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Did the Pill Cause an Infertility Epidemic?

This week New York Magazine ran a cover story with the very sensational title “Fifty Years Ago, the Pill Ushered in a New Era of Sexual Freedom. It Might Have Created a Fertility Crisis.” And the accompanying cover photo shows a young woman sticking her tongue out, with a little white pill resting in the middle. Hard to miss. But for those of you who haven’t read it, the article claims that since the Pill was introduced in 1960, it made women so crazy with their sexual freedom that they somehow “forgot” to have children, until in many cases it was too late. In other words, the Pill may be responsible for the rising rate of infertility and the burden of expensive, high-tech fertility treatments. (Reminds me of those funny retro postcards with captions like, “Oh no, I forgot to have children!”)

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. For the last six years I’ve edited Conceive (a sister magazine to Parenting), a publication devoted to giving women the information and support they need to get pregnant when the time is right for them.  The Pill doesn’t turn women into crazed sex maniacs or childless spinsters. It doesn’t do anything but give women more control over their lives, their careers, and their relationships by letting them plan their families. Is the article implying that it was better when women got pregnant accidentally at younger ages? True, there was less need for infertility treatment then—and fewer options available for those who needed it—but there were also a lot of women whose educations and careers were derailed by an inconveniently timed pregnancy .

No, the Pill doesn’t slow the so-called biological clock. But if women are waiting until their thirties—or later—when it’s more difficult (or too late) to get pregnant, it’s not the Pill’s fault.  Rather, it’s due to a lack of widely disseminated information about general reproductive health, age, and fertility. I hope that schools are doing a good job of teaching teens how not to get pregnant, but I wish they also taught girls more about their reproductive system and how it changes over time so they’d understand better how to get pregnant when the time is right.

Authorities used to try to scare young women into celibacy by telling them that if they have sex they’ll get pregnant. The Pill took some of that away (although not the threat of STDs). But flipping that message to its reverse—if you don’t get pregnant when you’re  young  you won’t be able to when you want to—isn’t really the answer, either.

How about giving women reliable contraception and protection against sexually transmitted diseases AND accurate information about reproductive health, age and fertility? And then treating us like the smart adults we are and letting us make the decisions that are right for us and our families?

I am so grateful I had the tools I needed to avoid pregnancy before I was ready, and to conceive my son when my husband and I decided we wanted to be parents. I can’t imagine how my life would have been different if that control were taken away from me.

What do you think? Did you take the Pill? Do you think it influenced how long you waited to have children?