The Tiny Pill That Changed the World
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If you were asked to name which of the technological innovations of the 20th century changed our world the most, what would your answer be?
The automobile? Radio? Television? The Green Revolution? The atomic bomb? Younger people might even say computers or the Internet.
All of these have had an immeasurable influence on our way of life, certainly in the Western world. But one invention is often overlooked, even though it has had a profound effect on our society. Now more than 40 years old, the full consequences of its invention have still not been realized as it takes us further and further into uncharted territory.
The birth-control pill was first given to women in Illinois in the summer of 1960. No one could have foreseen how it would revolutionize the world’s morals, change the marriage customs of thousands of years, significantly alter gender roles in Western society and contribute to a major decline in many nations’ birth rate.
The pill didn’t start the ’60s revolution. Society is constantly changing, perhaps no more so than throughout the 20th century, and the pill was a part of that change. It followed on the heels of other significant developments.
Two world wars had already had a major effect, and the role of women had changed considerably. Forced by the thousands into jobs when the men mobilized for war, women quickly were working more and filling roles normally reserved for men. They had been given the vote. They had more freedom of choice when it came to clothes. Morality was already changing.
Other forms of birth control were already available at that time. Condoms were considered the man’s responsibility, but the diaphragm had given women a greater degree of sexual independence ever since a British scientist had invented a spermicide to go with it in 1932.
The pill, however, went much further. Now women were free to have risk-free sex anytime, anywhere, anyplace and with anybody. No longer did women cherish their virginity. Rather, some now boasted to their friends about how many men they’d had. Women were now free to aggressively pursue men.
The pill changed women’s attitudes, but it changed men’s as well—perhaps even more so.
Traditions turned upside down
For thousands of years, men had always pursued women in most cultures. Different cultures had developed different rules of courtship, but marriage was a universal custom common to all religions. Before a father would allow his daughter to marry, the prospective husband had to prove he could provide for his new wife and any children they might have. Men were driven to work hard to prepare themselves for marriage and family responsibilities.
The sex drive had always helped motivate men. But before the pill, sex was generally out of the question until marriage. When people risked premarital sex, an unwanted pregnancy and illegitimate child was often the result. With this went a social stigma that could last a lifetime. Girls were particularly afraid that the father would run away from his responsibilities, greatly jeopardizing their future marital prospects. Thus elaborate courtship rules were observed to handle the difficult transition toward marriage.
The pill changed everything. Now men and women could have sex without responsibility. Fear of the consequences began to quickly disappear.
The kind of hedonistic society the apostle Paul predicted would prevail “in the last days” quickly became a reality. He warned that “people will be lovers of themselves,” no longer needing a stable, loving relationship. They would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4, New International Version).
Paul goes on to describe a society obsessed with sexual pleasures: “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires” (verse 6).
Other serious consequences remain
Although the pill removed some of the most obvious unintended outcomes of premarital sex—unwanted pregnancies—many other far-reaching consequences remain.
While the birth-control pill prevented countless pregnancies, the number of unwanted teen pregnancies has continued to climb. Both the number and percentage of illegitimate teen births are far higher now than before the pill was introduced. Teenagers are far more sexually active, and at far younger ages.
Many people remain woefully ignorant of the dangers and spread of sexually transmissible diseases (STDs), currently afflicting an estimated 25 percent of American youths. Sex now can even prove deadly—the HIV virus that leads to AIDS is increasingly common among heterosexuals in the West and is devastating whole nations in Africa.
It takes time for people’s perceptions to change.
The pill changed everything. Now men and women could have sex without responsibility.
After the introduction of the pill, the ’60s revolution transformed many Western societies. One after another, nations in the West liberalized their moral laws, the fear of the negative consequences largely removed by the birth-control pill. The result? The destruction of the traditional family with consequences that are continuing to mount.
The entertainment industry—television, movies and music—is enormously influential in breaking down values and taboos, in portraying illicit sexual bliss without consequences and promoting alternative lifestyles to replace the traditional family.
The media has not adapted to the present-day realities of sexually transmissible diseases such as AIDS or the emotional consequences of the kind of wholesale immorality they advocate. Not surprisingly, nor have people who are inordinately influenced by the entertainment rather than by God’s Word, the Bible.
