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Surprising Facts about The PillThere is only one drug known so well worldwide, it is simply called the Pill. Birth control pills are the number-one prescribed medicine in the world and, after 50 years on the market, are nearly as familiar as aspirin.
But like any proper lady, the Pill has kept some things close. Here are seven of her most surprising secrets.
-- Robin Nixon, LiveScience Staff Writer
Developed from yamsSlide 2 of 15
Developed from yamsScientists discovered progesterone, the Pill's main ingredient, in rabbits in 1928. While the researchers immediately realized its potential, progesterone originally could only be extracted from animals — a costly process. At $80 to $1,000 a gram, the hormone's primary market in the 1940s was world-class racehorse breeders; they used progesterone shots to improve horse fertility.
In 1943, Russell Marker, a researcher at Penn State, found an alternative source: yams.
A wild Mexican yam, known as cabeza de negro, provided large quantities of progesterone precursors, making cheap mass production possible. (Of course, historically speaking, yams are among the tamer of contraceptives people have tried.)Slide 3 of 15
Made possible by a devout CatholicSlide 4 of 15
Made possible by a devout CatholicThe Catholic Church, in 1951, approved the rhythm method — in which a couple abstains during a woman's fertile period — but was (and remains) staunchly opposed to all other forms of birth control.
Still, it was a deeply devout Catholic who made the Pill a reality.
John Rock, a medical doctor who believed a robust sex life was a key ingredient to a healthy marriage, conducted the clinical trials that led to the FDA's approval of the first birth control pill, according to the documentary "The Pill" by Chana Gazit.
He also published an influential book "The Time Has Come: A Catholic Doctor's Proposal to End the Battle over Birth Control" (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1963). In the book, Rock argued that the Pill works with a woman's natural cycle and thus was as non-sinful as the rhythm method. While the Church wasn't convinced, Rock essentially became the Pill's public face during the 1960s.Slide 5 of 15
Loved and loathed by feministsSlide 6 of 15
Loved and loathed by feministsThe first drug to be developed for purely social uses, the birth control pill was championed by early feminists. In fact, it was an elderly suffragist, Katherine Dexter McCormick, who footed the bill for its development. McCormick considered the Pill a precondition to women's freedom.
By the 1970s, however, as the potential health risks of the Pill became public, feminists saw the drug as one more example of an overbearing patriarchy, Gazit explains. They stormed Capitol Hill demanding to know why women should bear all the health risks for birth control.
Non-barrier methods of male contraception are still in development.Slide 7 of 15
Pollutes rivers and affects wildlifeSlide 8 of 15