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The changing face of pill communication

“It may be hard to imagine, but when the Pill debuted in 1960, it was bigger than God,” a millennial writes in the April issue of Cosmopolitan, in a piece titled “Totally Over the Pill.”

“Lately, I’ve felt like I’m the last millennial still on the Pill,” the Julie Vadnal writes. “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.”

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 women found “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.”

In recapping the history for Cosmo, the author of the piece equates the Pill with “freedom” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” But the article left me wanting a deeper look at millennials struggling with whether to keep swallowing that received wisdom about the Pill.

The Cosmo piece makes an interesting juxtaposition with an article recently published in the religious and intellectual journal First Things. In that article, Mary Eberstadt, the author of the book “Adam and Eve After the Pill,” quotes from a 1996 Brookings Institution study.

“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 total sexual freedom is happiness. And it sounds like the millennials who have gotten beyond “sex on the reg,” as the Cosmo piece puts it, may believe there may be more to it than that.

The First Things article recalls “Humanae Vitae,” the document by Pope Paul VI about the damage the Pill might wind up doing to men, women and families. The cause of much controversy and dissent when it was released 50 years ago, it has increasingly grown to seem prescient. Eberstadt also quotes all kinds of secular and non-Catholic sources that wind up at the same conclusion, based on the evidence of the experience of life after 1968. Among them, Francis Fukuyama:

“(T)he 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 living in is just begging for a better approach. Both Cosmo and First Things are circling around the same idea. 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 mentioning the realities of people’s lives and impressing upon us the need to help tend to wounds and help heal miseries — the Church as a field hospital is the image he often projects — instead of merely talking about beautiful ideals. The convergence in these two April magazine articles suggests a bridge that could rebuild lives, relationships and even civilization.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Lopez

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