Biblical instruction about sexual relationships
The ancient Greek city of Corinth, a major port in apostolic times, was similar to many of our Western cities today. The people were cosmopolitan, sophisticated and showed little restraint in sexual matters. The apostle Paul, well aware of their overall attitude, wrote the following in his first epistle to the church there: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Many people remain woefully ignorant of the dangers and spread of sexually transmissible diseases.
Sexual sins, said Paul, were different from other sins such as lying and stealing or even murder. Sexual sin, in particular, harms oneself. He was not referring simply to venereal disease, which is always a threat when sexual relations take place outside of a faithful marital relationship. Paul was also warning of the damage to the mind.
God intended that a man and a woman should marry. “It is not good that man should be alone… Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:18, 24). God intended that marriage be for life, a lifelong and loving relationship. Jesus made it clear that changing partners was never part of God’s plan (Matthew 19:8).
Traditionally a man had to work for his wife. Even today, in some cultures men have to pay a dowry to the family of their intended bride. In other cultures it is sometimes the other way around, where a woman’s family must provide a dowry to the husband-to-be. Either practice illustrates the fact that in marriage two people are coming together here to form one economic unit. Both should contribute to the financial stability of the marriage.
Waiting and planning were very much a part of marriage customs. In designing human beings, God in His wisdom ensured that a child did not follow until nine months after the marriage, again giving parents time to prepare and to adjust to each other.
Sound reasons for cultural taboos
In many cultures members of the opposite sex cannot be alone together until their wedding night. Even in the West chaperones were common until fairly recently. Their responsibility was to watch over the young couple and ensure that there was no sexual contact. People understood the value of keeping young men and women pure until marriage.
Why was this so important?
There were many factors. It was partly to protect reputations. It also ensured that the parentage of any offspring could not be in doubt—which in turn could affect the inheritance of property in later years. Another factor was that sex outside of marriage would limit marital prospects later.
But most important, many people recognized that extramarital sex was sinful and against the will of God. They also understood that avoiding sexual conduct until marriage was one of the best ways in which parents could contribute to the future happiness and well-being of their children.
Sex is powerful. The first sexual experience is intended to bond a couple together. Yet all too often the pill has ensured that it drives people apart.
In the age of the pill, often the first sexual experience is with a casual acquaintance—as are many subsequent sexual relationships.
In the age of the pill, often the first sexual experience is with a casual acquaintance—as are many subsequent sexual relationships. Sometimes feelings are damaged, sometimes no feeling is evident at all. Either way the prospect of a future long-lasting, loving relationship, which God intended as a gift to men and women, is made much more difficult.
Sexual relationships devoid of love can lead to an obsession with searching for pleasurable sex. But unrealistic expectations guarantee frustration and disappointment, and no illicit relationship is ever truly satisfying.
A promiscuous life of multiple sex partners forms a bad habit, much the same as smoking cigarettes or using illegal drugs. Such habits can easily become addictive. Should such a person later marry, he or she will likely find the marriage wanting, lacking the excitement of the chase, leading eventually to a return to immorality and a failed marriage.
What does God say?
Many people have bought into the notion that the pill has changed all the old laws and customs relating to marriage, sex and the family. But this is not the case. God’s laws were given for a purpose and are intended for all people for all time.
Sexual relationships devoid of love can lead to an obsession with searching for pleasurable sex.
No matter what inventions come along, God instructs all people everywhere—especially Christians—to conduct themselves in a chaste, respectful and respectable manner. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:3 that “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people” (NIV).
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 he adds, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality” (NIV).
In Proverbs 6:27 King Solomon of Israel was inspired to write: “Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?” He recognized that there are negative consequences for wrong actions.
In Proverbs 5 he urges others not to make the same mistakes, not to succumb to the temptation of immorality: “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave” (verses 3-5, NIV).
In verse 15 he adds, “Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well,” advising one to be faithful to his marriage partner if he desires true happiness.
The pill has altered the age in which we live. Immorality has always been with us, but this is the first time in history in which people have been able to so rampantly indulge in sexual liaisons without fear of consequences and with no sense of responsibility.
Within a loving marriage, birth-control methods can help a husband and wife plan their family in a responsible manner. But used outside of marriage, the pill opens up a world of immoral sexual opportunities that are ungodly, harmful and ultimately self-destructive.
We should heed the instruction given in the Bible by a loving God who wants those who follow Him to have loving, faithful and committed marriages.