a brilliant scientific breakthrough — until a 1937 profile in Collier's magazine suggested he was creating a world of Amazons in which men would be unnecessary. Harvard denied him tenure, and Pincus went off to form his own research lab.
Just remember, though: every sperm is sacred.